10 Top Tips To Improve Your Fly Fishing on Stillwaters

Updated: Nov 15

Everybody wants to catch more fish and we’ve listed 10 top tips to help you do just that !


1. Use the countdown method

One of the key things you’re trying to do when you’re trout fishing is to find the depth at which the fish are holding. This will change according the light levels, water temperature, wind levels and insect hatches, so you’ll need to use the countdown method throughout your day.

After you’ve cast your flies, give the line a pull to straighten it out and ensure you’ll feel any takes, and then countdown down for 5, 10, 15, 20 or 25 seconds to allow your flies to sink through the depths. With each consecutive cast, use a slightly longer countdown before you commence your retrieve to help you find the depth at which the fish are holding.

Start near the surface and work down. Trout look upwards for food. Start with a five second count, then try 10, 15, 20 and 25 until you get some action. Count your flies down with each cast until you find the feeding depth.





2. Watch the fly line at the tip

After and during your cast, always keep your rod tip down so it’s just above the water surface. If you retrieve with your rod up in the air, several feet above the water, any fish which takes your fly gently won’t be felt because it will only move the slack line dangling beneath.

Point your rod tip down all the water through the retrieve and keep a close eye on the line dangling just below the tip. It’s your strike indicator. If a fish takes the fly gently, you will often spot the line move outwards, even if you don’t feel the bite. Lift the rod and you might hook the fish. The fly line dangling beneath the rod tip is your strike indicator.





3. Use the fan casting technique

Most fly fishers have a natural tendency to cast immediately in front of themselves on every spot at which they fish. This means their flies will only be covering a narrow strip of water, and the trout may be somewhere else.

Instead, try to cover the whole area of water in front of you, including the margins on either side. Imagine a grid or fan pattern drawn on the water, and place your casts from as far left as you can go, all the way round the fan until you’ve covered the area to your right.

Once you’ve gone all of the way across the fan from left to right, start again and re-cover the area you fished a few minutes before, perhaps with a different fly, a different retrieve or at a different depth. You’ll greatly increase your chances of finding any fish. 





4. If the sun comes out, fish deeper

Where other animals have eyelids they can squint, or pupils that can constrict to help block out bright light, trout do not. They can’t squint and their pupils don’t constrict.

Their eyes are adapted for lower light levels, so when it’s sunny, they don’t feel that comfortable and they’ll drop through the water layers to find deeper water where less light has penetrated. When the sun comes out, make sure that you change to fishing deeper, otherwise the trout may miss your flies. 





5. Fish more than one fly

You never know which fly is going to work, so while you’re trying to find out what works, you’ll increase your chances of success by fishing several at once – one on the point and one or two on the droppers.

More often than not, the flies chosen will consist of a bright attractor pattern, such as a blob, and some drab more naturalistic patterns, such as buzzersnymphs or cormorants, on the droppers. The trout may be drawn into the gaudiness of the attractor but end up taking one of the /naturals. 





6. Leave plenty of room between your flies

If you’re fishing several flies on the same leader, ensure you leave plenty of room between them. As a general rule of thumb, a gap of about five feet is recommended between each fly.

Your top dropper can be tied five feet from the end of the fly line, the second fly goes five feet below that, and the point fly goes five feet past that. This gives you a nice long 15 foot leader with three well-spaced flies.

Experts reckon fishing the flies closer than this reduces your catch rate. If you’re fishing brightly coloured flies, then the rule of thumb is that you should leave a 10 foot gap between them, as fish can get spooked by two bright flies placed close to each other. 





7. Remember that stillwaters aren’t still

Although they’re called stillwaters, and all you’ll see from above is a bit of surface ripple, stillwaters aren’t actually still beneath the surface. The wind action on most lakes causes the water to move constantly, which means that food is always on the move with the trout following it.

Trout in rivers usually position themselves with their noses pointing upstream so they can effortlessly consume anything that drifts past them. Trout in stillwaters can behave similarly and will sometimes position themselves into the wind.

Obstacles, such as points and islands, also affect the movement of the water, so look for the areas where the water is being driven to locate the feeding trout. 





8. Stay on the move

Lots of stillwater fly fishers have a tendency to stay in the same place for long periods of time, repeatedly thrashing the same piece of water, often without fan casting.

You’ll usually stand a better chance of finding the fish if you move every 10 minutes or so, once you’ve fan casted a couple of times and searched the depths with the flies of your choice. Of course, if you get some interest, stay longer, or give the spot a short rest and return a little later.





9. Observe the fly life on the banks

While stillwater trout will happily take blobs, blue flash damsels, cat’s whiskers and yellow dancers all day, every day, they’re going to predominantly be used to feeding up natural invertebrates in the water or landing upon it.

It pays to observant and look at what’s hatching on the banks. If you spot flies hatching or crawling around, then do try switching to smaller, more natural patterns. Unsurprisingly, it’s often very effective, if you can pull yourself away from the blobs…





10. Don’t stick to the floating line all day

On most stillwaters, especially small or medium-sized ones, a floating line is the norm. You can easily catch fish all day using a floater, but if the fish go deep you’ll need to use a weighted fly to reach them and you may struggle to keep your fly in the feeding zone or retrieve fast enough with only a floating line in your arsenal.

Most competition fly fishers use several lines – some take literally a dozen or more different specialist lines with them and change them throughout the day depending on the conditions. Most stillwaters, you’ll be fine with a good floating line, an intermediate (which sinks very slowly) and a sinking line – maybe a Di3 or Di5 (which sink at 3-5 inches per second).

Buy a spare spool and take at least an intermediate line with you so you can swop the floater if conditions change, or if you can’t buy a bite on the floating line. It will mean you’ll get your flies into the feeding zone faster and you’ll be able to use retrieves you couldn’t with a floating line, which could be enough to catch you some extra fish.




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