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Stillwater Dry Fly Fishing


By Kenny Romero


When it comes to stillwater fishing, most people fish subsurface, primarily nymphs, wooly buggers, streamers and slump busters.   But did you know that during the summer months dry fly fishing can be the most productive fly fishing strategy?  There’s nothing like a 22” rainbow “exploding” into the air as he attacks a #16 Elk Hair Caddis or #18 Griffith’s Gnat!  Although subsurface stillwater fly fishing is day-in and day-out the most productive type of fly fishing, stillwater dry fly fishing is often overlooked.  This past month I’ve caught more fish on dry flies than nymphs and wooly buggers combined.  As the water temperature has increased (62 degrees at Spinney last Sunday at 10:30 AM) the dry fly action has been excellent!


Read the Water

A stream or river is easy to read compared to stillwater. On a river, you can see the riffle water and the undercut bank.  Not so on stillwater.  There is a lot going on under the surface of a lake or reservoir with a complex eco-system of structure, channels, troughs, weeds and currents. You can locate where fish congregate on stillwater by searching for weed beds, shallow water, rocky shore lines, inlets and drop offs.  Knowing where fish congregate will put you on the fish. 


Weed beds can be very productive areas to fish because there are a variety of flies hatching, seeking cover, and feeding in the weed beds.  Weed beds can also be frustrating areas to fish because when a large fish takes your dry fly, it will head for the cover of the weeds and may get stuck in the weeds.  Look for rises on the water or swallows feeding on the water.  Head to that area and determine what is hatching.  There’s a very good chance small midges, chironomids, callibaetis may flies, or caddis fly are hatching. 


Be the Drift

On a river, the current acts as your mode of transportation for getting the all-important “natural drift.” On stillwater, the fly fisher must become the drift.  Callibaetis mayflies “dance” on the water, often bouncing up and down, while caddis flies will skim and skirt along on the water’s surface.  I attract attention from trout by making my fly mimic this behavior.  Fish will take a static callibaetis spinner (last stage of the may fly life cycle), but I’ve had more success with Dun patterns (fully winged adult) by twitching my line or using a slow strip retrieve.  It’s also a good idea to drop a Callibaetis, Birds Nest, Pheasant Tail nymphs or even Damsel fly two feet below your dry fly.


The “Big Three” stillwater dry flies

The Big Three Stillwater summer time dry flies in our area are the Callibaetis mayfly, Caddis fly and Chironomid/midge.    I have good success with a variety of callibaetis dun patterns, elk hair caddis, Adams, Griffiths Gnats, and hopper patterns.  Last Sunday we landed many big fish on #18 Griffiths Gnats and #14 Callibaetis Duns.  We also caught our biggest fish on caddis flies early afternoon.


Putting it all together

Fly fishing our local stillwaters can be amazing when you put all the factors and variables together.  It’s all about timing.  Being at the right place (where the hatch is) with the right drift (the retrieve) with the right fly can result in some of the most fun and exciting fly fishing you’ll ever experience.  Angler’s Covey has all the stillwater gear you’ll need from fly line to flies!


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