Introducing Monster Lake

Experience the spirit of the American West by visiting Monster Lake Ranch, located 15 minutes south of Cody Wyoming. This 10,000-acre ranch is a premier fly fishing destination home to trophy Rainbow, Brown, Cutthroat, Brook and Tiger Trout. If you want big trout that pull hard, Monster lake will not disappoint.

The largest trout I have caught was a brown trout that measured over 30 inches in length and had shoulders so wide that he could have been drafted as an NFL linebacker. Its body had 4 flies still attached that had broken off when previous anglers attempted to bring him in. I removed three of the flies, plus my own from this behemoth, before he jumped out of my hands to escape back into to the deep. He is still there, waiting for you to find him.

Nice accommodations including cabins, some with kitchens, are available at the lake. Dining is also available at the ranch if you are too tired from catching fish to go into town. RV hook ups are also available. Electric motored boats or pontoon boats are the best way to fish Monster Lake. I would recommend 0X leaders and 1X tippets. And yes, even though I used these sizes during the epic traveling sedge hatch in June, I still experienced breakoffs!

Check out my new video introducing Monster Lake:

Monster Lake has become one of my favorite fly fishing destinations. Well named, Monster Lake provides the fly fishing angler an extraordinary adventure that will test your angling skills. You may hire a guide or head out on your own. Contact me if you have any questions.

I have added Monster Lake to my Destinations page. Click here for the link.

Here is a blog entry from a previous trip I made to Monster Lake in May, 2018:
Fishing at Monster Lake

 

 

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Damselflies

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reservedDamselflies are ancient insects. Fossils of the adult damselfly indicate they existed 250 million years ago! They are found on every continent in the world except Antarctica and are abundant in lakes, reservoirs, ponds, and slow-moving streams and rivers.

The immature damsel nymph is an important source of food for the trout all year. Therefore, understanding the damselfly’s life cycle and behavior is important to increase your success as a stillwater angler.

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Never far from the water’s edge, the captivating dance of the colorful adult damselfly can be observed during their relatively short annual emergence during the spring and summer months.

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Adult Damselfly

Damselfly Description: Adult damselflies have slender, elongated abdomens and 2 pairs of wings that are held together over the body. The wings are highly veined and have hinges enabling them to fold their wings parallel to their body in a vertical position. This differentiates the damselfly from the dragonfly, whose resting wings remain flat and perpendicular to the body.

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Dragonfly

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Recently emerged damselfly. The wings are not yet fully extended

Damselflies are carnivorous and equipped with wide mouths containing strong-toothed mandibles. The bristles on their legs help trap prey such as mosquitoes, aphids, and gnats. They do not use their legs for walking, but rather to form a basket for catching prey or for perching while at rest. Each leg is tipped with a pair of claws.

The color of the adult can vary between green, blue, black, light olive, maroon, and brown, depending upon location and species. The large prominent compound eyes are found on opposite sides of the insect’s head, and the short antennae on top of the head are used for smell.

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Note the eyes, mouth, and mandibles, as well as the pair of claws on each leg tip.

Damselfly Life Cycle: Damselflies have three life cycle stages: egg, larva, and adult. To lay her eggs, the adult damselfly can go underwater, and she is capable of being submerged for up to 30 minutes. She may crawl down vegetation, making a small incision in a stem in which to deposit her eggs. The female may also remain above the surface and deposit eggs on submerged vegetation by dipping the tip of her abdomen in the water.

Eggs hatch into nymphs after three to five weeks. Immature damselflies in the larval stage are referred to as nymphs and live among submerged plants from several months to up to four years, depending upon the species. During this time, they can undergo up to 15 instars (molts) before emergence as adults.

Damselfly nymphs are an important source of protein for trout and are available year-round. During the nymphal stage, the insect has an elongated body with small wing buds on the back of the thorax. The head is wider than the rest of the body. The abdomen terminates with three highly veined caudal gills which look like fans.

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Damselfly Nymph

The overall body length can vary from ¼ inch to 1½ inches based on the species and age of the nymph. A fierce predator, the carnivorous damselfly nymph can be found stalking mosquito larva, mayfly nymphs, scuds, and zooplankton. Nymphs crawl or swim, propelling their bodies using an undulating movement among submerged plants and rocks and along lake bottoms searching for prey.

Like the adult stage, nymphal body coloration will vary depending on the species and habitat. Nymphal colors include brown, tan, and various shades of green.

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Brown damsel nymph

In habitats rich with algae, you will find nymphs in various shades of green. These two damselfly nymphs were taken in the same area along the shoreline. As you can see, the one above is brown and the one below olive.

