The familiarity of fisheries that we hold close to our heart due to the certainty of success is what sometimes keeps people like myself from venturing off into the unknown sometimes. I consider myself lucky to be able to leave my driveway, commute a mere 9 minutes and end up at a quality managed fishery that has never left me shaking my head & always seems to be fairy generous. It gets busy, the 5-8 pound fish that used to be a regularity have seemed to dwindle, but it’s so incredibly familiar to me. This is great and all, but it’s a double edged sword that I have noticed kept me from exploring new fisheries & finding trophy sized fish. “Trophy” is a word that gets thrown around fairy loosely, but in my opinion a trophy fish is one in the 30 inch class or greater. They don’t come easy, but persistence will pay its dividends at one point or another.
Trophy fisheries are a new ballgame. The fish are (much) smarter, bigger, and stronger but seem to have an elusiveness about them. It’s fun to put up big numbers of fish, but once you hook into fish over the ten pound class your perspective gets a tad warped. It’s almost like everything else becomes inferior and all you want is a shot at the fish of a lifetime. The amount of stillwater fisheries from the south Okanagan to Quensel & north that contain fish well over 10 pounds is mind boggling, and for every lake that you hear of holding big fish there’s an infinite amount that you will never hear anyone speak a word of. Lakes that regularly put out good numbers of smaller fish do not take a lot of time to figure out, and generally you will be limited to fish 5 pounds and under. There’s nothing wrong with that some days, but why not test your abilities once in a while?
In 2011 I began leaving smaller fish and easy success behind in hopes of finding some of the elusive trophy fish that the interior is known for. Did I get blanked? Yes, many times. I was becoming more effective each trip out but still had a lot to learn. I will never forget one particular day when lightning struck for me on a lake that had my name after the previous 3 outings. The indicator dropped like a rock, and next thing I knew I had less than 30 yards of backing left on my reel as the RPM’s were steadily increasing the more line the fish took until eventually it pulled a 180 and ran just as fast towards my boat. I did my best to keep up but the fish eventually spit the hook. I got to see the fish’s entire body once as it cartwheeled off in the distance. I don’t know how exactly how big it would’ve been, but somewhere in the 12 pound range and one I will never forget.
It’s easy to get hung up on fisheries that continually produce, but once in a while it’s worth it to put your time in on trophy lakes. It will eventually make you a better angler, if you can routinely find fish on those lakes everything else will begin to seem a lot easier. Accept the fact that you will get blanked from time to time. Your chironomids have to be perfect, your presentation can’t be sloppy and you have to be willing to step outside the box once in a while.
There once was a time where if you wanted to know what the fish were feeding on, you’d either keep a fish and examine the stomach contents or hang around the boat launches and fish cleaning stations. The truth is, what you’re getting in those stomach samples is a very vague indication as to exactly what were the fish eating. Most of the chironomids found in stomach samples of dead fish are a long ways from what the looked like when fish were actively feeding on them 3 hours ago. So what if you could see what was in the fish’s THROAT (not stomach), while still being able to release the fish unharmed? This is where the throat pump comes into play.
Many times my day has been saved by throat pumping the first fish of the day and getting an exact look on what was making my day so difficult. You see mayfly shucks everywhere & are rewarded with little success only to find out the fish are ignoring the mayflies and eating size 16 chironomids after throat pumping a fish, or maybe your black and red is being ignored because they’re keyed in on lime greens? Throat pumps are basically a glorified turkey baster with a tapered tube end, the tapered end allows the throat pump to go just into the throat without causing any cutting or scraping to the fish. A throat pump shows not just what they’re eating, but what they’ve been eating recently.
How to pump a fish? Simple. First things first, the fish has to be big enough to pump. I don’t pump any fish under sixteen inches long to avoid causing any damage in the process due to the diameter of the tube. I also do not pump bigger rainbows (8lb+) to avoid causing any additional stress to the fish. Simply put the pump in the water and squeeze the bulb, then eject the water you just pulled into the tube which will assure the tube isn’t dry in any spots. Squeeze the bulb and hold it while slowly inserting it directly into the center of the fish’s throat. Once you feel the slightest bit of resistance, release the bulb and pull the pump out. If successful, you should see a cloud of food fill the tube of the throat pump. The fish doesn’t need to leave the water for this process, and if your first attempt isn’t successful just release the fish and try again on the next one.
