Line Selection for Stillwater

Since my last blog posting I have received several questions regarding line selection from readers that may be of key interest to many stillwater anglers. I will continue this dialogue by posting those questions here so that others will also have the chance to get my perspectives on what has successfully worked for me.

Question: What line should you use when the fish are deeper than six feet, but still may be feeding?

Answer: The dilemma facing anglers when no fish are showing on the surface is determining at what depth the trout are feeding. The one consideration to keep in mind is that when trout are on the bite, they feed in the top four feet in stillwater environments due to the availability of food. Sun penetrates the shallow depth, which in turns supports the growth of aquatic vegetation. Plants provides protection and oxygen which attracts aquatic insects. Populations of minnows also thrive, feeding on decaying plants, plankton, and algae. As predators, trout have adapted feeding behaviors that provide them the greatest return on their investment of energy, targeting shallow zones that have the greatest amount of available food sources.

When trout go deeper, they are inactive. Trout hold deeper when they are not actively feeding and/or are off the bite due to the oxygen content in the water, temperature, or weather conditions. However, during the warmer months, food sources such as zooplankton or scuds migrate deeper to cooler depths due to the high sun and higher water temperature which can cause fish to migrate deeper. Trout will not feed below 10 feet due to the lack of available food sources.

Fly taken on reactive strike

Since trout are opportunistic feeders, if the fly looks and moves like food, it will trigger a reactionary response characterized by a hard strike. When you do get a reactionary strike probing deeper water, it is the result of the fly passing through the depth where the trout are holding. The location of the fly will be in the side of the trout’s mouth. When trout are feeding, you will experience a soft take and the fly will be in the middle of the mouth.

Question: If I want to reach fish that are below six feet, is Denny Rickards’ Cortland Type 2 – Clear Full Sinking Line, the best option?

Answer: The Clear Type-2 full sink line, available through Denny Rickards, was intended for when fish were 6-12 feet down. The problem is that the line continues to sink below this zone, making it difficult to control the depth that the fly is presented and causing a loss of productivity. I consider the line ineffective.

If I want to fish deeper and desire a faster sinking line, my line suggestion for fishing 6-12-foot depth is the Cortland Type 2, 10-foot sink tip which sinks two feet in 10 seconds (available from Denny Rickards). I like this line because it allows me to control the depth of the fly. Other sinking lines that I have used sink too quickly through the feeding zones with the fly ending up below the fish. Fish never feed looking down unless they are in shallow water, pushing their nose along the bottom seeking scuds.

This line has been useful for me particularly during the warmer months when the fish are feeding at cooler depths. I use this line to target pupae that are emerging up through the water column. I can also use weighted flies with this line counting down the time that it sinks until I start getting strikes at the depth the fish are holding.

Another line selection consideration is: how easy it is to cast? The Cortland Type 2, 10-foot sink tip line casts like a dream, and it can be picked up easily any time during the retrieve and recast. Other sink lines that I have used do not cast as well or allow me to pick up and recast as easily.

Question: Is there a standard in the industry that defines accurately the sink rate of a line?

Answer: Since there are no market standards, each manufacture can produce a fly line stating their own definition of sink rates. There seems to be a lot of variance between manufacturers even though the sink rates may be marketed similarly. I have found Cortland sink rates to be accurate.

Photo by D. Rickards, all rights reserved

Summary: Stillwater Line Recommendations: If there was one thing that I believe is critical to being successful in stillwater it is presenting the fly at the depth that feeding fish are cruising. Understanding what depth your fly is presented then allows you to target feeding fish. The following lines have worked for me, and the result has been higher catch rates.

  1. Camo Intermediate Full Sinking line: When fish are not showing on the top, my line of choice is the Cortland Camo Intermediate Full Sink Line available from Denny Rickards. This line has a slow sink rate of 1 to 1½ inches per second (i.e. 1 foot every 10 seconds). A slow sink rate is important as it maintains the fly in the feeding zone longer. I am not aware of any other manufacturer’s lines that truly sink this slowly even though they may be marketed as intermediate lines. This line performs equally well in warm water and does not coil in cold water. The camo line is available from Denny Rickards.If I want to allow the line to go below four feet, I use a 10, 20, or 30 count down before making long slow retrieves. Using a long count down in conjunction with modifying the rate and speed of the retrieve allows me to fish this line deeper.
  2. Denny Rickards’ 7′ Clear Camo Intermediate Sink Tip: This is my go to line when fish are feeding in the top two feet, fishing over weed beds, or fishing shallow shoreline areas. This line can be picked up with minimal surface disturbance any time in the retrieve and recast to a cruising fish. It maintains the fly in the top few feet.
  3. Floating Line: I prefer a weight forward line in olive or other muted darker colors to eliminate line flash. I only use the floating line when conditions favor floating small nymphs under an indicator and for dry fly fishing.

I appreciate the questions from many of the readers of the blog. Keep them coming! Until I see you on the water….Good fishin’!