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.

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I 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.

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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.


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.


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

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Vickie’s UV Emerger

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

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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.


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,

Gearing Up for Big Fish, Part 1 of 5: Rods

Successful stillwater fly fishing requires specialized gear, particularly when angling for trophy trout. This five-part blog series will provide tackle guidelines on rods, lines, leader/tippets, and nets when fishing lakes that support trophy size trout.

To catch and land a large trout requires tackle able to withstand the rigors of an aggressive fish doing everything possible to avoid capture. We’ll begin the five-part blog series with how to choose the right rod.

Check out this 23-pounder caught by Toby Loftus along the shallow shoreline edges at Pronghorn Lake.

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Trout caught at Pronghorn Lake using Vickie’s Predator Bugger

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Vickie’s Predator Bugger

Factors to consider in rod selection include: rod weight, comfortable rod grip, rod tip bend, large guides, and rod length.

Rod Weight

Choose a 6-7 weight rod and leave your 5-weight at home. Lighter weight rods do not have enough strength in the butt section of the rod to overcome resistance from a large fighting trout. A 6-7 weight rod is also sturdy enough to slice through windy conditions as well as make long, delicate casts.

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Trout Caught on Vickie’s Predator Leech at Pronghorn Lake

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Vickie’s Predator Leech

Another reason to use a heavier weighted rod is that it requires less time to land a trophy size trout. When lighter rods are used, fish must often be played to the point of exhaustion before landing them. This results in an increased level of lactic acid and cortisol generated by the long fight. This stress upon the fish can significantly contribute to increased mortality rates as reported by Dan Dauwalter in his article, “Fish Stress from Catch-and-Release Fishing” (in Trout Unlimited, September 1, 2014).

According to his study, when a trout is played to exhaustion, the mortality rate can increase up to 89% either immediately upon release or during their recovery period afterwards. Help keep these wonderful creatures alive! Avoid playing them to exhaustion so that they may survive and be even bigger the next time you hook them!

Comfortable Rod Grip

Select a rod with a comfortable grip. You must keep a firm hold of your rod when fishing for trophy trout, and a comfortable grip makes this easier. After personally experiencing the tug that these fighting fish can place on a rod, it is easy to imagine how a rod might be ripped out of the hand of an unsuspecting angler. This has happened to several angers at Pronghorn, including one fellow last fall, whose story had an unexpected happy ending.

A week after this gentleman lost his rod, Mark, a local Pronghorn angler was able to the retrieve the lost Winston 5-weight rod.

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Mark triumphantly holding the recovered rod

Mark hooked a fish and began stripping his line, and the struggling fish amazingly wrapped the line around the previous angler’s lost rod. Astonishingly, Mark had hooked not only a large fighting trout with an attitude, but also the rod! Mark successfully retrieved the lost rod, but unfortunately, the trout ultimately evaded capture.

Rod Tip Bend

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Select a rod tip that has a progressive bend in the tip section. A softer bend in the upper section of the rod allows the tip section to absorb the impact of a trout attacking a fly or a strong hook set. The softer flex acts as a cushion, helping to prevent breakoffs. Rods that have a stiff tip will recover too abruptly, placing increased pressure which can generate a break off at the hook or tippet.

Large Guides

The ideal stillwater rod has larger guides. These reduce friction that results when line and leader rub against the guides during the retrieve or when your trout is running. As the line whizzes through the guides, any knots connecting the line, leader and tippet can get caught in smaller guides. A slight amount of resistance can be enough to cause a break off.

Rod Length

Select a rod that is 9 feet long as it provides sufficient leverage to make longer casts. I save my 10-foot rod on those very rare occasions that I am sight fishing from the shoreline using a floating line when I need to generate long casts or slice through wind. Be aware, however, that a longer rod will magnify any casting mistakes. On the other hand, a rod shorter than 9 feet cannot launch the line sufficient distance because it cannot generate the necessary line speed.


Evaluate these rod options while considering your own personal preferences. Since there are no industry standards manufacturers use to define rod performance, it is important to test various rods to determine which is best suited to your individual needs and preferences. The following qualities are what I look for when evaluating rods:

  • 6-7 weight
  • Medium-fast action rod with a stiffer butt section
  • Comfortable rod grip
  • A softer progressive tip
  • Large guides
  • 9-foot length

Click to print this article:

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,

Join Me At Pronghorn! (2017)

Photo by D. RickardsJoin me at Pronghorn Lake Ranch in Oregon for a weekend of trophy trout fishing October 28-29, 2017! For more info about the weekend, click here.