Once the fish is released, grab a small glass vile or the back of a clear tippet spool and squeeze the contents out of the bulb. Sometimes it takes filling the pump with water to mix up whatever is stuck in the bulb and send it down the tube. This is especially effective in the springtime when fish are keyed on chironomids, as there is such a wide variety of colours & shades it can be a guessing game until you can throat pump a fish and dial in the size & colour of the bugs. Once this is complete, open up the fly box and match the hatch as closely as possible.
Throat pumps will set you back a total of $10 dollars and it will be one of the best ten bucks you ever spend for stillwater fishing. Throat pumps are worth their weight in gold and it’s good to have one or two extras handy. Thank you for reading & best of luck on the water!
Having a boat is important, having a boat that is properly setup is crucial. Your boat won’t do you much good if it’s not outfitted for stillwater fishing. 100% of my fishing is done from an anchored position, so being able to effectively anchor the front and back of the boat is (in my opinion) the most important part. You don’t have to spend a fortune on a boat, I still run a 1032 flat bottom and it does everything I need it to do. Here’s a little list of must-haves for outfitting your boat:
A properly outfitted boat leaves more time for this!
This is just a couple ideas for those looking to get a new boat, or just upgrade some bits and pieces of theirs. As always if you have any questions feel free to send me an email, until next time happy fishing!
“If something has the chance to go wrong, it will”. that is the definition of the famous Murphy’s Law. Do I believe in this? I think so, but I didn’t expect everything to go wrong at once and definitely wasn’t prepared for it. I do not use a motor of any sort when stillwater fishing due to the amount of time already spent in a seated position waiting for a fish, rowing at least gets me moving a bit. It was a perfect day, the water temperature was right on the money and the chironomids were hatching. Halfway out to the spot I heard an alarming snapping sound as my left oar flew out of my hand. I looked down and I had blown up my metal oarlock. Did the one bolt I needed to put it back together fall into the water? of course it did. I managed to limp the last 50 yards or so until I could anchor up and try to come up with a temporary fix. The fishing was great, the sun was shining, all I had to do was find a way to re-construct my oarlock so I could make it back to the launch. In between my feeble fixing attempt without the required parts and being interrupted by a good handful of fish, I heard another loud noise this time from my friend’s boat. I looked back and he was buried in the bow of his pram laying on his back, somehow snapping the sliding swivel mount for his seat. Luckily nobody ended up in the water but the seat mount was toast.
Fast forward a lot of dropped bolts and a bunch more fish, my friend is hooked up on a decent sized rainbow. Decent sized meaning nice but not nearly heavy enough to blow up a fly rod. Apparently I was wrong, as I saw the rod explode along with a loud shattering sound and 2/3 of the top end of the rod sliding around on the line. So thus far we have broken one oar lock, one swivel seat bracket and a 6 weight rod. Cool. I managed to scrape up some sort of a repair on my oarlock, bending it enough to secure the oar in so I could at least move my boat. We decided to pull anchor and move in on another spot halfway across the lake where the bugs are known to hatch in good numbers. My oarlock is somehow holding together while I battle the swirling gusts of wind and make my way across the lake, but none of this matters as 4 boats roll in simultaneously and anchor up as we are 100 yards away or so. The entire shoal is now occupied, so it’s a long row back to our original spot. Halfway back to where I planned on anchoring, I heard something hit the water. My makeshift fix on the oarlock had blown apart and one half of it was fluttering down to the bottom of the lake. Now I’m really out of ideas, I remove the oar and do my best to use the remainders of the oarlock as something to pull the loose oar against to at least get back anchored up. What a rewarding feeling to at least reach my intended destination to try and figure out how I would get back to the launch, until I heard an even louder sounds of snapping aluminum coming from the opposite side of the broken oarlock. Really? I’ve had these same oarlocks on the same set of sticks for 4 years and they both decide to blow up within a few hours of each other? They aren’t the fanciest oarlocks but they are more than enough to get the job done. We ended up fishing another hour or so while coming up with a plan to make it back to the launch. I ended up getting towed back from my friend who was rowing his 8 foot pram, of course the wind decided to do a 180 just before we headed in but at this point we knew there couldn’t be many more things that could go wrong. Back to the launch we made it, slowly but surely, and I managed to replace bolts in two oarlocks that evening and they’ve held up since. But really? Murphy has a way of pulling a rabbit out of a hat when you least expect things to continuously go wrong. Lesson learned: buy quality oarlocks and don’t invite Murphy.
