Back-end Stillwater Fishing - A Fish & Fly guide
Terry Lawton takes a look at stillwater tactics for the end of the season.
Weather conditions when fishing, or considering going fishing, at the back-end of the season are likely to be crucial. As the weather gets cooler, so the water temperature starts to drop. The weather in October can be lovely with warm, still days with flies hatching, or windy, wet and cold. The days are getting shorter too. As water and air temperatures drop, so fish are less inclined to feed as their metabolism slows down. If they have fed well over the summer and early autumn, they don't need to feed so much as winter approaches.
Trout in stillwaters have to forage for their food as there is no current to bring food to them. So they must move about hunting for morsels to eat in likely places. As always, remember that it is very likely that there will be fish quite close to the bank. So make sure that you fish the water in your immediate area - at your feet - before starting to fish further out. Another benefit of not fishing as far away as you can cast is that fishing closer to you means that you can see your leader move more easily if a fish takes one of your flies, or, if you are fishing nymphs or buzzers with a dry or floating fly on the point, you will be able to see it move in response to a subtle take. You may even see a fish have a look at your fly but not take it; if this happens cast again and you may be rewarded.
If water is very clear, fish can see you more easily, especially as the weed in the water dies back. Use any bank-side cover that you can and keep off the sky line to reduce the possibility of spooking fish, either those that you have seen or an unseen one. You also need to take account of wind direction. Particularly on the big reservoirs a strong wind may kick-up the bottom close to the shore, making the water muddy and probably - but not always - unfishable. Try not to fish with the wind on your back as you will fishing where the water is coldest.
At the end of the season, the fish should be fat and well-fed after gorging themselves on the flies of late summer, and fry and sticklebacks around the margins and weed beds. So don't be tempted to fish too fine as there will always be the possibility of catching a real clunker. A tippet of at least 6lbs should be the minimum. You will need to fish deeper and with a very slow retrieve. Don't forget to count down each time you cast so that when you do catch a fish, you can cast again and fish at the same depth. You must find feeding fish, know roughly how deep they are and continue to fish at that depth. Should you stop catching, then try fishing at a different depth as the fish may have moved up or down in the water column.
If you have got only a floating line, it's worth investing in a selection of leaders of different sink rates which you fish as though they are mini sink tips. Leaders are available in sink rates from hover, which will hang just below the surface, to extra super fast sinking and will get your fly down deep in double quick time. They can also help produce a more acceptable retrieve path for your flies than might be achieved with a standard leader.
Although the ever-present buzzers are less in evidence at this time of the season, it is still worthwhile fishing a team of dark patterns. Pheasant Tail and even Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear nymphs are both likely to catch fish. If you can see that fish are still feeding on fry, then you will need to fish suitable artificials. Keep retrieve speeds low. A slow-moving fry imitation that looks as though it is sick will have much more appeal than a fast-moving lure.
A word about leaders...
When fishing dry flies use co-polymer, rather than double strength, leaders and tippets. Co-polymer has better knot strength, is less brittle and so less inclined to snap under a smash take, and doesn't absorb water to the same extent that standard mono does. For fishing sub-surface, choose fluorocarbon.
Real fluorocarbon, rather than the cheaper coated standard monofilament, sinks readily because it is heavier than water, doesn't absorb water and it is very resistant to UV light. This is the material to use when deep nymphing or when you want to fish high in the water without your leader being affected by surface winds and skating or creating a wake. The latest generation of fluorocarbons are expensive and anglers who are put-off by the cost can use co-polymer for all their Stillwater fishing with confidence.
A dry fly leader can be shorter than one used for nymphing, at around 14 feet with the dropper at six feet and the point fly a further eight feet away. When changing from fishing sub-surface to dry flies, change your leader set-up as well as material to co-polymer, if you were using an all-fluorocarbon leader set-up. There will be circumstances when a fluorocarbon tippet will be beneficial as it will sink below the surface but not so far that it will make a small dry sink as well.
Nymph leader should be at least 18 feet long with six feet between the end of the line and the first dropper, six foot to the second dropper and the same distance to the point fly. When you have found the depth at which fish are feeding, you might want to cut-off one dropper to reduce the chance of tangles when casting or multiple hook-ups.
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