This event is past, but another rendezvous is planned for October 27-28, 2018! For more info about the current rendezvous, click here.

How to Dye Feathers

Photo by V. LoftusDo you have fly tying material in your inventory that just is not the right color? Or perhaps you are lucky to have been given surplus fly tying materials – something which happened to me – but you need a different color.

Dyeing feathers is easy and fun and sometimes can lead to surprises. This article will show you how to dye and how easy it is.

Photo by V. LoftusI have found liquid dye provides more uniform color coverage than powdered dye. I use Rit® liquid dye for my feathers. Also, if I want to add another color to create a different hue, I mix the dye before I add it to the water bath. The colors that I selected for this project were Harvest, Dark Brown, Dark Green and Wine.

Tools and Supplies:

Large Pot (aluminum or porcelain lined)
Colander (preferably metal mesh)
Large bowl (glass, porcelain, or stainless steel)
Large strainer to remove feathers from pot
Latex kitchen gloves
1 cup liquid measure
Large towel you don’t mind staining
White Vinegar (1 cup per batch)
Paper towels
Oven mitts
Liquid dish soap
Long tongs
Rit® liquid dye
Bags (for feather storage)

Step 1: Choose pot deep enough to hold your feathers
Photo by V. LoftusI use a Granite Ware Porcelain Water Bath Canner which is large enough to submerge all the feathers underwater. Porcelain lined pots are preferable so that any residual stains left from the dyeing can be bleached out. I do not use this pot for food preparation due to the caustic chemicals used in the dyeing process.

Step 2: Clean the feathers
Photo by V. LoftusCleaning the feathers of grit, blood, and natural oils is an important step and helps the feathers absorb color.

Fill pot with lukewarm water. Add a tablespoon of liquid dish detergent. Gently move the feathers with tongs, so that all the feathers are exposed to the soapy water. Allow the feathers to soak for at least one hour to become fully saturated which aids in the even absorption of color from the dye.

Step 3: Rinse the feathers with cool water.
Photo by V. LoftusBring your pot of feathers to the sink. Place a colander in the sink under the faucet. Remove a few feathers from the soapy water and place them in the colander. Rinse the feathers in cool water. Continue to rinse the feathers in the colander until the water runs clean of any residual color, debris, or soap that may remain on the feathers.

Step 4: Soak cleaned feathers
Photo by V. LoftusTransfer cleaned feathers to a bowl. Keep the feathers covered in cool water until you are ready to place them into the dye bath.

Step 5: Prepare dye bath
Photo by V. LoftusI use the porcelain water bath canning pot for the dyeing process.

Place pot onto stove top. Add water, liquid dye, and 1 cup white vinegar (which acts as a color fixative). I use 12 cups of water and a whole 8 oz. bottle of Rit® dye (if you want subtle colors, use less dye). Turn on burner to high. Do not let the water boil since high heat can dry feathers out so that they become brittle. As soon as there is steam coming from the surface, immediately turn the burner off.

Step 6: Dyeing the feathers
Place a sample of feathers into the dye bath. Keep track of the time in the dye. Remove the feathers, then rinse the sample under cool water to see if the desired color has been achieved. The may take as little as a few seconds, or as long as a few minutes. If the feathers have not absorbed the desired color leave them in the dye bath longer.

Note: The color will appear darker when the feathers are still wet.

Once you are satisfied with the color, add the rest of the feathers to the dye bath. Remove the feathers when the right color has been achieved.

Step 7: Rinse feathers
Photo by V. LoftusPlace feathers into a colander in the sink. Rinse with cool water until the water runs clear.

Photo by V. LoftusPlace the rinsed feathers into a bowl and continue to rinse with cool water until all the water runs clear.

Photo by V. LoftusAfter the water is clear, return the feathers to the colander to drain.

Don’t discard the dye bath until you are satisfied with the final color, as you may need to reuse the dye if the color is too light after the feathers have completely dried.

Step 8: Air dry feathers

Photo by V. LoftusDrying the feathers can be done outside on a sunny, windless day. If desired, feathers can be placed on paper towels and dried inside.

Note: prolonged exposure to hot sun will dry out the feathers and make them brittle.

As they dry, check to see if the desired color has been achieved. If not, you can reheat the dye bath and place them back in for additional dyeing.

I usually start the drying process outside, weather permitting, and then finish drying them inside. Check to make sure that they are completely dry before putting them into storage.

Surprises do happen!