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Olive Damsel Nymph crawling underwater in the rocks close to shoreline

Emergence: During late May through September, damsel nymphs begin their emergence into the adult stage. After the damselfly nymph is fully grown, the nymphs rise off the lake bottom or vegetation, tucking their legs under their thorax and swimming using a sideways motion to emerge on the shore. Trout key on this and lie in ambush, intercepting and feeding on damsels.

Trout normally hunt along the shorelines early and late in the day. They prefer the safety of low light conditions or the cover of ripple to avoid predation.

However, during a damsel hatch, I have observed trout throw caution to the wind and venture into the shallow shoreline areas in a feeding frenzy, even during periods of high sun, to feast on this abundant food source.

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Rare moment: a trout hunting emerging nymphs along shallow shoreline edges under bright sun and smooth surface

To emerge, the nymphs climb up plant stems or up on the shoreline where they undergo the transition from nymph to adult. Once above water, they shed their nymphal skin to emerge as adults.

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Damsel shedding its nymphal skin

The nymph extends its wings and the abdomen lengthens. The skin begins to harden, and the color darkens.

After emerging from the water, the damsel’s wings take a short while to fully extend. During this time, they are especially vulnerable to predation.

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Damsel upon emergence. Its wings have not yet fully extended.

Birds take advantage of this vulnerable time and gorge on the emerging damsels. In this picture you can see the birds lined up, feasting on the newly-emerged insects.

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Within a few weeks after emergence, mating occurs. Mating rituals can be elaborate as the male conducts high-speed flying maneuvers in a bid to attract females. During mating, the male damselfly grasps the female behind the head with the end of his abdomen. They are seen flying in tandem, known as “wheel position.” While mating, the males may scoop out any sperm from previous suitors.

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After mating, the male will remain attached to the female as she lays the eggs. This allows the male to fend off competing rivals.

Fishing Tactics and Techniques

Fish near aquatic vegetation: Cast or troll along the edge of aquatic vegetation or cast into open pockets inside the weed beds to locate and entice hungry trout. Trout search out nymphs that spend their life within the protective cover of aquatic plants.

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Use a line that maintains the fly in the top few feet of the water column

Option 1: Slow intermediate sinking line – Slow intermediate sinking lines keep the fly in the top section of the water column where the emerging nymphs are located. Towards the end of the retrieve, as the fly moves upwards as the line is picked up to be recast, it often triggers a last-minute strike by fish stalking nymph in the top section of the water column. Emerging nymphs will swim 4-6” below the surface as they swim towards the shore. Try to keep the fly at the same depth.

Option 2: Floating Line – The benefit of a floating line is that it maintains the fly in the top few feet. However, the disadvantage is that it causes line shadow. Also, when the line is retrieved, it causes surface disturbance. Both will spook wary trout.

Option 3: Slow Intermediate sink tip line – This line helps keep the fly in the top few feet of water, and when retrieved, moves the fly parallel through the water, which mirrors the movement the damsel nymph. In addition, this line reduces getting your fly caught in underwater weeds. Therefore, in my experience, this line is probably the best line for fishing damsel nymphs.

During an emergence, position your pontoon or boat close to shoreline and cast towards the shore: Position yourself away from shore, but near enough so you can place your cast close to the shoreline edge. Retrieve the line slowly, incorporating definite pauses in between each retrieve. Trout will be cruising parallel to the shoreline and will see the fly in profile view. This will increase the chances of a strike.

Use a fly pattern with a marabou tail during a damselfly emergence: A marabou tail offers movement which emulates the movement of a swimming nymph. When trout are feeding, they will accept any suggestive fly pattern that has the silhouette, shape, size, and movement of what the trout are eating; an exact match of the natural is not necessary for success. The color is not as important as the movement of the fly in triggering the bite. For example, various colors of my Grizzly Bug pattern were all effective in catching fish during a damselfly emergence. I tried black, rusty brown, burnt orange, and olive, all with similar successful results.

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Vickie’s Grizzly Bug

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Brook Trout caught on Vickie’s Dark Olive Grizzly Bug during damselfly emergence

When trolling, stop moving during the retrieve: Don’t troll and retrieve at the same time. Doing so makes the fly move too quickly. Instead, stop moving, then retrieve. Insert long pauses in between each retrieve. This will help make the fly’s movement more closely replicate the movement of a damsel nymph.

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During a summer fishing trip, windy conditions interrupted the damsel hatch. I trolled close to the shoreline. I stopped my boat’s movement before executing a slow retrieve. I was rewarded with landing three trout in a row, each on a different color of my All-purpose nymph pattern. All three trout took the fly during the pause.

