At 17 years old with not a whole lot more than a Honda CRX and a float tube, I would spend as much of my calendar year lake fishing as I could. It was familiar to me, I had gained just enough knowledge to be somewhat confident in it and liked the idea of learning something new every trip out. If you are wise about your timing and lake choices, you can actually have pretty consistent stillwater fishing from ice off until the lakes freeze up again. Despite the inevitable “summer doldrum” that usually rolls through in late July or early August where things just get too hot, it is still possible to have good days on the water through most of the open water season.
March: This is, if we’re lucky, the start of the interior stillwater fishery. Some years nothing really happens, but other years we’re blessed with an early spring that brings fairly generous temps. The earliest I’ve stillwater fished was February 15th, but that was a very rare exception. Look for low elevation lakes that receive a lot of sunshine & a fair amount of wind if possible. Chances are you’ll be fishing the pre-turnover window anywhere that you’re able to fish in the month of march, so target the shallow water with micro leeches, bloodworms, immature damsels and if you’re lucky enough to hit an early hatch, chironomids.
April: April is when most of the low elevation lakes have turned over, and the moderate (less than 3,000 feet) elevation lakes start to ice off and come to life. Generally I won’t try to target the ice-off window on higher lakes, rather I’ll stick to the waters that I know are turned over and fishing well. There are exceptions to this, as some lakes offer solid ice-off chironomid fishing. April can bring some excellent chironomid hatches, so this is what I’ll focus on as much as I can if possible. If you’re looking at targeting the ice-off window then put your time in on the shallow flats as that’s where you’ll find most of your fish. Micro leeches, immature damsels, bloodworms, boatmen & chironomids are all patterns to have in your box.
Early Spring Stillwater Fishing
May: If you had to pick one month to fish our interior stillwater fishery, May would be it. Most lakes have iced off, turned & are swinging into the “prime” window of the year. Almost anywhere you visit in the month of May is sure to be in decent shape aside from very late ice-off years. Chironomid fishing in May is at it’s peak for a lot of lakes, a lot of big days are had if the weather cooperates. Aside from chironomids you’ll consistently find good mayfly & damsel fishing along with the ever-present staple foods like leeches, shrimp & bloodworms.
A common sight in May
June: June can sometimes be more consistent weather-wise than May. This is an excellent month for chironomids, mayflies, damsels, dragons and even caddisflies if the water temp warms enough. Being a chironomid fanatic, usually I will “follow the hatch” up in elevation meaning that once the low elevation lakes get much higher than 65 degrees I’ll start targeting lakes that are still in what I consider prime water temps and leave the warmer lakes to rest. Aside from chironomid fishing being great, another draw for a lot of anglers is the massive migration for damsels & dragonflies as they make their way to the shore structure and reed beds to shed their exoskeleton and begin their adult life.
July: July is when the chironomid fishing tends to slow down in most lakes, and I concentrate my efforts on one of the many rivers that offer amazing dry fly fishing in July. This being said some lakes can really shine in July, especially those over 3,000 feet in elevation. If you want to target big fish eating dries in 5 feet of water, July is the time to do it in the interior. Generally dragonfly nymphs fish very well in July, and some lakes can offer excellent fishing with chironomids and bloodworms.
Dawn patrol in early July
August: August can be a great month, low elevation lakes will experience summer doldrums and generally are best left alone for the safety of the fish due to high water temperatures. There’s a small number of lakes that actually experience incredible hatches of “bombers” (much larger chironomids than we are used to seeing in the springtime) and stay fairly consistent through the months of July & August. Fish will generally turn on what are referred to as “staple food sources” including bloodworms, shrimp & leeches.
September: The first frost of fall is usually a fairly relieving sign that another hot summer is coming to a close and fly fishermen get excited for things to pick up again. September can have some stellar chironomid fishing, some lakes actually seem to fish better in the fall than they do in the springtime. Waterboatmen, chironomids, backswimmers, leeches, shrimp and bloodworms are the most commonly used patterns in the month of September.
Fall in BC
October: October has a lot to offer in the interior of BC. There were years before this when stillwater was all I knew, and October was one of my favourite months of the year. Generally you will not see the same crowds that you do in the springtime, and some lakes can be absolutely magical at this time. Chironomids, bloodworms, waterboatmen, leeches & shrimp are all solid producers at this time.