Floating fly lines really changed the way that I fished when I began to discover how effective they were for fishing sub-surface patterns. Before I had gained any sort of knowledge related to fly fishing equipment, I thought that floating lines were only to be used for fishing dries. When I started to pick up on being able to suspend a fly at a certain depth for an unlimited amount of time, or fish a subsurface fly at a crawling pace just quick enough to avoid hanging up on bottom, my catching skyrocketed almost instantly. Floating lines have an infinite amount of uses in stillwater fishing, but here are my 5 favourites.
The Mayfly Crawl – Fishing mayfly imitations can be heart stopping. Often done with a “naked” floating line (meaning no strike indicator or swivel attached) the floating line allows you to control your depth precisely and avoid hanging up by adjusting leader length and retrieval speed. Usually I will fish mayflies on a dry line in 10 feet of water or less. Some of the better days I have had fishing mayfly nymphs has been in 2-4 feet of water, the takes are violent and the big fish cruise up on the shoals when they mayflies start coming off. The most effective way to do this is cast either downwind or at 45 degree angle and allow your fly to wind drift while you make the absolute slowest retrieve possible. In fact, go as slow as you can and cut that by another 50%. The hand twist retrieve will keep your fly moving close to bottom & just fast enough to stay off bottom. Leader setup for this method is usually a 9 foot tapered fluorocarbon leader in the 8 or 6lb class, with enough tippet so that your leader is approximately 10% longer than the water is deep. This will allow your fly to stay in the zone without hanging up too often as your butt end of the leader will sink slower than the tippet. Hold on tight as fish that are grabbing mayflies in the shallows usually tend to hit like a freight train.
Indicator/Micro Leech Combo – Micro leeches are an absolutely deadly pattern all year round. Fish eat leeches after a large chironomid feed to help cap their food down, no matter what time of day leeches will always take fish. Leeches swim in an undulating motion, sometimes resting static in the water column or on bottom. Fishing micro leeches & balanced leeches under a strike indicator is becoming an increasingly popular method, especially early and late season. Fishing micro leeches (what I consider size 10 and smaller) under an indicator is an excellent option as it gives the fish a healthy amount of time to make up their mind and doesn’t take a lot of commitment to eat a small leech that is wind drifting by. I have caught fish on micro leeches with my indicator set anywhere from 8 inches to 25 feet, but most “leeching” I do takes place in 3-12 feet of water. Fish will come up and forage the shallows in the early spring to find leeches, shrimp and potentially early chironomids, so don’t overlook the shallow water. My favourite leader setup for fishing micro leeches under a strike indicator is to run a section of 8 or 10lb fluorocarbon from my fly line to a size 12 barrel swivel. From the barrel swivel I run another 18-36 inches of 6lb fluorocarbon tippet and attach the micro leech with a non-slip mono loop. The length of your butt section will depend on the depth of water that you’re fishing, just make sure your leader isn’t noticeably too long or casting will be difficult due to the indicator being pegged closer to the swivel than it is to the fly line.
Another victim of the micro leech!