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Brown Caddis All-Purpose Nymph

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Olive All-Purpose Nymph

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White All-Purpose Nymph

My next article will be on the Traveling Sedge Caddis. I fished the traveling sedge caddis hatch on a trip to Monster Lake, near Cody, Wyoming. Straightened hooks, broken 1x tippets, and trout performing amazing aerial acrobatics provided unforgettable dry fly action. Fishing the dry fly during this epic hatch was the best dry fly fishing action with big trout I have ever experienced. My next article will provide you the information you need to experience this for yourself!

Watch for the next article on the Traveling Sedge Caddis

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What Trout Eat

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reservedAs opportunistic feeders, trout will prey on a variety of aquatic insects, forage fish, crustaceans, leeches, worms, and terrestrial insects. This article will provide an overview of what trout eat. It will be followed by additional articles providing more detailed information about trout’s primary food: aquatic insects. It is vital to understand where the trout’s prey lives, how it moves, and its life cycle if anglers want to increase their chance of catching trout. Understanding what trout eat is important because it will help dictate line selection, retrieval speed, positioning, and pattern selection.

As an avid hunter of trout, I am captivated by the diversity of aquatic life in stillwater habitats. That rich biodiversity continues to inspire wonder and awe within me. I have watched with fascination ascending chironomids, dancing caddis, mating damsels, and prolific numbers of mayflies in flight. I once witnessed a hatch of small Trico mayflies of such epic proportions that they appeared as a flying rhythmic mass softly blanketing everything it touched.

According to Robert Behnke in his book, Trout and Salmon of North America, (Chanticleer Press, 2002) a trout must consume one percent of its body weight daily to maintain its weight. He considers trout generalists and opportunists, feeding on a variety of prey, depending on what is available.

In a California Fish and Game study of trout food, Michael Swift writes that examining trout stomach contents reveals pupa stages of aquatic insects to be most likely to be preyed upon by trout. Chironomid pupae are readily picked off as they ascend to the surface. Also popular are vulnerable damselfly and dragonfly nymphs as well as caddisfly larvae which all live among aquatic vegetation and rocks.

When trout do become selective, it is never on a specific insect, but rather on the stage of an insect. For example, during a hatch, the trout’s food preference may shift to the adult stage of an aquatic insect such as a mayfly hatch. It is possible to generate a reactive bite using a fly pattern that is suggestive of nymphal stages, be it pupa, or larva stage. I have found during brief periods of emergence, trout will reject these nymphal stages and focus their attention to the adults lying on the surface.

Five Categories of Trout Prey

1. Aquatic Invertebrates: The bulk of what trout eat are aquatic invertebrates (i.e. animals without backbones) such as damsels, chironomids, mayflies and caddis. They provide the main source of food all year long since they spend most of their life in the water in their nymphal, larval or pupal stages. To transition to the adult stage, they must emerge from the water to the surface.

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Damsel Nymph

2. Terrestrials: During the warmer months, trout feed on terrestrial insects, including flying ants, grasshoppers, and beetles. I have found that when ants and hoppers are on the water, trout stop eating aquatic insects and target the terrestrials. Therefore, it is wise to carry an assortment of flying ant and hopper patterns in various colors and sizes.

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Flying Ant

3. Forage fish & Minnows: As trout grow, their menu expands to include forage fish and minnows, both rich sources of protein. The size of the forage fish consumed is limited by the size of the trout’s mouth; the bigger the mouth, the bigger the prey.

In another study of trout’s stomach contents conducted by the Great Lakes Fishery Laboratory, Joseph Elrod writes that while invertebrates are an important source of food for trout, they become a smaller portion of the trout’s diet. Forage fish were found in a greater percentage in stomach contents of trout that were over 8” in length. It is the minnow that draws trout into the shallows and should draw you there as well!

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Brown Trout caught on Vickie’s Predator Minnow Pattern

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Vickie’s Predator Minnow Pattern

4. Worms: Worms and leeches are found in all types of freshwater including ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers, and are eaten year-round. During the cooler months, when no insects are hatching, trout depend upon leeches as an important source of protein. Leeches are most abundant in the spring and fall.

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Leech

5. Other: Crustaceans, (scuds, snails, and crayfish) are always on the menu. Fish eggs, worms, small frogs, and the occasional small rodent round out the trout’s diet. Snails are abundant in most shallow nutrient lakes where aquatic vegetation and weed beds are plentiful. Snails help fill a void during the winter months. While they are low in calories, trout eat a lot of them.

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Snail

Small frogs, like this one perched on my finger, can also be found in trout’s stomach

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reservedThe richer the stillwater habitat, the greater the diversity of food. Organic material in the water is consumed by aquatic insects. Some aquatic insects feed on the algae. Others eat small pieces of decaying plant material or gather fine particles lying on the bottom. Still others are predators feeding on other live insects.