November: Depending on the year, sometimes we are still able to stillwater fish into November. Cold? Yes, but for those that aren’t quite ready to throw in the towel can have some great days in November. Fish are generally fairly lethargic, but if you can manage some decent weather then you will find fish in the shallows feeding on shrimp, bloodworms and micro leeches.
Wintertime involves many hours of fly tying
Wintertime for me means fly tying, spey fishing for steelhead and travelling. Towards the month of February I start to get very anxious for the stillwater season to start up, and the cycle repeats itself. While there are peak times and more challenging times of the year, good fishing is to be found through the entire open water season. Thank you for taking the time to read, as always feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions. Until next time!
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!!
If I could choose one chironomid pattern to fish throughout springtime in our interior lakes, the anti-static bag chromie would probably be at the top of my list. Every chironomid pupa acquires the gunmetal silver sheen as they trap oxygen in their abdomen during their ascent up the water column. The anti-static bag body is so versatile as it is slightly translucent, allowing the tier to modify the underbody colour by simply changing thread. Here’s a quick step-by-step on my favourite chironomid pattern.
Hook: Dai-Riki #285 size 16-20
Bead: Gunmetal/Black size 5/64 or 2/32
Thread: UTC 70 colour of your choice
Gill Material: UNI-Stretch
Body: Anti-Static Bag (computer part packaging cut into strips)
Rib: Depending on the pattern either spun UTC 70 thread, crystal flash or wire
Thorax: UTC 70 colour of your choice
This fly can be done in an endless variety of underbody & rib combinations, this is just one that I seem to use a lot during our interior stillwater fishery each spring. A good sign that fish are suspended higher up in the water column is finding their stomachs stuffed full of chromies. I fish this either on a floating line under and indicator, or a naked floating line with no indicator or swivel. Tomorrow’s post will be all about leader setup for springtime stillwater fishing, thank you for reading & if you have any questions feel free to send me an email!
In fly fishing there are things that seem to receive a whole whack of popularity for obvious reasons, especially fly patterns. There once was a saying that the only three things sure in life are death, taxes and wooly buggers. Certain fly patterns gain a good reputation because a lot of people fish them, a lot of people have confidence in them and if nothing else they downright work on a consistent basis. Then there are some that fly (no pun intended) under the radar and can bail you out when the going gets tough, that is the purpose of this article. Gammarus & Hyalella shrimp are the two common species found in our interior stillwaters, the latter being much smaller than the Gammarus shrimp. When fish get keyed in on tiny (size 20 and smaller) Hyalellas it can be the equivalent of pulling your own hair out strand by strand, but luckily the fish are usually willing to eat a shrimp that is a tad larger than the natural.
I personally never had a sliver of confidence in them until one early spring day in 2010 with a friend of mine on an interior lake. The lake had just iced off, after a pretty challenging day we pulled into a new spot and could see fish cruising the shallows with only an hour left before we had to head out. Just when I thought I had tried everything but the kitchen sink, I spotted a row of flies in my box that I had never paid much attention to. I had seen a couple shrimp swimming around the boat launch and figured I had nothing to lose. I set my strike indicator depth at 24 inches, made a cast right onto the transition from shallow water to deep water and prayed to the fish gods. It wasn’t 30 seconds before my indicator blinked once, then submerged under the water. I put a solid twenty inch rainbow in the net, and put my fly back in the exact same spot. They say one is a fluke, two is a theory and three is a pattern. Well it doesn’t really matter how many big rainbows we connected with in our last hour of fishing but it was astronomically more than three, and I had learned a valuable lesson.
How, When & Why
Hopefully this short article will help ease the learning curve on one of the most productive methods for stillwater fishing in the interior of BC or lake fishing anywhere you may find yourself. As always, if you have any questions on tactics or methods feel free to drop me an email and I’ll be happy to answer you. Until next time happy angling & pray for spring to show its presence soon!
As a long winter slowly draws to an end, the anticipation of fishing the interior of British Columbia’s trophy stillwaters becomes almost unbearable at times. The most painful years are the ones where spring seems to be constantly interrupted by weather we would usually be experiencing in late February, and the lakes take their precious time shedding a thick layer of ice. One of the most discouraging feelings as a dedicated stillwater angler is rolling into your favourite lake with hopes that the ice will have lifted only to find out there’s still hard water for all those nice rainbows to hide under for another short while. On the other hand, some of the best fishing of the year can take place in the first few days after ice-off. Early spring is a gamble, but here’s a short list I’ve compiled to help you find them in the precious time frame between ice off and lake turnover.
