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10 Tips for Improving Your Stillwater Fly Fishing

I'm by no means a completely savvy stillwater angler, but it's something I've found myself daydreaming about more and more. I know it can be hard to pull yourself away from the river, but if you need that fly-fishing-fix during runoff, it just so happens that stillwaters often fish their best in spring and early summer. But there are other reasons to dive into fly fishing lakes too. 

First, you can really experience the power of a trout’s strength in a lake, the fish is only fighting against you, not you and the current of a river. Strong runs are not uncommon. Second, I’ve rarely felt overcrowded at a trout lake. If you value your space, or are simply searching for a new type of serenity in your fishing, you’ll find more water to yourself. Plus, fish are more often naive and willing to take flies. On rivers, trout might only have several options for suitable habitat, runs behind rocks, or heads of pools. But these are places anglers know to check, and resident fish have undoubtedly encountered flies at some point. Meanwhile on lakes, trout can spread out, patrol shorelines, explore coves, or hunt for incoming food from inlets, usually without constant angling pressure. Oh did I forget to mention fish in lakes can grow huge!?

Ready to give it a shot? Great, but be warned… There are still some barriers to entry, and experience is the best teacher. Lakes are a different animal for fly-anglers only familiar with river fishing. They can be intimidating places, but I'm here to pass along some tips to get you started. These aren't necessarily tips for someone with no-experience in lake fishing for trout, but these tips definitely helped me advance my game and comfort on lakes.


  1. Do you have access to a boat? If not you might be interested in investing in a float tube. They are convenient and cheaper than boats. But make sure to find one that has an above water chair versus the sit-in doughnuts. It will be much warmer and more comfortable on the chilly days.

  2. Even if the weather looks great, make sure to check the wind reports. Windy days make for tough conditions when on an ill-suited watercraft. Bring anchors for your bow AND stern. However, if the wind is strong, fish on the windward side of the lake as baitfish and prey can get collected against that bank. You might not need to be in a boat at all. 

  3. Hatches on lakes are going to be different from rivers. Without getting into the weeds on flies for lakes, keep woolly buggers on hand, big and small. With green and black, from size 8-12, you’re covering most of the forage base with history’s best designed attractor fly. 

  4. Hopper dropper rigs can be just as effective on stillwater, and not only for the dropper. I’ve been surprised to find trout willing to eat hoppers on lakes further from the bank than I’d expect. Keep a few chubby chernobyls on hand. 




  1. I keep an old reel with a thermometer attached to the fly line as a way to check depth and temperature. Look for temps between 45F and 65F. If you can only find that temperature window ten feet down, that’s the depth to present flies. If it’s higher in the column, fish closer to the surface. Follow the temperature. In the spring/fall, you want to find the warmest water, and in the summer you want to find the coolest water. Maybe look into a fish/depth finder to help find trout quicker. 

  2. You'll have to invest in sinking lines if you're going to get serious about lake fishing for trout. There are so many options out there these days, each with a specific use. So it might take some homework to find the right one, but floating lines are only effective for fishing in the shallowest surface band of a lake. 

  3. In my lived experience, there is more camaraderie with stillwater fly anglers. Ask for some pointers. 

  4. Fluorocarbon tippet, with better invisibility underwater than nylon tippet, has helped give me confidence in my presentation. Be ready with 2x, 3x, and 4x. 

  5. If you’re stripping streamers with sinking lines, keep pace in your head to track your sink rate. For a line that sinks 3 inches per second, you could count in threes and calculate your depth as the line sinks. After four seconds your line should be a foot deep. Sometimes that’s good to know. But I’m not always in the mood to practice my times-tables while fishing. Instead, just count down to five seconds for a few casts, then ten seconds, etc. If you notice strikes, focus on that depth.

  6. Learn about lake dynamics and how lakes change throughout the season. Hatches primarily consist of chironomids, callibaetis, damselflies, dragonflies, and some caddis. But don’t forget about non-insect invertebrates either. Leeches, scuds, crayfish. Plus, baitfish and even stocked fish. The shape and depth of a lake influences water temperature, hatch timing, spawning runs. For best stillwater results, look for lakes less than 20 feet deep that are rich in aquatic life.


It might be tough to pull yourself away from the river but if you can find out when the chironomid and damsel hatches are happening on your lakes, these would be the best events to target for improving your knowledge. Never forget, there are some big trout in lakes.



Author Bio:


Andy Witt, scientist and angler obsessed with chasing and understanding all gamefish, writes on the intersection of science, conservation, and fly fishing for Due West Anglers, based out of Denver, CO. 



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