Naked Line Chironomid – This is one method that I spend a lot of time with in the spring months. It’s an extremely effective way of covering the water column, and sometimes the grabs are out of this world. A lot of fish get broken off naked line chironomid fishing in deeper water. Often I will run one indicator line with one naked line, especially in very flat conditions the naked line will often out fish the indicator line. Reasons for this are unknown to me as you’d think the presentation staying at precisely the same depth the whole time would pick up a lot more fish. I’ll fish this way very similar to crawling mayflies, often in a bit deeper water. I usually don’t do much naked line fishing in water that is shallower than 15-20 feet, preferring to run two indicator lines. My most trusted method of fishing a naked line chironomid is casting on a 45 degree angle downwind, allowing my leader a small period of time to sink, and starting a hand twist retrieve. Chironomids ascend the water column at a painfully slow rate, so try and keep your retrieve as relaxed as possible. Sometimes a retrieve can take 5 minutes or more on one cast. There is a little bit more approximation in naked line chironomid fishing vs. running a strike indicator as there is no sure-fire way to know exactly what your depth is. Usually I will let my fly sink until it looks as though all my leader is hanging down below the surface and begin my hand twist. I have tried a plethora of different leader setups for this type of fishing & have concluded that my preferred method is running a straight shot of 6lb fluorocarbon directly to my fly. The reasoning for this is a) fluorocarbon sinks slightly faster than mono b) it’s not going to be a pretty cast either way with a 25 foot leader c) there will be no hinge that is often caused by the butt section of tapered leaders not sinking at the same rate as the rest of the leader.
Sub-Surface Caddis Pupa – I learned this method on a stillwater trip a few years ago in early July. The water temperature had warmed enough that good chironomid hatches were non-existent and the mayflies were nowhere to be found, but there were caddis and lots of them. Anchored on a 7 foot deep flat shoal, casting parallel to the drop off it was what seemed like an eternity before I hooked my first fish of the trip. I knew that the fish were on caddis flies but couldn’t get them to commit to eating the dry fly. They would just about poke their nose at it before refusing and heading back to the depths of the lake. Tippet size reduction, fly changes, leader length adjustments, everything seemed to lead to refusals. Until I tied on a size 6 caddis pupa and let it sink just below the surface with a steady 4-6 inch retrieve. I made my first strip and my line exploded, a couple minutes later I had a nice 7lb triploid in the net. The fish stayed on eating those caddis pupa subsurface for the remainder of the trip and I had learned a valuable lesson. My leader setup for this is entirely dependent on water depth, but usually I will start with a 9 foot 8lb fluorocarbon tapered leader either home made or store bought. To pre-tie a tapered leader for fishing Caddis pupa I start with a 3 foot section of 20lb fluoro, down to a 3 foot section of 12lb fluoro, to a 3 foot section of 8lb fluoro and then adjust accordingly. All connections are done with a blood knot, there is a reason why I stopped at 8lb test instead of something lighter as the takes are usually violent with a subsurface caddis pupa.
Strike Indicator/Chironomid – This may seem like an absolute no-brainer, but I have to include it here. This is how 75% or more of my stillwater fishing is done in the spring and fall. Chironomid fishing gets a bad wrap as being too “boring” but there is a reason behind this. Chironomid fishing is extremely boring when it isn’t done properly, and there are a lot of small equations that need to line up in order to be successful. In the near future I will have an entire article that covers chironomid fishing further in depth, but while we’re on the topic of leader setups I figured this would be an important thing to clear up. Chironomid fishing is not like dragging a leech pattern on a full sinking line in circles around the lake. It is very, very precise and one small miscalculation can lead to a painful day of fishing. Is your fly at the right depth? Is it the right shape/size? Are you on top of where the bugs are coming off? All these things have to line up properly or you’ll be staring at your indicators all day. Typically I will fish chironomids anywhere from 1-10+ feet off of the bottom of the lake, depending on where the fish are feeding in the column and what I’m seeing in throat samples. If the fish are stuffed full of nickel bright chromies then that is telling me they are definitely not right on bottom. I have experimented with every leader setup under the sun for chironomid fishing with an indicator, and again my favourite method is a straight shot of 8lb fluoro from my fly line to a size 10-14 barrel swivel. Below the barrel swivel I will tie on an 18-36 inch piece of 6lb fluorocarbon tippet and attach the fly with a loop knot. The reasoning behind the straight piece of 8lb fluorocarbon is that it sinks fast, it sinks uniform and if I want to ditch the indicator setup I can just clip off my swivel, add 2 feet of 6lb with a blood knot and I’m good to go for naked line chironomid fishing.
Hopefully this (sort of) short list will inspire someone to dig out their floating line and try something new. There are a million different uses for it, but this article hopefully covers some that are not as popular as the standard elk hair caddis or tom thumb on the surface. I have received plenty of nice feedback from folks all over and it is greatly appreciated. As always, feel free to send me an email should you have any questions and I will be happy to reply. Until next time happy fishing!!