Maybe next week…
A gorgeous early season rainbow caught in 4 feet of water
Micro Leeches are a must have for early season stillwater fishing!
Boat launches are usually vacant at the “crack of noon”
Hopefully this small write-up can shed a bit of light to those hoping to get out on their favourite stillwater for the first trip of the year. A huge thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read this. If you have any questions feel free to drop an email in the contact section or leave me a comment, I will be happy to help. Until then happy fishing!
How often have you come off the water completely blanked and considered it an unsuccessful day? Over the years I have been fortunate enough to have a few days that I considered to be nothing short of incredible. Days that you only read about in magazines, where everything just seems to go right. When I started fly fishing, if I could somehow manage to even hook one fish on an outing I was more than pleased. It wasn’t just about the fish, it was the experience and the satisfaction of learning more each time I went out. I was well aware of how little knowledge I had, but just being on the water was enough for me. Progressively I became a more effective angler and my standards went up on what “good” was the more fish I consistently caught. Sadly, it slowly turned into a numbers game for me. Why didn’t I get quite as many as last time? How many more could I have gotten if I put in an extra hour? It was no longer about the experience it was about the numbers.
I came to realization how many things I was taking for granted while guiding one day, two nice guys from New York State were in my boat and we stopped for our usual shore lunch in a small field beside the river. After we had finished eating & the other boats had headed off, my two clients reached into the cooler and grabbed a beer. I was folding up the tables & chairs, making sure the boat was in order when one of them said “hey, come sit with us for a second”. I wasn’t sure exactly why, but I sat down on my cooler anyways. “See, we’re not in a hurry to get back on the water right now. Fishing was great this morning, we’re just enjoying being able to sit here and enjoy the scenery instead of stuck in an office back in the city.” They gave each other a cheers and put some music on from a cell phone Most guests are fairly eager to get on the water and guides are usually scrambling to get everything set for the afternoon session. I felt a slight sense of guilt as I sat on the cooler. How many days have I spent on the water with a one track mind on how many I was going to put in the net, while taking everything in my surroundings for granted? These guys paid a pretty penny to come to Canada fishing for the week, but they explained thoroughly that fly fishing to them is not about how many they tally up in a day. It created a stir of thoughts in my head, forcing me to wonder why my perspective on the sport seemed to have changed over the years. I didn’t really notice how selfish I had become until then. I never told them how much that moment meant to me, but it has permanently changed my outlook on fly fishing. Who cares if you didn’t swing up a winter steelhead this season? You spent every day in a beautiful surrounding, and learned something each and every outing. If fly fishing was ONLY about the fish, you would’ve given it up a long time ago.
SIDE NOTE: The guest that spoke his unknown words of wisdom went on to land the biggest dry fly caught rainbow that I saw all season on a #6 California Blonde with 5 minutes left on his last day… good things happen to good people.
Stop & take a moment to appreciate your surroundings, chances are they aren’t too bad.
Fly fishing brings us to a vast array of places, and creates memories that will never be erased. All the flat tires, skunked days and moments of frustration seem to fade when everything lines up for you. Next time you’re pulling your hair out on the water reel in, sit down for a couple minutes and just take a good solid look around you. Chances are after that you’ll realize things could be a whole hell of a lot worse. The “numbers” mentality is a thing of the past for me, it’s still fun to clean up on them once in a while but my outlook on what makes a day on the water “successful” has changed for the better.
Fly Fish Chronicles is here to serve those that share the same passion we do. To some folks fly fishing is a semi-annual hobby, to some it is a way of life. There’s nothing that really makes me tick like fly fishing, it is a never ending learning and growing experience. I gave up long ago on trying to explain it, standing in a glacial river in the middle of January swinging to a winter steelhead that probably isn’t there sounds like an absolute living hell to most but there are a good handful of people out there that just can’t ever get enough of it. Guiding, shop work & hundreds upon hundreds of days on the water have lead me here; a place to share it with those that live the same life I do.
Fly Fish Chronicles is an outlet of fly fishing stories, media, step-by-step fly tying articles, unbiased product reviews and instructional bits. This blog is not here to spill the beans on your favorite steelhead flows or draw maps to one of the many high quality stillwater fisheries we have here in BC, those are up to you. Fly Fish Chronicles is tailored for those that live this wonderful sport day in and day out.
Welcome to the obsession…