Notice the variety of life in just one drop of water! Can you make out the scuds?

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Since trout feed where the food is, understanding where the prey lives tells you where to fish. Most aquatic insects live in shallow water near shorelines where light may still reach the bottom.

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Underwater Structure

Hal Janssen in his book, Stillwater Fly-Fishing Secrets, (Hall Janssen Company, 2011), explains that muddy lake bottoms can harbor 3,000 to 4,000 organisms per square yard. This can include scuds (freshwater shrimp), midge larvae, immature damsels, and dragonfly nymphs.

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Shallow muddy bottoms provide a rich habitat

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Shallow shoreline edges also provide a welcomed habitat for minnows and other small forage fish

The next series of blog articles will discuss in greater detail each of the four-aquatic insects trout love to eat: damselflies, caddisflies, mayflies and chironomids. Each article will contain information on line and fly pattern selection, presentation and fishing techniques.

Watch for the next article on Damselflies!

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Fishing at Monster Lake

An early spring fishing trip in April included Monster Lake, just 10 miles south of Cody, Wyoming. Though snow in Montana on the way there made the travel treacherous, our arrival at the lake the next day, blessed us with warm sunny skies. Though we basked in the warmth of the spring day, the water temperature was still struggling to reach 45 degrees. Clear skies, and an intermittent ripple on the water made it the perfect morning to entice trout rising to feed on a midge hatch. I caught my largest trout in 4 feet of water along the shore line edges. Check out this video of me catching a monster trout at Monster Lake:

This excellent fishing experience helped banish the memory of the long, cold, rainy winter months.

I hope to get back there for the sedge hatch which I hear is epic. That should occur in July. If you are interested in learning more about Monster Lake, give me a call and I will share with you information about this very special gem, one that belongs on any angler’s bucket list!

What’s coming to Stillwater Adventures?

What’s coming to Stillwater Adventures? A new series of stillwater fly patterns!

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reservedIn the works for three years, my new series of stillwater fly patterns will be available late in the fall of 2018. Developed to meet the needs of stillwater anglers, these patterns combine new materials with natural fibers to offer innovative stillwater patterns. A new FliesbyVickie.com retail web site will launch during the introduction of these eight fly patterns. Beyond my new flies, FliesbyVickie.com will also make available the fly tying materials used to tie my patterns, as well as rods, reels, and lines I have evaluated and tested to be well-suited to fishing stillwater.

The creation of my stillwater fly pattern series took years of design, testing, revision, re-testing and revising. Each design change was documented, the fly tested, and the field test results recorded. Those field results drove further revisions and improvements, which were documented, tested, and the whole cycle was repeated multiple times. The result was a fly pattern series that has successfully performed for the most demanding critics of all: trophy trout.

Traveling up to six months a year (fishing lakes in OR, ID, MT, NV, CA, WA and WY), I thoroughly test my flies in a wide range of lakes under varying conditions, and during different times of day and seasons. Once the materials and design perform the way I want, I then move the pattern(s) into production. It has taken me three years from initial concept to the final fly pattern.

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Vickie’s Grizzly Bug

To give you an idea, here is what went into the development of the “Grizzly Bug” pattern.

Design Concept
Three years ago, I envisioned a leech pattern that was unweighted and proportionally smaller in size. Exact duplication of a leech was not my goal. Rather, I sought to create an impressionistic silhouette which was suggestive of various food sources trout eat such as darting fry, minnows, and undulating leeches.

Testing
As with all the patterns I developed, I made exhaustive study of entomology and paired it with actual time on the water. Since I spend half the year on the road fishing lakes throughout the Northwest, the Grizzly Bug pattern was extensively tested. I created pattern notes, then modified the pattern based on how it fished and how durable of the fly’s materials proved to be. I documented every fish I caught and what pattern and color variation was used. I made modifications, recorded those changes, tested, and repeated this cycle multiple times.

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Pattern Notes and Fishing Logs

The design of my Grizzly Bug pattern underwent many changes. Originally, I used a shorter tail and tested various materials (rabbit, fox tail, partridge, short marabou, wood duck and various UV materials of varied stiffness, texture, width and color). I also tested numerous marabou colors to evaluate which was the most productive. Various material for the soft hackle was evaluated.

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I ended up choosing a soft, oversized grizzly hackle. A manufacturer partnered with me to custom dye grizzly hen saddles to match the color of the marabou. The resulting soft hackle adds additional movement and color contrast to augment visibility.

