Trout strategy on small stillwaters

Stillwater trout anglers are spoiled for choice these days. There are dozens of small fisheries in most areas that offer varied sport with small stockies, fine brownies and mammoth rainbows. All you have to do is get down to your local fishery with some gear, a method and a few ideas.

You can divide small stillwaters into two main groups: those where the water is clear, and those where it is not. With some of the clear ones you don’t have the problem of working out where the fish are – you can see them. If you don’t have the luxury of clear water then you’ll have to consider a few things to find the fish. Take into account water depth, wind speed and direction as well as the insect activity.

Once you’ve found the trout you’ll discover they react to artificial flies in much the same way – whether the water is clear or not. The trick is to present your fly so the fish think it’s an item of food or strike it out of aggression.

Strip search

If fish are feeding in or very near the surface, use a floating fine to fish either dry or unweighted flies in the surface layers. There are times, however, when the wake created by a floating fine can spook fish. When this happens, try a very slow sinking line to counteract the problem.

You can’t always be sure at what depth the fish are feeding, but you can home in on them if you’re methodical in your approach. fish a weighted pattern such as a Walker’s Mayfly Nymph on the end of a leader of at least 15ft (4.5m) long. Aim to cover the mark by fishing at different depths -retrieving the fly in successively shallower zones or strips until you find fish.

On your first cast let the fly sink down to the bottom before retrieving steadily. If there are no takes, fish a little higher up next time – don’t wait as long for the fly to sink before you retrieve. As you fish higher and higher you cover the water strip by strip. As long as the fly travels in a more or less steady path you will hook into fish sooner or later.

If your retrieve rate is slow the weighted fly stays down at the required level and travels in an even path. As soon as you speed up, the fly is forced upwards as the water pressure acts on it. This can be to your advantage if you want to lift the fly to avoid an obstacle. But when you want the fly to follow a level path, stick to a slow retrieve. Even if you do this, wind pressure on the line or surface drift can cause the fly to rise. To counteract it use a slow sinking line. Usually known as intermediate or neutral density lines, these are probably the most useful for small stillwaters.

Help yourself

You can do a number of things to step up your rate of attracting trout and recognizing a take when using a sinking line.

Casting and retrieving A good casting technique is vital to achieve a smooth turnover of your leader. The more practice you get the better. In still conditions, especially when stalking fish, you need delicate, spot-on deliveries.

If the leader unfolds well it means you are in direct contact with the fly as soon as you start to retrieve. Tapered leaders help the presentation – braided leaders also achieve good turnover.

There are several different ways you can retrieve a fly. Try experimenting with a variety – long, smooth pulls, short fast, short slow, steady figure-of-eight or fast figure-of-eight retrieves – before you think about changing flies.

Tip angle Keep your rod tip very close to the water surface so that you are in direct contact with the line and you can feel the slightest touch.

Last minute Imagine a fish is following your flies at all times. Trout often follow a fly a long way and can sometimes be induced to take at the very end of the retrieve.

Avoid snatching the fly out of the water and going straight into a backcast. Often a swirl on the surface indicates a following fish desperately searching for the titbit that has just been whipped out of its clutches. It is far better to lift up the rod at the end of a retrieve so the fly accelerates towards the surface, inducing the fish to take as it thinks the fly is escaping. Balanced action. The action of the fly in the water is partly influenced by the diameter of the tippet material. A16 tied to heavy 6lb (2.7kg) line just isn’t as enticing as when it is tied to 3lb (1.4kg) line. At the other extreme you risk breakage if you fish a size 8 weighted lure on 3lb (1.4kg) tippet.

Behaviour study

Good technique almost always helps you pick up extra fish – especially on those hard days when you might only get an occasional offer, and it’s vital to translate it into a hooked fish.

If you get the opportunity to fish clear stillwaters where you can observe individual fish, spend some time watching how fish react to your fly. When you come to fish murkier waters, use this experience to help you. In clear waters you soon notice that when a trout takes an interest in your fly and starts to follow, it loses interest and turns away if you stop the retrieve or slow it down. Always maintain continuity of retrieve to keep the fish’s interest. All too often anglers get a small initial tweak from a following fish and instantly stop or slow the retrieve. This is a passion killer to trout. Increasing the retrieve rate is more likely to induce the fish to take positively.

When you feel you have worked an area sufficiently at different depths, try somewhere else. There are hotspots on a fishery but that doesn’t mean the fish are always to be found there. Sometimes it pays to try an area where not many anglers fish. There may be fewer trout but there’s a chance they’ll be feeding more confidently and be more inclined to take than trout receiving a hammering in the hotspots.