It is preferable to start with the color white because it is easier to control the outcome of the desired color. However, we must work with what we have, and these were the colors that I had available.

Photo by V. LoftusSome of the colors were subdued. I wanted more vibrant hues which was accomplished with a quick dip into the dye bath.

Photo by V. LoftusThe final color is influenced by the original color of the feathers, amount of dye used, and the length of time the feathers are in the dye bath.

For example, one surprising outcome for me was the yellow marabou. I wanted an olive colored marabou, so I selected a dark green liquid dye color.

The dark green dye made the color of the dye bath look blue rather than green. But the yellow marabou, when dyed, resulted in the exact color of olive that I wanted. This is because when you combine the colors yellow and blue you get green.

On the other hand, when dyeing a naturally colored grizzly saddle in the exact same dye bath, the final color turned out blue-gray.

Photo by V. LoftusIt is important to test various dye colors to ensure that you create the desired colors. You cannot assume that the name of the color of the dye will provide you the exact color that you are trying to create. While surprises do happen the results of your efforts can be stunning!

Photo by V. LoftusNow I have the exact color for the neck hackle and marabou that I needed to complete my new leech pattern!Photo by V. Loftus

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Vickie’s New UV-Midge Pupae Pattern

The one fly that you can use year-round!

Sneak Preview

I am excited to share a sneak peak of a new midge pupae pattern I have been testing over the past few years. Let’s hope that the team of fly tyers will soon be busy getting this one completed so that you may add this to your arsenal of stillwater fly patterns.

Photo by T. Loftus

In this article, I will include examples of a variety of presentation methods to illustrate the versatility of this fly. This fly pattern mirrors the stage of the chironomid that is most important to trout and subsequently also to anglers. Can you guess what it is?

My new UV midge pupae pattern has become a staple in my fly box as it has outperformed other midge pupae patterns that I have tested. I fished this pattern under a variety of conditions throughout Wyoming, Nevada, California and Oregon over a two-year period. I have also found this pattern productive when trout are selectively feeding on the pupae stage of insects as the pupae make their way towards the surface.

Chironomids, like most aquatic insects, are the most vulnerable when they emerge from the larva stage and transition into the pupae stage. Trout prey heavily on the pupae stage of the chironomid as it moves up towards the surface and hangs in the surface film attempting to break through the surface to emerge as an adult.

The UV midge pupae pattern suggests the most prolific source of food eaten year around for trout in stillwater habitats: chironomids. Known as midges (nonbiting flies), they are essential to trout as they are prolific in stillwater habitats. For example, Hal Jensen’s book, Stillwater Fly-Fishing Secrets, cites a study showing how a single square yard of aquatic vegetation can yield 100,000 chironomids.

Features of UV Midge Pupae: The fly’s elongated, slim profile and segmented body, mirrors the natural shape of the midge pupae in stillwater habitats. I have found that incorporating UV materials in the fly pattern outproduced the same pattern without UV. UV Enhancer wrapped around the hook shank mimics the surface sparkle created by the gas bubble inside the pupal shuck. The addition of UV flash material placed at the eye of the hook also increases the fly’s visibility in stained water conditions.

Size and color options: I primarily use size a #10 hook during spring conditions when the water is cooler. As the water warms and more insects become available, I switch to a smaller #12 or #14 size hook. I have found the most consistent color has been the black with silver ribbing. However, red and olive or black with copper ribbing are productive when the trout selectively key on color.

The life cycle of the chironomid: Larvae spend most of their life in and around vegetated bottoms and mud. The larvae stage of some chironomids contain hemoglobin and these appear red and are referred to as bloodworms. When the chironomids make the transition from the larva stage to the pupae stage is when they become most vulnerable to feeding trout.

Midge Pupae

Photo by V. Loftus

As pupae ascend to the surface, their wiggling motion causes oxygen to build up in between the pupal shuck and adult body it contains. This increases the buoyancy of the pupae as it moves up and down, gradually angling towards the surface. This up and down movement is what feeding trout key on.

Once the pupae get to the surface, they can take up to an hour to create an opening in the surface film.

Midge Pupae hanging in the surface film

Photo by V. Loftus

When midge pupae hang in the surface film, they will often assume a horizontal position, wriggling to find a weak point in the film to emerge. I have observed cruising trout gulping hundreds of midge pupae in the surface film.

Chironomid Schuck

Photo by V. Loftus

When the midge pupae penetrate through the meniscus, the pupa’s head and thorax begin to enlarge as gas between the pupal case and body expands and ruptures the pupal skin. This allows the fully winged adult to emerge on the water’s surface.