The natural dubbing materials I chose created a buggy appearance. I added specific UV materials to both enhance the visibility of the fly and provide additional movement to create a silhouette that looked and moved like living, breathing food.

Final Design
Through this process of extensive testing, design, retesting and redesign, I selected the 6 most successful color variations: Black, Olive, Rusty Brown, White, Dark Burgundy and Burnt Orange. The black, olive and rusty brown colors imitate leeches. Burgundy and burnt orange are attractor colors, and white imitates minnows or young fry.

The Grizzly Bug has been tested and proven to work in various forms of presentation. It may be fished from the surface down two or three feet, as a streamer along shallow shore line areas, trolled, or fished vertically up through the water column.

I caught over twenty trout in one day, all 18-20 inches, using this pattern. Check out the video from that day:

Here’s a closeup of the trout I caught in the video above:

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Conclusion
All the stillwater fly patterns that will soon be available have been field-tested under varying conditions, at multiple locations, and during different times of day and seasons. Those test results have driven re-designs, which were then tested and redesigned again, based on the results.

I am excited about the introduction these patterns. It is my hope that these patterns be as productive for you as they have been for me.

Special Offer to Blog Subscribers:
If you subscribe to my blog, you will be notified when the flies will be available for purchase. To subscribe, simply locate the “Subscribe to Stillwater Adventure via Email” box, enter your email, and click “Subscribe.” Note that your email address will never be shared or sold.

Join me again this fall, 2018 at Pronghorn!

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reservedJoin me at Pronghorn Lake Ranch in Oregon for another weekend of trophy trout fishing October 27-28, 2018! Last year’s rendezvous was a big success, so you won’t want to miss this next one! For more info about the weekend, click here.© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Gearing Up for Big Fish, Part 5 of 5: Putting It All Together

It is important when fly fishing to have the right gear so you’re able to respond to any situation or condition. Consider moments like these (all of which have happened to me): Your heart stops as you watch your only pair of hemostats disappear into the depths. Or when one of your fishing buddies flips their pontoon boat upside down, a sudden 30 mile an hour wind gust sweeps you to the far side of the lake, or a motorboat gets too close, wrapping your tippet, leader and line around its propeller. Being prepared ensures you can keep fishing regardless of changing conditions, or situations like these.

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Gee, I wonder why I was the only angler on the lake? Well, at least I was prepared…

In the previous four parts of this series we discussed my recommendations for rods, lines, leaders and tippets, and nets to use when fly fishing stillwater for trophy trout. In this fifth and final chapter I’ll review and summarize what we covered and finish with a checklist you can use to make sure you have everything you need.

Reviewing the essential tackle components

1. Rods

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Fishing at sunrise

My rods are pre-strung with each of the lines that I use. The benefit is that when the bite changes, I can quickly switch to the rod that has the appropriate line experiencing minimal down time. For lakes that support large trout, gear up to a six-weight rod. I prefer 6-weight, 9-foot rods with a comfortable grip, progressive bend in the tip, and large guides. The only time that I use a five-weight rod is when I am fishing dry flies, as I find it provides a more delicate and softer landing of the fly on the water.

2. Lines

The lines that I use are: Floating lines, Clear Camo Intermediate Sinking Line, and a 7-foot Clear Camo Intermediate Sink Tip.

Floating lines: I use two floating lines each on a separate rod. One line is dedicated for dry fly action, the second floating line is used when fishing with indicators. Having two rods makes it quick and easy to switch, since there is usually a short window when adult insects are hatching on the surface.

Clear Camo Intermediate sink line: (sink rate: 1.25- 1.75 inches per second or about one foot in 10 seconds). This line is used for fishing shallow shore line areas and the top five feet of the feeding zone in the lake. This line covers 75% of the time I spend fly fishing.

7-foot Clear Camo Intermediate Sink Tip: (sink rate: 1.25- 1.75 inches per second). This line is effective for covering shoreline edges as well as fishing the top few feet and fishing in between weed beds.

3. Leaders and Tippets

Leaders: To avoid breakoffs, I use either a 0X or 1X, 9-foot monofilament, tapered, leader. Over time, monofilament leaders absorb water and can become brittle with exposure to light. Thus, at the beginning of each season I replace the leader with a new one. A monofilament leader will slightly stretch, allowing the leader to be stretched straight if it begins to coil. I use a nail knot to secure the leader to the line.

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Tippets: To the leader, I add a minimum of 3 feet of 1X or 2X fluorocarbon tippet. I secure the tippet to the leader using a blood knot. Fluorocarbon tippet material reflects less light, subsequently less noticeable to trout. Since fluorocarbon is stiffer than monofilament, use a loop knot to tie on the fly. A loop knot allows the fly to move freely, more accurately mimicking the natural movement of a fly. The tippet size should be one size smaller than the leader. For example, if the leader is 0X, I use a 1X tippet.

