Stillwater trout is something I pursued very passionately out west. I have fished with both Brian Chan and Denny Rickards and they have very different approaches to fishing Stillwater. Yet theyre both the best in the game. The common denominator is they both understand where the fish are and why. Brian loves to fish imitative patterns and Denny is more of a suggestive fly guy. I blended both their techniques and was eventually able to crack codes on lakes where I had previously been badly stumped, with results beyond my wildest dreams!
One thing Brian taught me that really blew the door open to success on lakes is fishing leeches under an indicator. Theirs times when its so deadly it should be illegal. same goes for fishing Chironomids under indicators. This method is one of few ways one can catch a real monster on a really small fly. (think 10-15# trout on a size 16... google fly fishing Crain Prairie Reservoir)
But, fishing Denny's techniques of seal buggers and Stillwater nymphs on clear intermediate lines is what REALLY made me fall in love and frankly, divorce steelheading. (Google Flyfishing Klamath Lake and you'll see why
But it all falls back to finding fish. It actually is very elementary. A good rule of thumb to remember is trout only do two things. Theyre either seeking food, or seeking not to become food. It is the quintessential eat or be eaten realm. Finding areas where fish can do both is your first task. To start with, stay in water less than 10' deep. Much more manageable in the beginning. (And holds more trophy fish than any other zone) Look for submerged weed gardens and work the edges. Fish drop offs. Fish areas where the bottom changes colors. Fish as close to the structure as you can. Right above weed beds. Near the bottom along the edges of weed beds. (I am speaking about trout here, I do realize we are in the warmwater forum, but many fish apply to this) When trout are feeding in lakes, they are moving all over. Mostly side to side but up and down too. your percentages will be higher if you keep your fly close to the bottom or right above weed beds. However, a cruising hungry trout will move up in the water column to take food if it sees it and does not feel threatened.
When possible, fish the windward shores. Your intuition is to seek shelter in shores and coves out of the wind. But the wind can be your friend, pushing forage to the windblown side of the lake. Fish will congregate here. The water will also be well oxygenated from the rough surface, creating a high energy, positive fish environment.
Inspect the surface often for signs of bugs. Not dry flies necessarily, but the discarded shucks of hatching aquatic insects. The #1 food source by far in all American lakes is the chironomid. Learn to ID theyre shucks. When you see them in the surface film. Get out your indicator and chironomid patterns and get after em! Clip a forceps to your fly and lower it down to find the bottom. Measure up 1 foot and pin your indicator. Remove the forceps and get your flies down. use a shot or a leech for dropper.
If you see Calibaetis shucks, tie on a hares ear and do the same thing. Be mindful of the size of the shucks youre seeing and match it with your fly.
If you start seeing damsel fly shucks, pick up your phone and call me! I'll be there as fast as I can
Damsel migrations are simply magical
I ALWAYS carry two rods on Stillwater. One with a floater and one with a Cortland clear camo. Use the floater for indicator fishing, damsel migrations and subsurface soft hackles (and occasionally dries) and the clear line for plying deeper with buggers and nymphs. If I know I may be plying water more than 12' deep I'll have a 3rd rod with a type III density compensated line. This is extremely rare.
So much more to discuss but you may be asleep by now