Shucks floating in the water is an obvious sign that midge pupae have hatched.

Midge Adult

Photo by V. Loftus

Hardly a day goes by on the water without some chironomid species hatching. When a hatch occurs, that brief period offers anglers some potentially exciting dry fly action.

After the midge has emerged, it mates and the eggs are deposited on the surface in a gelatinous mass. The larva develops inside the egg and the larva descends to the bottom of the lake. Bright green and red are the predominate colors of the larvae stage, but they also can be found in shades of tan, dark red, and brown.

The larvae resemble a small thread attached to a head, and it feeds on organic matter. Larvae can go through four molts before changing into the pupae stage.

Methods of presentation: The UV midge pupae pattern was productive no matter what method of presentation I used: dropping it under an indicator, casting and retrieving in shallow water, or fishing along shallow shoreline edges.

Floating line: This seven-pound rainbow was taken using a #10 Midge Pupae on Pronghorn Ranch Lake near Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Photo by D. Rickards

Only a small section of the lake remained unfrozen. Using a floating line with an indicator and a slow hand twist to provide movement to the fly, this knuckle-busting seven-pound rainbow broke my rod while I landed it.

Denny Rickards Intermediate Sinking Line:

I have found the midge pupae pattern productive in early spring, especially when cool water temperatures still inhibit the emergence of insects other than midges. This rainbow was caught using a midge pupae pattern with Denny Rickards’ Cortland intermediate sinking line.

Photo by D. Rickards

I caught this beauty casting into shallow shore line areas during a spring fishing trip to Piedmont Reservoir in Ft. Bridger, WY. The windy conditions provided the necessary cover for cruising trout along shallow shoreline areas. I hooked this rainbow trout using a slow, short, four-inch retrieve. The trout instantly hit the fly and the fight was on as he ran, taking the line all the way into the backing.

Denny Rickards seven-foot tip intermediate sinking line:

Trout were focused on feeding close to the surface. To keep the fly in the top feet, I was casting and retrieving using Denny Rickards’ 7- foot intermediate sink tip line.

Photo by D. Rickards

After casting, I paused before I started to strip the line. Once I started the retrieve, this tiger trout was already on the hook – he had taken the fly during the pause. The pause allows the fly to sink which mirrors the natural movement of a pupae moving up and down as they slowly ascend to the surface. The tiger hit the fly like a freight train.

The UV midge pupa pattern is certainly a pattern that I have found to be productive in stillwater habitats. The pattern is suggestive of either as a pupae or the larva stage of the chironomid, depending upon the method of presentation. Future articles will include more detailed information regarding presentation techniques for the midge pupae.

If you would like to be notified when this fly is available send me your contact information at:


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’!

Floating Sink Tip Lines Q & A

Thank you for your interest in this blog! I hope it is helpful to many people interested in getting into and improving their stillwater fly fishing skills. I was happy to recently receive an email from a reader containing some questions regarding floating vs. sink tip lines. I think topic would useful to many others, so I am posting questions and answers inspired by that email.

Question: How do you approach fishing when fish are sipping midge pupae from the surface? Do you really need an intermediate sink tip?

Answer: When trout are feeding near the surface, they are focused on either the adult or pupae stage of the insect. When I observe a head-dorsal tail rise on the surface, it is a clear indication that fish are feeding on the pupae stage of the insects that are trapped in or suspended just below the surface film. This is easily observed when the water is calm and flat.

When fish are feeding on pupae, my go-to line is the 7-foot camo sink tip (available from Denny Rickards). This line maintains the fly in the top few feet. Trolling this line maintains the fly in the top 8-10 inches, exactly where the trout will be feeding on emerging pupae or midges dangling in the surface film. This is important because if the fly is not presented at the depth the trout are feeding, it will likely be ignored. The line that you use determines the sink rate of the fly, and the intermediate sink tip line is perfect for this application.

Question: Why can’t you use a floating line in this case?

Answer: In my experience, floating lines are best suited for dry flies and indicator fishing with small nymphs or chironomids.

A floating line leaves a shadow and causes surface disturbance when retrieved. In addition, in windy conditions, fish face into the wind which requires a cast across the wind resulting in line bow and drag. This will result in trout refusals of the fly as the presentation does not effectively mimic the insects’ natural movement.