Longer and smaller tippets are best used when casting dry flies or when you are faced with clear, glassy conditions. I aim for a combined length of leader and tippet of 15-feet. Lighter weight leader (2X) and tippet (3X) provide a more delicate presentation when using a five-weight rod. Using any lighter weight tippets will snap when trophy size trout attack your fly.

4. Landing Net

Bring a landing net that has a large, deep basket made of rubber material with a long handle.

Summary

Now that you have the essential gear, what else do you need to bring? The following checklist can be used to help assure that you have all the essential items you need for your next fly fishing adventure. When I am on the road for an extended period, I always include backup gear. Any tackle failure such as a broken rod, damaged reel, as well as a tear in my waders, the loss of a fin, or a broken strap means I must stop fishing.

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Tiger Trout caught on Vickie’s UV Midge Pupa

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Vickie’s UV Midge Pupa

 

Vickie’s Gear Check List

Boat:

  • Air Pump (pontoon boat)
  • Fins (pontoon boat)
  • Personal flotation device
  • Fly Box(s)
  • Large, Rubberized Landing Net
  • Rods
  • Stripping net (pontoon boat)
  • Waders

Boat Accessories:

  • Backup Clippers
  • Backup Hemostat
  • Depth finder and/or water thermometer
  • Drinking Water
  • Flashlight
  • Marine grade rope with D-ring (for towing another angler to safety)

Items to have with you:

  • Extra tippet and leaders
  • Fishing license
  • Hemostat
  • Hook sharpener
  • Knife
  • Nail knot tool
  • Pliers
  • Clippers
  • Whistle
  • Other:

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Be sure to read the other parts of this 5-part series on Gearing Up for Big Fish!
Part 1 of 5: Rods
Part 2 of 5: Line Selection
Part 3 of 5: Leaders and Tippets
Part 4 of 5: Landing Nets
Part 5 of 5: Putting It All Together

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Gearing Up for Big Fish, Part 4 of 5: Landing Nets

When selecting your landing net for stillwater, consider the following four factors: basket size, basket material, length of handle, and depth of the basket.

Basket Size

Having the right size net increases the odds of successfully landing a large trout. Compare the two nets below with the 30-inch ruler. Now imagine attempting to land a 30-inch trout in the smaller net. That would be an impossible task – even for the most determined and skilled angler. The larger and deeper basket in the larger net would be a better net to select for stillwater.© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved
Even with the larger net, however, landing a fish that is 30 inches or longer will still present an exciting challenge. This is obvious in this video of me attempting to land a monster trout at Pronghorn Lake in Oregon.

Basket Material

Nets made from rubber remove less of the coating of slime that protects the trout from parasites, bacteria, and fungus. Maintaining the protective coating places less stress on the trout, increasing their survival rate.

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Fish caught on Vickie’s Predator Leech at Wildhorse Reservoir in Nevada

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Vickie’s Predator Leech

The second benefit to a rubber net is that gills, fins, and hooks are less likely to get caught in the netting material. This makes it easier to remove the hook while keeping the trout in the water. These factors allow for a quicker fish release and a higher survival rate.

Note: I’m pleased with my Fishpond net. It is lighter, floats, and the basket can be easily replaced (which I’ve done)

Length of Handle

If you are fishing out of a boat or float tube, having a longer handle makes it easier to guide the trout into the net without having to overextend your reach. Fish can easily be lost during landing because once a trout sees the net it will react, quickly bolting away. A longer handle, like one found on the Nomad Mid-Length Net by Fishpond, provides the flexibility to make quick adjustments without leaning over to reach the trout and risk tipping over or potentially falling out of your boat. Add an elastic lanyard, attaching one end to your net and the other to the pontoon boat to reduce the chances that the net will be lost.

Depth of the Basket

It is much easier to land a fish in a net with a deeper basket. If the basket depth is too shallow, catching a large trout is like trying to stuff a moving, oversized sleeping bag into a shoebox – it is virtually impossible.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reservedA deeper basket also makes it easier to quickly remove the hook while the fish is still in the water. This causes less stress to the fish. The shorter the fight, the better chance the fish will survive upon release.

Summary

I always gear up so that the tackle is prepared for any size fish. Having a large enough net with a deep basket is important. Don’t take a chance of losing the fish of a lifetime due to a small net. Also, be kind to the fish and choose a basket made of rubber.

