How To Fish Stillwaters

March 31st, 2003

Stillwaters, lakes, ponds and reservoirs are the most underutilized fisheries in the North America. Why? Because the average fly fisher doesn't know how to fish them, or where to start. Marv Taylor has a wealth of experience in this area and volunteered to write a weekly column to take the mystery out of fishing stillwaters. Stay tuned, you too can master stillwaters! ~ LadyFisher

Who Is Marv Taylor
By Marv Taylor, Garden City, ID

My journalistic career begin in the mid-60s with two hunting articles published in Fur Fish and Game magazine. In 1969 I began writing freelance articles for the Idaho Statesman (the state's largest newspaper). After four years of occasional by-lines in the paper, I was offered a bi-monthly column opposite the newspaper's newest outdoors writer. I would cover fishing, my colleague would continue to turn out hunting and camping columns. His work was praised by many of the newspaper's readers as something really special.

After seven or eight months of submitting marginally adequate material (my editor's description of my work), I walked into the editorial office one Monday and found out why my colleague had been turning out such great work. He apparently owned an extensive outdoors library and was borrowing heavily from the works of some pretty notable authors. The big P caused quite a headache for the newspaper, before the case was quietly settled out of court.

When the editor told me he was looking for somebody to work opposite me, I told him not to bother looking. I could write on both hunting and fishing. The editor was from the old school, complete with green celluloid eye shade, and an attitude that he was the only person at the newspaper who knew anything about the business. He spent 20 minutes explaining how difficult it was to turn out high quality work on a weekly basis. He went to great lengths to convince me I wasn't qualified for the assignment.

Then there was 30 second pause, before he asked me the question I had been waiting for: "Do you really think you can keep the quality high enough," he asked between sips from the ever present cup of coffee, "for us to invest in you on a weekly basis?"

In truth I had no idea whether-or-not I could generate enough new ideas to write a weekly column over a long period of time. But I've been a salesman all of my life and I knew I had him ready to buy. He was ready to pounce on the "steak." All I needed to do at that point was to supply the "sizzle."

I told him I had a magazine article on spring bear hunting I had been hoping to sell Fur Fish and Game, and I thought it might make a great three-part series to introduce me as the new weekly outdoors columnist. He printed the series and I never looked back. I missed only one deadline during the next 22 years.

I'm not entirely sure whether or not I ever satisfied this editor. He never congratulated me on an especially effective column; But he did criticize me when I obviously dropped the ball. The closest he came to a compliment was when, on a fishing trip together (we became rather good friends), he told me, "while you sure as hell don't know the difference between a preposition and a pronoun, you do have the ability to tell a story and hold the reader."

I was almost reveling in what I took as a compliment, when he added, "That's enough...for now."

You could hear the wind exhaling from my sails. (Shortly before his death, I received a moving letter from this editor, in which he congratulated me on graduating from newspaper columnist to book author. I found out later from his widow that he had taken extreme pleasure in Marv Taylor's (occasional) successes as an outdoors journalist. While I would have loved to have heard it from him first hand, I was pleased to know he had followed my career after he retired.

I've only been involved with computers for about six months (I did all of my newspaper columns and books on a manual typewriter and a simple word processor), and only "discovered" FAOL about two months ago. I was so impressed with the site, I wrote the publishers an e-mail congratulating them on the quality and quantity of fly fishing material they were turning out. I did include one observation that got Deanna and Jim motivated enough to contact me. I told them the only area they were weak in was stillwater.

The publishers probably could have taken my observations with a grain of salt, and ignored me completely. Except for one thing: They agreed with me. Fortunately they chose to dig deeper and see if I could back up my critique of their product with a plan of action.

As I had done with my newspaper editor 28 years ago, I told them I knew I could add a lot of new ideas to FAOL and I thought I could be valuable to them. And yes...I "could" do quality work on a weekly basis.

Can I perform to the high level they have achieved with FAOL? The new ideas are not a problem. I've got bags full of column ideas. Some of the owners of my books might tell you I have "too many new ideas." Will the readers of FAOL follow my columns on stillwater over the coming months? Will they buy into some of these "new ideas"? Only time will tell.

The satisfaction of turning out work weekly that will inform, educate, and entertain other fly fishers, nationally and internationally, is...well, satisfying. I've taught fly fishing subjects - from fly tying, to casting, to aquatic entomology - for the past 30 years. Almost every week I run into former students who delight in telling me how they progressed in our sport. Several of them are now teaching fly fishing subjects to our younger generations. A couple are now fly fishing guides. And two others are beginning to get their writings on fly fishing published.

And you wonder why I want to keep on teaching?

