To be successful fly fishing on Stillwater, you must develop a sixth sense for what is happening below the surface.
To keep me focused, I constantly imagine that a fish always sees my fly and is interested, at least initially. I expect a hit on each and every cast. By keeping focused, when I do get a hit I’m not surprised. I’m ready for it and I think I miss fewer strikes.
It’s fairly common that once I’ve caught a few fish from a short section of shoreline the fish in the immediate area seem to go off the feed. With regular changes in presentation (retrieve, showing the flies at a slightly different angle) I can often continue to get hits.
As the fish start to get picky, I think about which different stillwater techniques to try. Yes, I know I'm crazy but I listen to the fish! Often takes become more gentle and harder to detect. If this happens to you, try holding your rod tip 12 inches above the water and watching for the smallest movement of the fly line where it enters the water as it swings up and down on your retrieve. Try to visualize takes before you actually feel them. Focus on the tension of the line in the water on your retrieve. You might feel slight additional pressure ... or you might feel some slack! When either of these happen, use a firm strip strike at that point. You might just have a fish.
When the bite goes off, the first and easiest thing I do is to change retrieve speeds and styles to help induce additional strikes. When I came home from a recent trip to Alaska, my wife Liz was fostering four newborn kittens. As they grew I played with them using a feather for them to chase. They quickly became bored and lost interest if I moved the feather at the same pace on each pass. However, by changing the speed or direction, the kittens would pounce on the feather once again. I think same thing happens with the trout at Limestone. The first or second time they see a fly they pay close attention and may strike. But by the forth or fifth cast they have already made up their mind "That isn't food!" By constantly varying the flies path and speed through each cast, I think I can outwit that wily trout and fool it into taking my fly.
Fish the cast out. I see a lot of anglers at Limestone take their fly out of the water 8-10 feet from shore. I consider this the sweet spot. Same thing when fishing from a boat. A subtle technique that is often overlooked is to hold the flies briefly in the water before each recast. At the end of each retrieve, instead of the usual recast with 10-20 feet of fly line still in the water. Try slowly sweeping the rod upwards and then stop it at about 50 degrees. Then with the fly line hanging down in an arc, watch this for up to ten seconds for any signs of a following fish taking the fly. This is fishing the ‘Hang’: this short pause has been responsible for catching many additional fish over the course of my fishing seasons. Now, when you do pick up the line, expect a take. That nymph might just be heading to the surface. Just think how many times a good fish has boiled at the surface when you go to make a recast. Try this technique and you’ll be able to convert quite a few of those into hooked fish.
There are many techniques to try under varying conditions. Stillwater Presentation by Denny Rickards is a great resource but there is always more to learn. When hoppers don’t hop, rings don’t rise and streamers aren’t chased, trout are still catchable. While many anglers go to the dreaded bobber (depth regulator for the purist), that is not my favorite way to fish. I recently read about a technique often used in England - “washing line”. This technique is new to me and I think worth investigating. It's name comes from the way the flies hang in the water column.
A washing line rig uses a team of three flies. The point or tail fly is very buoyant with two nymphs on droppers spaced 3-5′ apart. The point fly acts as a float and helps suspend the wet flies/nymphs at the correct level. The total leader length is between 12-15 feet (minimum 10 feet) and may be attach to a floating line for fish holding in the top 1-3 feet
or to an intermediate line to reach fish that are holding deeper (down to four feet).
By mending slack line into the cast, the dropper flies free fall on the slack line. By applying tension, you can hold the flies at a constant depth. With a long slow pull on the line or raising the rod tip, you can lift the two dropper flies almost vertically and easily adjust the depth.
I haven’t tried this technique and since I get tired of fishing with indicators I can’t wait to try the ‘washing line’.
And if none of this works, or if it works so well you are tired, stop by the clubhouse, visit the Drinks Fairy, and hang out on the porch. There's never a bad day Limestone.