10 Tips to Make Stillwater Fly Fishing More Fun

With cold temps through the end of May and snowpack that is double to triple the annual average, it may not be until August when we seem optimal wading conditions on the local rivers here in Colorado. I guess it means a long summer of cold clear water and no fish kills from warm water, it could be worse. With that in mind as temps heat up across the west in the next few weeks so does the still water fishing. Lakes, ponds, and reservoirs are a great way to get a line wet and tight for your daily dose of trout fishing.

Fly fishing in still water often gets a bad rap from many anglers. “Why would I stare at a bobber in a lake all day?” or “I only like fishing moving water,” are some of the common phrases tossed around the fly fishing world. In reality, I think most of these anglers haven’t cracked the code or really figured out how to be effective when fishing still water.  Just like how different rivers vary from one another from the hatches to the holding water, so do lakes. It can be tough to approach a new lake without some basic steps to assess what’s going on.  Below you will find some tips to cut down the learning curve and make still water fly fishing more enjoyable.

Brook Trout caught at a Colorado State Park

Tip 1. Put effort into knowing where to go

This is a common theme across the fishing world. But more so with still water, certain bodies of water have more productive fishing than others. It’s no fun to go spend 8 hours fishing a lake and not get a bite. So talk to the local fly shop for some suggestions of productive pieces of water. Ask them for some secret lakes, where the fishing has been good. Do some research on your public lakes. Another great tool is the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Stocking Report, the link provides a general stocking summary and dates of when it was stocked. It can be viewed here. Most other states across the nation also have stocking summary resources. 

Also, here is a previous Vail Valley Anglers Blog about, Vail Fly Fishing During Spring Runoff. It goes over a handful of great local lakes that can be fished here in the Vail Valley and Eagle County. 

Golf course ponds can hold big fish

Tip 2. Reach out to friends and family that may have access to private lakes

Similar to the first tip, I recommend reaching out to any friends or family that may live on a golf course or have a private pond at or near their house. Many golf course ponds in the Rockies are full of hungry trout. The best part about fishing a private pond is the fish are typically more readily going to take a fly as they are not pressured as much like at public water. The systems are typically smaller so a little easier to target fish. A basic streamer like a wooly bugger will usually do the trick with unpressured fish that have not seen many flies.

Stillwater fisheries hold healthy populations of big chunky fish

Tip 3. Fish the inflow or outflow of the lake

Typically fish hold where the water current is moving like the inflow or outflow of the lake. This is an abundant place for food to be moving through thus, trout are also moving through. If you have never fished a specific piece of water and don’t know where to start, check out the inflow and/or outflow to see if you can find an opportunist trout waiting for a snack. The current can also present your flies in a way like a river which can make it easier to get a hookup. 

Tip 4. Go when the fish are biting… the time of day is important!

Time of day….can be crucial to success on still water. On most bodies of water, certain bugs will hatch at certain times of the day based on water temperature. So when a specific bug hatches the trout will begin feeding and are most prone to take a fly. Examine the hatches present and figure out when and what the fish are feeding on. It may take a couple days to really dial in the feeding window, but when you get the hour of power it can be very productive.

If you aren’t familiar with what is going on a specific piece of water, dusk is always a go to time for any angler. I urge everyone to check out their local public lake or pond when the sun is setting and throw on your favorite attractor dry fly and see if there are any takers. It’s a great way to spend a summer evening after a long day in the office.

Tip 5. Bring and instruct your friends, families, and kids 

Do you have that coworker or friend that has been urging you to teach them how to fly fish? Well, a lake a great place to start. Still water fly fishing is a great place for beginners. Teaching a beginner how to fly cast on a lake or pond is a great introduction to fly fishing for anyone. There’s typically not many snags and less technique involved with the presentation. Waders and boots typically aren’t a necessity as well, just a rod, reels, some flies and terminal tackle. It’s a great way to introduce someone to the sport, especially children. I recommend tying on an indicator and one fly and letting your friends and family enjoy their first fly fishing experience. 

Tip 6. Fish from a boat

Adding any sort of boat into the equation usually means more fun, it also can result in more productive fishing. Fishing from a boat can open up a ton of water that you cannot access from the bank and allows for a more effective fly presentation. The boat allows anglers to have more control of where they are fishing and other external factors like pressure from other anglers. It also means you can bring a cooler full of snacks and drinks (beer) to step up the experience out there. Throw on your favorite playlist on your portable speaker and maybe even a trolling motor and there you have a more enjoyable time out on the lake. Whether it’s a drift boat, raft, float tube, or pool toy, a boat will open up more opportunities for any angler.

Tip 7. Two Rods are Better Than One

This technique may be foreign to most fly anglers, but in all seriousness adding two rods into the equation can mean more hookups and more action. This is recommended only when fishing flies below an indicator and can be best achieved when fishing out of a boat utilizing Scotty rod mounts. It is a great way for kids to partake in the action. It also is a good way to test out some different fly patterns at different depths to see what flies might be working best. Do remember to have the Extra Rod Stamp added onto your state of Colorado Fishing License.

A basic selection of chironomids

Tip 8. Buy some lake flies….all about chironomids, damsels, and callibaetis

While generally speaker a lot of your trout flies from river fishing can be used in lakes. There are specific lake patterns as lakes have different aquatic insects. To start there are three main bug hatches that occur in lakes, chironomids, damsels, and callibaetis. So making sure you have some nymphs and dries of each pattern is essential. A basic selection of streamers especially some smaller leech patterns are a good addition to any box as well as some of your favorite attractor dry flies like PMX, Parawulff, Royal Wulff, Elk Hair Caddis, Parachute Adams, Amy’s Ant, and Stimulators.

Tip 9. Target Big Fish

Who doesn’t like catching big fish? Still water fisheries often can support healthy populations of larger trout than many river systems especially freestone rivers. In lakes, the fish have food more readily available to them and they don’t have as many external stresses like in rivers. The result can mean fish can grow to bigger sizes more quickly.

So when you are fishing a lake one easy way to target these bigger fish is to invest in a sinking line and toss on a streamer and fish the deeper water, where these bigger fish might be hanging out.

Tip 10. Book a guided trip

A professional fly fishing guide will take the learning out of the curve and you will be catching fish in no time. At Vail Valley Anglers, many of our guides are seasoned still water anglers and take passion in changing it up a little bit from the normal wading or float trips. Click the link here to book your trip with Vail Valley Anglers today. 

Hopefully, these tips will motivate the angler in you to get out and try some fly fishing at some of the local lakes, ponds, and reservoirs this runoff season.

Patrick Perry, Former Guide, and Content Contributor @patperry