Additionally, research conducted by John Goddard and Brian Clark has found that light colored floating fly lines can also be a significant handicap as they may spook fish due to the reflection of light off the line. The light is reflected as a flash of light across the field of view of the fish. To counter this effect, some anglers have resorted to long leaders. Goddard and Clark’s research found that the drag of the line and leader created visual disturbance when viewed below the surface of the water. The amount of disturbance was proportional to the speed of the retrieve. Anything other than the very slowest rate of retrieve will cause surface ripple in the surface film, which flashed as light spooking the trout. A sink tip line maintains the line and leader below the surface, reducing or eliminating the surface disturbance during the retrieve.

Photo by V. LoftusNot only does the floating line and leader disturb the surface when it is retrieved, it also casts a shadow when fished during period of high sun. The 7-foot intermediate camo sink tip has reduced these issues as it has a dark green colored floating line that is married with a transparent intermediate 7-foot intermediate sinking tip.
This line is also ideal for probing shallow shorelines or weedy areas where you want to avoid hanging up on the bottom. I also add 3-5 feet of fluorocarbon tippet (Sightfree) to a 9-foot monofilament leader. The fluorocarbon has the same density of water so that it visually disappears, avoiding spooking the trout.

Question: Isn’t there an issue with picking up and recasting a sink tip line?

Answer: I can easily pick up the line and recast any time during the retrieve. I have not found this to be true with other sink tip lines that I have used. If I am sight fishing, and not immediately hit after the cast, I usually pick up the line after the first 5 feet of the retrieve and easily recast.

Question: If you guess wrong on line selection, why not take all lines to begin with rather than going back to base to get another rod and line?

Answer: Since 90% of the time fish focus on aquatic stage of insects that feed below the surface of the water, I primarily use two lines: the 7-foot camo intermediate sink tip and the camo intermediate full sink line (both available from Denny Rickards). Only 10% of the time do I use a floating line: to either fish dry flies or chironomids.

Most of the time I take the rods with the appropriate line in my pontoon boat. However, when conditions do change and I for some reason did not have the line that I want, I will adapt by changing the rate and speed of the retrieve to adjust the depth of the fly in the water column.

For example, if I want to fish deeper with the 7-foot sink tip line, after casting it out, I can start retrieving immediately, or count to 10, 20, or 30 before I start retrieving. This line sinks a foot every 10 seconds.  Longer pauses and slower retrieves will allow the line to slowly sink presenting the fly lower in the water column. This presentation technique is effective when fish are still feeding in the top few feet but are focused on intercepting the emerging stage of pupae as they are slowly making their way to the surface.

It is all about having the right tools in your tool box and knowing how to use them. The 7-foot intermediate sink tip has increased my productivity and has well been worth the investment as seen in the picture of this brown trout was taken on the shoreline in between the weeds.

Photo by V. Loftus

Photo by V. Loftus

Here is the link to Denny Rickard’s web site if you want more information.

Gone Fishin’

Hi, fellow anglers! I’m heading out in search of monster fish in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, California, and Nevada. So I’ll doing more angling than writing until snow forces me back indoors. So my next blog entry won’t be until probably November. Good luck out there!

Tips that will increase your success on stillwater

Photo by V. Loftus, all rights reserved

Photo by V. Loftus

Want to know how to increase your productivity in stillwater? The following tips provide a short summary of tactics I have found to be critical to success in fishing lakes. These tactics are unique to stillwater environments. Try these yourself and see whether your luck fishing lakes improves.

Continually move on the water: You will increase the number of hook ups if you cover more water. Since trout are constantly on the hunt for food, it is critical that the angler also move. If you are not getting hit after a few casts, move to another location. When you do start getting strikes and/or hook ups, make sure you cast in a 360-degree pattern around you before moving. Avoid casting repeatedly into the same spot because the surface disturbance will spook and scatter the trout. Plus, caught fish can scatter other trout that are in the same area, so move on once the strikes begin to diminish. Give that area a rest by fishing elsewhere, and come back later to try again. For more on this topic, see Keep on moving, baby!

Target the feeding zones: To find feeding fish, cast from the water to the shallow shoreline areas at first light and late in the day. Midday, target shallow areas of 2-6 feet when trout show on the surface; trout will move away from shoreline edges once the sun is on the water. During hot summer months, try fishing drop-offs into deeper habitat areas. These offer a refuge from warmer shallow waters and support prolific chironomid populations.

