Still Water Tactics

Still Water Tactics for Barn Elms

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.

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 at 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.

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 recover 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.

Fish Habits During the Day

Trout follow the food, but they’re cautious about entering shallow, open water, especially when it’s clear, as it places them at greater risk from predators. They’ll often be found cruising the margins in the morning or evening, but will generally move into deeper water as the day goes on, especially if it’s sunny.
When you arrive at a fishery, it’s always worth fishing the margins if you arrive before other anglers. There’s often an amazing amount of big fish present in the shallows first thing. However, the light conditions and the activities of other anglers will generally drive the fish further from the bank as the day goes on. They’ll often also go down deeper, as well as further out, so countdown for longer and try an intermediate or sinking line if you stop getting pulls on the floater.

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.

Fish More than One FLy (but Not Permitted at Barn Elms)

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 buzzers, nymphs or cormorants, on the droppers. The trout may be drawn into the gaudiness of the attractor but end up taking one of the naturals.

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.

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. At Barn Elms there is a flow from the river at the inlet to the outlet and the spring in between. 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.

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.

Observe the FLy Life on The Banks

While stillwater trout will happily take blobs, Barry’s specials, blue flash damsels, cat’s whiskers, and buzzers all day, every day, they’re going to predominantly be used to feeding on natural invertebrates in the water or those flies 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 those large flashy things now available…

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. However extending your leader and tippet to 15ft or so may get you back into fish. If not try adding a sink tip to your floater. Buy a spare spool and take at least an intermediate line with you so you can swop the floater if conditions change.

Vary Your Retrieve to Induce a Take

Stillwater trout are often highly pressured. Every day they’ll see hundreds of flies zipping past them at a variety of speeds. This can make them wary and although they’ll often follow your fly, getting them to take it isn’t always as easy as it might first appear. Varying the retrieve speed you use – both on different retrieves and within the same retrieve can make all the difference. Don’t just keep doing one foot strips at the same speed all day, or figure of eight retrieve on every cast. Try some really slow retrieves, try some fast strip retrieves, try roly polying at breakneck speed and see if you get a hit. Add pauses to your retrieve and stop for a second or two to let your fly drop before recommencing.

Try a Range of FLy Colours

Once you’ve found the right depth, your next challenge is to find the right colour fly to use. There are various theories about what colour flies work best under certain conditions, old saying of ‘dark day, dark fly’ ‘bright day, bright fly’. However, fish don’t read rulebooks and these do not always prove to be the case. The usual technique is to simply use trial and error to find out what shade works best. Start off with something dark, especially in stillwaters where the water is coloured after rain, as dark flies create a silhouette which is easier for trout to see. If that fails, try a light fly maybe something beige or something white. If that doesn’t work, go for something bright. The classic bright flies are the orange, or yellow, like the cat’s whisker. To make it easier to find out what colour works, try using a bright fly, and then gradually make them darker.

Scale Your FLy Size Down

If the fishing is really tough and the fish are turning their noses at up at all of the flies you have offered, then scaling down your fly size can be really effective. Most stillwater fly fishers use flies in the range of size 8, size 10 or, at the smallest size 12. Scale down to a size 14, 16 or even 18 nymph or dry and you may be surprised at the results.

Use a Sinking Line to FIsh Deeper and Faster

If the fish are ten feet down because it’s sunny, cold, or both, you could fish a weighted fly and count it down on a floating or intermediate line until it’s in the zone. However, when you retrieve, the fly will rise up through the water away from the fish. The faster you retrieve, the further up in the water column the fly will rise. Fishing a faster sinking fly line, like a Di3, Di5 or even a Di7, will mean your fly gets to the right depth quicker and will stay flatter on retrieve you’ll be able to keep it in the zone longer, and use a faster retrieve to see if that induces a take.

Don’t Leave Your Dries in The Same Place Longer than 20/30 Seconds

Most people have a tendency to fish dry flies in the same place for far too long on stillwaters. A better technique is to cast out the flies, count to 20 and then re-cast to a new position if they’ve not been taken. This is my favourite way to fish as seeing the rising trout take your fly is a joy and will stay with you.

Check Your Leader for Knots

So called “wind knots” are actually caused by creating tailing loops when you cast and are evident as little overhand knots that appear along your leader. They look insignificant, but they can reduce the strength of your line. This is something that I cover during casting lessons so if it happens a lot give me a call and we will help to improve your casting technique. Check your leader regularly for signs of ‘wind knots’ and change the line if it’s knotted, otherwise you may lose any fish you hook.

If You Can’t Get a Bite, Try FIshing Static

Sometimes no matter what flies you try, what depth you fish or what speed of retrieve you use, you just can’t persuade a trout to take a moving fly. This seems to be especially common when it’s really warm or really cold or the water is flat calm. If you struggle to get a bite, it’s always worth trying to fish your flies completely static. It’s always worth switching to buzzers, attach a strike indicator a few feet up the line. Sometimes it’s just the thing to induce a take. It also means you can have a sit down and rest your casting arm.

Be Stealthy

Although some stillwater trout might seem fairly used to anglers wandering the banks, that doesn’t mean they’re not extra wary as a result. It’s surprising just how many fly fishers you see at stillwaters who stomp heavy footed along the banks, and drop a heavy bag by the bank, without thinking what that might do to the trout. Stay back from the edge and try to avoid spooking the fish. If you don’t make them suspicious, they’ll be far more likely to take your fly.

Fish the Hang

If you’ve ever fished a stillwater fly fishery with very clear water, you’ll know quite how many trout you can get following your fly to the bank without taking it. Those following trout will often take the fly if you vary the retrieve half way through the cast, but if that fails, then fishing the hang is the next best option. To do this, all you do is come to the end of your retrieve and count to10. Stop and let your flies drop lower in the water. On lifting the fly from this low position will often produce a take.

Watch and Speak to Other FLy FIshers or The

Bailiff If you spot someone across the lake who’s catching when you’re not, take a moment to watch them. Are they fishing lures or buzzers? Are they fishing a faster retrieve than you? Have they switched to a sinking line? If you can’t figure out the secret of their success, most people don’t mind being asked politely for tips. In fact, most are only too pleased to share their knowledge and advice, so you’ve got nothing to lose in having a quick chat as you wander past. It could save you from a blank.

Tight Lines and have a good day…

Geoff Wilcox
Resident Instructor
Barn Elms Fly Fishery