Fishing Large Stillwaters
By Steve Yeomans,
UK Fly Fishing Guide
Sight fishing in the context
of fly fishing for trout, is the art of locating, observing and
casting to a sighted fish to induce a take. The sheer thrill of
sight fishing is in its visual and emotional impact. From the moment
a trout is seen, the adrenalin starts to pump and nerves twitch. The
situation may require a quick cast from the angler or a more
considered approach. Nerves need to be controlled or a poor cast is
the likely outcome, the angler able to keep cool will be most
successful. Then more excitement as the “will the fish take” moment
nears, the timing of the strike and then the fight and landing of a
good trout. This is the attraction of sight fishing!
In the UK we tend to
associate stillwater sight fishing or stalking with the pursuit of
double figure trout in small stillwaters, using heavily weighted
bugs. While this is great fun it is by no means the whole story. The
enjoyment derived from sight fishing is in the very visual nature of
the technique. Yes it allows the angler to select big fish, but
equally the method can be used to present the fly to any fish you
see. Either way the excitement of seeing everything from start to
finish is what provides the pleasure.
One possible reason why
larger lakes here are not fished in this way is down to perception.
Many anglers assume that because a body of water is relatively large
and much of the underwater scene is obscured from view, sight
fishing is not possible. This is not the case, as many trout will
actively feed close to the bank, sometimes in surprisingly shallow
water providing they are not disturbed. By adapting the small water
stalking technique, much larger lakes can be sight fished if they
have one crucial characteristic!
Lakes to Sight Fish
Of course the crucial factor is water clarity. Providing a lake’s
water is clear and fish attracting features exist in marginal areas,
any lake is suitable to sight fish. Key features where you can
expect to spot trout are along marginal shelves, gravel and sand
bars, at lake inlets and outlets, plateaux, weed beds and around
overhanging cover. All of these features are found around most
lakes, within thirty feet of the bank side. As long as you make a
careful approach to the water many trout can be seen patrolling and
feeding in the margins.
Approaching the Water
With trout cruising in
marginal areas, a slow stealthy approach to the water is the name of
the game. Stay well back from the water’s edge, walking slowly and
scanning the water for signs of feeding trout. The ability to remain
unnoticed while you observe the patrol route of a trout and judge
likely food items against fly selection is vital. At times you may
not see any trout during your tour of the lake. When this happens
select a spot where a feature such as a marginal shelf can be viewed
for some distance. Once in position spend several minutes watching,
it never ceases to amaze me how often a trout is spotted in this way
that would otherwise have been walked past.
Fly selection can be
relatively sparse, with a mixture of unweighted, lightly weighted
and heavily weighted nymphs and lures, plus a small selection of dry
flies. Whichever patterns you take to the water, make sure they
represent the key food items for the trout at that time of year.
Some general flies to include would be hares ear and pheasant tail
nymphs, parachute Adams and F fly dries, plus a lure pattern
imitative of larger prey species in your local lakes. These maybe
small fish of one species or more, crayfish or leeches.
Once a trout has been sighted you have some quick decisions to make!
The first question bearing in mind the fly attached to your leader
is “shall I make a quick cast to this fish or take time to study its
feeding?” Providing I have a fly attached that I feel confident is
appropriate for the situation and the trout is not likely to be
spooked by casting, I opt for the “quick cast”. I do this because
although a trout will often return, following a patrol route
(especially browns) you can never be completely sure. I figure that
it’s better to have the chance of a take and cast immediately. If
the trout does not take, the option still exists to wait for it to
return and try an alternative presentation.
If on the other hand a trout
is too close to risk a cast, try to keep it in view. Establish it’s
patrol route and make use of the extra time to ascertain what food
items the fish seems to be taking and how best to present your fly.
Methods to induce a visible
trout to take are presenting the fly on the drop, on the lift and
static. If the quick cast is opted for with a nymph then the aim
will be to present the fly on the drop, landing the fly ahead of the
fish. If the fish refuses allow the fish to pass, letting the fly
settle on the lake bed. Once the trout returns pull the fly up and
across it, stimulating the chase and take.
When a surface feeding fish
is spotted it is often worth taking time to select an appropriate
fly then cast out and wait for the trout to return and find your
imitation. This is perhaps the most exciting tactic of all, the fly
in the surface film and the trout slowly approaching, glancing up it
spots the seemingly helpless insect then moves up to slowly engulf
the fly. Only now as it turns down is the angler’s strike made,
followed by the rush as a quality trout heads out fast for deeper
You may catch less fish than
anglers fishing blind some days, other times sighting your fish will
be the difference between a blank and catching. Either way nothing
can match the sheer thrill of the method and I for one prefer to
fish in this way whenever possible. Try it, I guarantee it will
completely change your approach to fly fishing!
By Steve Yeomans
Steve Yeomans operates
Midlands Flyfishing in England, providing a range of guided
sight fishing trips to lakes and chalkstreams for anglers from the
UK and abroad.