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Be sure to read the other parts of this 5-part series on Gearing Up for Big Fish!
Part 1 of 5: Rods
Part 2 of 5: Line Selection
Part 3 of 5: Leaders and Tippets
Part 4 of 5: Landing Nets
Part 5 of 5: Putting It All Together

Copyright © 2018 Stillwater Adventures, all rights reserved

Gearing Up for Big Fish, Part 3 of 5: Leaders and Tippets

Leaders and tippets both are crucial components of your tackle system. Selection of the appropriate size and length is vital. The effectiveness of the entire presentation hinges on having a balanced line, leader and tippet system that delivers the fly with accuracy. Choose incorrectly and you risk losing a big fish. Either the cast crashes on the surface, or you lose the fish through a frustrating breakoff.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reservedI learned this lesson well while fishing at Guild Ranch Reservoir in Wyoming. Fishing with an indicator during glassy, sunny spring conditions, I watched trout darting in and out of the weeds, attacking my dangling midge. When the trout hit the fly, any pressure placed on the line with my 4X tippet resulted in snapped tippets. I lost three large trout in a row.

Unwilling to surrender, I switched to a 0X leader and 1X tippet. I Immediately hooked and landed two 6 pound trout. Now my tackle system includes heavier leaders and tippets which can better withstand the aggressive runs and spectacular aerial leaps of large fighting trout.

Problems will occur when the leader and tippet system is unbalanced. For example, when the length of the leader and tippet is too long, you may lose precision in your cast and your fly may often land under a pile of line and leader. When the length of the leader and tippet is too short, it drops like a lead brick, slapping the surface of the water. Both situations reduce any chance of hooking up – especially on clear glassy water.

The total length of the leader and tippet is also relative to the fly and the existing conditions. For example, when the conditions are sunny and glassy, I extend the total length of the leader and tippet to 15 feet, allowing the fly land softly on the water. Any any surface disturbance will send the fish running for cover.

A shorter leader may be used in low light or off colored water (like this algae bloom at Wildhorse Reservoir in Nevada). Also, when fishing deep, or during windy conditions with choppy water, any surface disturbance caused by the cast will be inconsequential.

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Algae bloom at Wildhorse Reservoir

My preferred setup consists of a 9-foot 0X monofilament leader and three feet of 1X fluorocarbon tippet. I almost always use a leader and tippet with combined length of at least 12 feet. When the tippet section becomes shorter than 12 inches, I remove the short section and replace it with a longer piece.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Caught using Vickie’s Predator Minnow at Guild Ranch Reservoir in Wyoming

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Vickie’s Predator Minnow

I use monofilament leaders because they have memory, which allows the leader to be straightened by stretching. I use fluorocarbon tippets because fluorocarbon does not reflect light, does not leave a shadow, and is almost invisible in water.

Knots

Attaching the leader to the line: I tie the leader directly to the line using a nail knot. This approach creates a smooth transition and avoids a bulky connection. This is important because if an aggressive fish takes off with your line, a bulky connection can get hung up in your rod guides and the friction can cause a break off. Losing a big fish is a heartbreak easily avoided by having a smooth connection between the leader and the line.

Attaching the tippet to the leader: I use a blood knot, as this also creates a smooth transition which limits the buildup of moss and debris at the leader/tippet connection.

Attaching the fly to the tippet: I use a loop knot when using tippet size of 1X or 2X which allows the fly to move naturally due to the stiffness of the fluorocarbon.

Summary

The leader and tippet selection is a vital aspect of the presentation system, and I would suggest more critical than fly selection. This is because if the leader, tippet and fly are out of balance with each other, you risk splashy landings, breakoffs, tippet pile ups, and short casts, all of which reduce your catch rate.

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Be sure to read the other parts of this 5-part series on Gearing Up for Big Fish!
Part 1 of 5: Rods
Part 2 of 5: Line Selection
Part 3 of 5: Leaders and Tippets
Part 4 of 5: Landing Nets
Part 5 of 5: Putting It All Together

Copyright © 2018 Stillwater Adventures, all rights reserved

Gearing Up for Big Fish, Part 2 of 5: Line Selection

Line selection is the most critical component of your tackle. While there is no one type of line appropriate for all conditions, I find that the following three types of lines satisfy most of my stillwater requirements:

  • Floating line
  • Intermediate slow sinking line
  • Intermediate sink tip

The value of having multiple lines is that you will have the flexibility to respond to changing conditions.

The critical factor in line selection is to choose a line that will maintain the fly within the top six feet (the primary feeding zone for trout). Using the right line allows the fly to be presented and maintained at the depth where trout are feeding. This makes the difference between occasional strikes and more consistent success. These are my recommendations:

1. Floating Line

The floating line has two applications. The first is when trout are feeding on the surface. Surface feeding is usually quite brief, and during this time, all other stages of aquatic insects under the surface are ignored.