Choose presentation based on rise types: Surface and sub-surface feeding trout provide clues as to what stage of the insect they are feeding upon. If you observe surface rings, that usually means trout are sipping adult insects off the surface or pupae just below the surface. If the rise is splashy it usually indicates larger insects like an adult caddis, damsels or terrestrial insects like ants or grasshoppers. If you see a tail and dorsal rise it usually means that trout are feeding on the pupae stage of aquatic insects. If you observe boiling in shallow waters, it indicates trout feeding on insects like scuds or chironomid larvae on the bottom. Knowing how to read the water allows you to adjust your presentation accordingly.

Target your cast a few feet ahead of a cruising trout:  If you observe which direction the trout is moving, target your cast a few feet ahead of it. By casting ahead, trout are more likely to intercept the fly. If it is not apparent which direction the trout is moving, cast to the left or to the right of the ring. Casting directly to the ring rarely brings a strike as the trout is always on the move.

Master the skill of casting long distances: Long casts are essential when: a) there is a flat surface and the sun is overhead, b) fish are feeding on or near the surface, c) the water is gin clear, or d) the fish are feeding in shallow areas. A 40-foot cast is adequate when there is surface ripple, the cover of darkness or when the water is tinted with algae. Casting 60 feet will avoid spooking fish. Also, a longer cast increases the time the fly will be presented to prospective trout increasing chances that more trout will see your fly.

When trolling, stop moving when retrieving the line: While trolling in a pontoon boat, stop to retrieve the line. Never retrieve the line while you are moving. After retrieving the fly, recast and begin trolling again. The speed of your boat combined with the rate that you are retrieving the line will move the fly too quickly through the water. Trolling speed and the amount of line you put out controls the depth your fly moves through the water. Forty to fifty (40-50) feet is about right. Too much line in the water causes slack in the line resulting in missed strikes and poor hook ups.

Cast perpendicular to the wind: Keeping your back to the wind, cast perpendicular to the direction of the wind. Remember, fish face into the wind in order to intercept food that is blown downwind thus allowing them to conserve energy while hunting. When you cast perpendicular to the wind, trout will see the fly in profile view which increases your chances for hook ups.

Add lines to your arsenal that maintain the fly in the feeding zone: Use a floating line for dry flies and flies that are suspended below the surface under an indicator. Floating lines are not suitable for cast and retrieve presentations because retrieving a floating line creates a surface disturbance which spooks trout. Add an intermediate full sink and intermediate sink tip line to your fly fishing tackle. The intermediate full sink line will enable you to cast and retrieve the line and effectively maintain the fly in the top six (6) feet of the water column. This line allows you to present the fly at different depths where feeding trout are cruising. The intermediate sink tip line is used for fishing pupae in the top two feet.

Factor in the conditions which are relative to time of day and time of year, and the whims of mother nature: Where and when fish feed is relative to the conditions, which requires an adjustment in your presentation. For example, in early June when the water warms up mid-morning and triggers hatches, I present the pupae stage of the aquatic insects just below the surface in shallow areas. In fall I fish streamers at first light along the shallow shoreline areas where large brown trout and rainbows cruise. During the cooler winter months, I wait to fish midday, allowing the sun to warm the water, and fish chironomids vertically up through the top 6 feet of water.

When the feeding behavior changes it can be directly related to changes in weather conditions such as north winds, low pressure system, or full moon. These situations cause trout to seek cover and impact their feeding behavior. For more on this topic, check out Adjusting to Changing Conditions.

Use a non-slip mono loop knot to tie the fly to the leader: The loop knot allows the fly to swing freely. Since trout react to movement, allowing the fly to move freely simulating the movement of the natural insect. The only time that I do not use the loop knot is when using dry flies and/or suspending chironomids under an indicator below the surface.

Use fluorocarbon for the tippet: I use monofilament for the leader, and fluorocarbon for the tippet because fluorocarbon is less likely to leave a shadow in the water which can spook trout. The density of the fluorocarbon tippet is the same as water so light passes through the tippet rather than reflect off of it. Add 3-5 feet of fluorocarbon to a 9-foot monofilament leader. Fluorocarbon can be stiffer than monofilament, so be sure to use a loop knot to attach the fly.  Tie one size smaller tippet to the leader.

Avoid bead head flies: It is not possible to suspend a bead head fly mid depth because the head of the will fly drop down and point the tail upward (opposite of the natural position of emerging insects). The weight on the fly should distributed over the shank of the hook which will create an undulating movement when retrieved through the water. The bead head fly drops more drastically and takes you out of the strike zone. The only exception to this is when trolling or using chironomids suspended under an indicator; it does not seem to make a difference if a bead head is used. A discussion of bead head flies and a video showing their underwater movement can be seen in Selecting the Perfect Fly.