Our Man In Canada
December 7th, 1998

Fly-Fishing in Lakes and Ponds

Adapted from "The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing" by the author

By Clive Schaupmeyer

Fly anglers across North America spend countless hours fly-fishing in manmade ponds and natural lakes for trout, pike, bass and panfish.

 The lakes and ponds you'll come across while chasing fish vary as much or more than the fish and the techniques used to catch them. There are warm southern, low-elevation lakes that are teeming biological factories producing all kinds of aquatic life including big trout, bass, or pike. In contrast, high-altitude lakes in the western mountains of North America are less productive. They may be 6, 8, or 10 thousand feet or more in elevation. Depending on latitude and altitude they can be cold and infertile, and the fish-growing season is short. Most still waters where we fish are somewhere in between these two extremes.

Butcher Lake

A few years ago the local irrigation district flooded a new reservoir and it was stocked with hatchery trout. A few large rainbows got in from the Bow River that fed the reservoir via a canal. The flooded prairie spiked the reservoir water with nutrients and within two years there were all sorts of rainbows over 10 pounds being caught. The largest documented trout was over 19 pounds, and I photographed my brother with a 13-pound rainbow. He didn't catch it, but the opportunity to take a picture of such a large rainbow couldn't be missed. This hog factory slowed down after that, the trout were not replaced and it's now emerging as a decent and stable walleye fishery.

According to Calgary-based fish biologist Jim Stelfox some of the small high lakes in Alberta are so infertile they have the capacity to produce only a few pounds of fish per year in an entire lake. In 1994, I fished 6,000-foot Moat Lake in majestic Tonquin Valley in Jasper National Park, Alberta. My wife, Willie, and I were staying at a rustic lodge on Amethyst Lake we had ridden to on horseback. A couple of other guests and I decided to walk a mile over to Moat Lake to fly-fish from shore.

There didn't seem to be a lot of fish on the lake, but a bead-head nymph cast near the random sporadic rises would usually result in a strike. These fish were hungry and looking for food in the cold infertile water. Their bodies were lean and their heads were slightly too big for the rest of the fish, a sure sign there isn't much to eat. To give you an idea of the short season, the ice doesn't come off the lakes up there until June. And when we rode out over a 7,000-foot pass there were 3 inches of fresh snow under hoof. It was mid-August.

Al with Big Pike

I've fly-fished in lakes that are over one hundred miles long and in farm ponds you could cast across. I've caught my share of 10-pound pike, many 10-inch trout and smaller panfish in lakes. Sometimes the quarry has been hatchery trout that were too stupid to know what an insect is, yet would eat a pea-sized brown fly that looked like a food pellet. Something not to be particularly proud of, but you have to adjust technique to the situation. A few years ago I landed and released two big brown trout (19 and 21 inches) that lived in a beaver pond filled with gin- clear water. There were only four browns in the entire pond. Mind you the pond was smaller than a tennis court and they were easy to see. It was an interesting lesson in stealth. I dun good!

 It would seem about the only thing these types of fly-fishing have in common is the still water. But surprisingly, they have a lot in common when it comes to fly-fishing technique. I've caught rainbow, brown, and brook trout, pike, bass, and panfish all with a floating line, usually with one or two split shots and some type of wet fly—all stripped in with about the same technique. Short four- to six- inch strips about every second or two.

 Sure other techniques may be required, but it amazes me how little techniques vary in stillwaters. After all, fish are fish, and water is water. About the only variables you have to deal with are where the fish are, how deep they are and what they are eating.

That sounds overly simple and it is. And of course it still doesn't mean you'll catch fish. There are never any guarantees.

Next week: Stillwater fishing and retrieval techniques.

Closing thought is from Robert Frost: "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by. And that made all the difference." ~ Clive Schaupmeyer

Our Man In Canada Archives

Bio on Our Man In Canada

Clive Schaupmeyer is an outdoor writer and photographer. He is the author of The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing, a 288-page book for novice and intermediate fly anglers. His photo of a boy fishing was judged the best outdoor picture of 1996 published by a member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada. He fly-fishes for trout in Alberta's foothill and mountain streams and for pike near his home in Brooks, Alberta. For information on where to find, or how to get a copy of Clive's book, Click here!

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