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Stillwater: Patterns and Techniques

Throughout this season, we will have blog entries that focus on different aspects of stillwater fly fishing.  This week, we’re focusing on early season stillwater patterns with a focus on our Bug of the Month: the Chironomid. Our experts share their techniques for stillwater success, too. (Check out our blog on choosing rods, reels, and line for your stillwater fishing.) Jon Easdon, Kenny Romero, Jared Sanders all contributed their expertise to this blog.

Early Season Patterns

Especially in early season, from ice-off into the Spring, what patterns should be in the fly box?

The fly selection for our lakes and reservoirs is a lot like our fly selection for rivers, minus the stonefly. 

Don’t hesitate to use egg patterns and worms. Yes, steak and eggs. 

Streamers are also a ton of fun in stillwater. Jon Easdon says, “this is where an angler can really get hooked on streamer fishing. If you are fishing for Pike, this is where your focus will be.” Kenny adds that wooly buggers and slump busters are also productive patterns early in the season.

Scuds are often overlooked and are often a preferred food source for trout. These aquatic invertebrates thrive in lakes with good substrate. You’ll oftentimes see trout rooting through weeds eating these, and they are effective year round.

Leeches are found in almost every body of water in the world. These make easy pickings for the trout, and they are definitely focused on them. 

Snails are often plentiful in many reservoirs in the South Platte Basin. One of our guides and fellow friends Zach Tokach ties a snail pattern that is extremely effective, and it’s one of the only snail patterns out there. When fishing rockier areas, I always try a snail.

As we move from ice-off and more fully into Spring conditions, stillwater nymphs and Chironomids will increase as a food source.

Bug of the Month: Chironomid

Chironomids are the midges of the lakes. They are a go-to bug for the stillwater angler year-round, and they should be in your fly box for early ice-off fishing, for sure.

The Chironomid life cycle progresses through four cycles: egg, larva, pupal, and adult.

At the larva stage, the insect may suspend just a few inches to a few feet off of the bottom of the lake as they emerge from tunnels burrowed in the mud. Because they are feeble and inefficient swimmers, an angler can do well to have slow retrieves, letting the imitation rise and fall. As they near the surface in the pupal stage, chironomids will draw fish up in the water column as they attempt to break through the surface of the lake.

When it comes to fishing the range of chironomid patterns, an angler has a couple of approaches. She can use a static nymph rig, suspending the imitations off of the bottom of the lake. With that technique, the waves and chop of the lake will cause the rising and falling motion of the larva. In another strategy, anglers can use a more active technique, “nymph stripping,” to imitate the bug’s feeble swimming. Unlike stripping with streamers, nymph stripping is more of a slow crawl, a steady retrieval with a longer pause to let the flies rise and fall.

For fly tyers, these are huge flies, tied on a longer shank hook. While they are relatively easy to tie, using a heavier gauge hook is important.

Chironomids in sizes 10-18, will make up the bulk of the bugs in lakes, and just like in the river, they will be a constant food source for the fish. According to Kenny Romero, Chironomids make up about ¾ of a trout’s diet.

As we transition into summer, we will add Callebaetis, Damselfies, and Caddis to the mix.

Kenny’s Top 10:

  • Conehead Wooly Bugger
  • Chironomid
  • Callibaetis (Poxyback)
  • Stillwater nymph
  • Slump Buster
  • Egg Pattern (peach, orange, and pink)
  • Stimulators
  • AP Muskrat
  • Caddis Dry
  • Damsel nymph and Bird’s Nest nymph

Jon adds that “from a fly tyer’s perspective, a great advantage is that stillwater bugs are NOT small! Stillwater patterns are larger and a lot easier to tie than size 26 midges. It’s also better for those folks that struggle rigging the smaller patterns on light tippet.”

Techniques

Here are some tips and techniques for productive days on a belly boat, kayak, or other watercraft:

No matter where you are fishing in a lake, depth is absolutely key. Fish will feed at certain depths and if you are not fishing those depths, you won’t even touch a fish. Play with your depth!

For fishing out of any watercraft, being “wind aware” is key. Where will the wind take you if it spikes up to 40 mph? Being on the wrong side of the lake when this happens can be brutal. Always think of your exit strategy.

Use different fly connection knots. Explore the non-slip loop knot to give your flies more life under water. 

For indicator fishing, try slip bobbers. These excel when indicator-fishing deep water and allow for more efficient line management and netting the fish.

Understanding how fish feed in lakes is key. Move around! If you have a watercraft, then it’s really easy to cover more water. Camping out in one spot is counter-productive. 

Don’t be afraid to strip those nymphs. Mix it up.

For productive days from the shore, keep these things in mind:

Jon: For being wind aware, you might not want to fish a shoreline where the wind is blowing straight into your face. Pick a shoreline with the wind at your back. 

Kenny: You’ll see fish cruising along the shoreline because they have to move to find the food – unlike their brothers in the river where the food is brought to them. Anglers will still want to get depth and length on their casts. Make adjustments to both as you cover more water.

Jared: Fishing from the shore, you do have to make long casts. If it is windy, you have to make pretty powerful casts. You could use a 5 wt but you have to work so much harder with less effect. You can have more fun casting a 6 or 7 wt rod over the course of the day. If I’m headed to Spinney, I’m taking a longer, heavier rod. 

Angel: You’re going to see a lot of anglers head to our reservoirs when opening day is announced.  There’ll be a lot of boats at Spinney because having the capability to access a lot of water is huge. 

If you are fishing from the bank, it’s good to be able to access deep water with a long cast and long leader.  This is also one of my favorite times of years to throw streamers. The trout’s metabolism is on the upswing, and streamers will fool big fish.  It’s more exciting for me too.  The eats are pretty visual, but even if you don’t see the take, it’s usually super aggressive.

As we near Opening Day at Spinney Reservoir, head into the Shop for all of your stillwater needs!

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