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This trout was caught at Pronghorn Lake during cold glassy conditions using a floating line and an indicator with Vickie’s UV black/silver midge.

The second application is when indicator fishing, suspending small nymphs or chironomids below the surface. This form of presentation is used in depths greater than two feet. The indicator is an effective way of presenting pupae or emerger patterns when faced with clear, glassy conditions or during cold water temperatures when trout are not likely to chase a fly.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Vickie’s UV Black-Silver Midge

One limitation of floating lines becomes apparent during windy conditions. They are ill-suited for casting and retrieving during a wind because of line drag. That drag will cause the fly to move unnaturally. Also, the belly created by the wind makes it impossible to maintain line tension needed to feel a strike.

There are additional limitations with floating lines when casting and retrieving. When a floating line lands in the water, it creates a surface disturbance. Additionally, miniature ripples on the surface result when the fly is retrieved. Further, flash and shadow will occur when the line is back lit by the sun. All of these factors spook trout.

2. Intermediate Slow Full Sinking Line

When there are no visual clues that trout are feeding on the surface, my go-to line is a clear camo intermediate sinking line. This line cuts through windy conditions and sinks below the surface, minimizing surface disturbance.

Intermediate lines sink at a rate of 1.25-1.75 inches per second, or about one foot in ten seconds. These lines are well suited to fishing lakes. When trout feed, they will either feed close to the surface or along shallow shore line edges. With a slow sink rate, the fly can be pulled horizontally through the water while maintaining the proper depth in the feeding zone. At the back end of the retrieve, or during shorter casts, you may let the fly sink then pull it up vertically, which mimics pupae emerging up through the water column.

This line is also effective for probing the top six feet to determine at what depth feeding fish are cruising. By counting 10, 20, or 30 seconds before the line is retrieved, the angler can test the fly at difference depths. Simply count, and then retrieve. For example, using this line, if the strike occurs after a count of 30 seconds, you know that the trout are feeding three feet below the surface. You can then repeat this count prior to retrieve in future casts.

This trophy trout was caught while trolling at Pronghorn Lake

This line is also productive when trolling. An effective approach is to stop moving every 40-60 feet, then retrieve the line. If you do not get hit, recast in a different direction and start trolling again. I have found this effective in generating a reactive response.

Tip: When evaluating sinking lines, determine the sink rate. Each manufacturer has adopted their own rating system. For example, a slow intermediate sink rate is defined by one manufacturer as 1.5 ips (inches per second) while another may define a slow intermediate sink rate as .5 ips. Knowing the sink rate is the only way to correctly estimate the actual depth where the fly is being presented.

Tip: If the fly, is hit immediately after casting or within the first few retrieves, you know that the trout are feeding in the top few feet.

3. Slow Intermediate Sink Tip line

A sink tip line is a floating line that is married to a sinking tip. It works well when sight casting to trout that are feeding close to the surface. A 7-foot intermediate sink tip is my go-to line when there are visual clues (e.g. dorsal fin rises indicate trout are feeding on pupae in the top 10-15 inches). It is well-designed to fish the pupae form of mayflies, midges, and caddis just below the surface.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

This fish was caught using the 7-foot intermediate sink tip and Vickie’s UV Emerger pattern. Landed by Martin Landholm at Pronghorn Lake

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Vickie’s UV Emerger

The intermediate sink tip line is especially valuable when probing shallow areas or shorelines where trout feed.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved
Fishing in between the weed beds will entice trout to leave the protection of cover for the promise of a meal. This line helps reduce getting hung up in the underwater structure as it maintains the fly in the top few feet of the feeding zone.
An added advantage of a 7-foot intermediate sink tip line is that it is easy to pick up and recast anytime during the retrieve.

Select the correct weight of the line

Regardless of what type of line you use, the weight of the line needs to be balanced to the weight of the rod. For example, it the line is too light, it will cast poorly because it cannot load the rod sufficiently. When using a six-weight rod, I recommend a 6- or 7-weight line.

Summary

The single most important component of your tackle is your line. Having a floating line, an intermediate slow full sinking line, and a slow intermediate sink tip line will place you on the path toward success when fly fishing lakes. Good hunting!

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Be sure to read the other parts of this 5-part series on Gearing Up for Big Fish!
Part 1 of 5: Rods
Part 2 of 5: Line Selection
Part 3 of 5: Leaders and Tippets
Part 4 of 5: Landing Nets
Part 5 of 5: Putting It All Together

Copyright © 2018 Stillwater Adventures, all rights reserved

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