But it really goes a lot deeper than that. My primary goal as a columnist on stillwater fly fishing for FAOL, is to persuade readers to inspect a lot of the edicts and myths that surround stillwater trout fly fishing, questioning and dissecting these "rules of the sport," throwing some in the trash can, filing others into a folder in your mental computer until you can prove or disprove them.

For example: I teach a seminar that I call TEN TIPS THAT CAN IMPROVE YOUR STILLWATER TROUT FISHING BY 50-PERCENT. Sounds almost too good to be true? Not if you give them a try. I tell my students that each tip should improve their success rate in stillwater by at least 5-percent.

Tip #1- Avoid the use of any head cement or other chemicals when tying your wet flies.

I'm a firm believer that anglers leave "scent tracks" on almost everything they touch when fishing. Salmonids have superb olfactory senses. How else can salmon and steelhead find their way back to their place of birth, if they can't follow the scent of that tiny central Idaho stream as it mingles with the Salmon River, flows then into the Snake, finally to merge with the mighty Columbia River. Being able to pick up the scent of its home waters at the mouth of the Columbia and follow it home to that little creek in Idaho's Sawtooth range, boggles the mind. If they can do that, they sure as heck can detect the odor of head cement and other chemicals on our wet flies. I think this tip is actually worth about 20-percent.

Tip #2 - Wash your hands frequently during a day of fishing.

Fits like a glove with tip #1. Carry along a small bottle of unscented liquid soap and use it frequently. The L-serine found on some angler's hands is extremely offensive to fish. Not to mention nicotine, petroleum, sun screen lotions, insect repellants and many other negative smell tracks. Get rid of as much of these smell tracks as you can by washing your hands often during a day of fishing.

Tip #3 - Use a small amount of lead on all of your wet flies.

Use just enough lead to get them to sink slightly faster than your sinking lines. I generally use a strip of fuse wire, of the appropriate size, the length of the hook shank. The legendary inventor of the Sheep Creek Special, George Biggs, weighted almost all of his flies in this fashion. He once told me that his weighted Sheep Creeks outperformed the unweighted versions, by an extremely wide margin.

Tip #4 - Use an extra-fast retrieve at least 1/3 of the time.

If I make six casts without a strike, as I try to imitate that leech, forage fish, or any other aquatic trout foods, I will rip the next two casts about as fast as I can. I will cover this fast rip theory in more detail in future columns.

Tip #5 - Fish at least one line size deeper than you think you will need.

The major problem fly fishermen have when fishing deep water is not getting their flies deep enough. In my seminars on stillwater tactics, I rate this tip high on the list.

Tip #6 - Keep your hooks sharp...sharper...sharper yet.

It is amazing to me how many stillwater fly anglers I run into that don't even bother to carry a hook hone in their vests. I sharpen my hooks before I tie my flies, sharpen them after a couple of fish, then sharpen them before I put them back in the fly box. I've been accused of going too far with a hook hone. My answer has always been: "Dull hooks are one fish conservation tool I refuse to employ."

Tip #7 - Use short leaders when fishing deep.

I generally use leaders from 4- to 6-feet long. The only time I use longer leaders is when I'm fishing small dries or emergers, in spring creek-like water. I had a friend who used to tie a dropper fly off his nail knot and catch three times as many fish on that fly as he did his point-fly. In essence he was fishing an 8-inch leader. Think about it. I will explain why he was successful with this set-up in later columns.

Tip #8 - Develop a DEADLY DOZEN wet fly assortment.

I use and market my own deadly dozen; Everyone should develop their own (it's OK with me if your assortment includes some of my flies). There is rarely a need to experiment with vast numbers of potentially hot fly patterns in your day to day fishing. Learn to fish your deadly dozen and pretty much stay with them. "Presentation" is almost always more important than "pattern."

Tip #9 - Learn to tie better knots.

In my seminars, I find a vast majority of fly fishers still using the old, antiquated clinch knot, to tie their flies on. I teach my students to learn to tie the through-the-eye-twice clinch knot and the Duncan Loop (also known as the uni-knot.). If I can keep the "twice through" clinch knot from cocking, I prefer it. It will usually help me land the 10-pounder that will break off with almost every other knot.

Tip #10 - Keep a fishing journal.

Learn to keep records and learn to use them. I honestly believe this tip is worth 10- to 15-percent by itself.

I firmly believe fly anglers achieve 5-percent improvement for each of these ten tips. They work. I know they do. I just wish I had some way to prove it.

Well... Now you know a bit more about Marv Taylor. I hope this stillwater series proves interesting to you for many months to come. My goal each week is for the reader to leave my page with at least one new idea for their stillwater fishing. the end of a year, that would be 52 new ideas. If only half of them were successful for the reader, the fish just wouldn't stand a chance. ~ Marv

About Marv

You can reach Marv by email at or by phone: 208-322-5760. More on Marv next week!

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