MY HOME REGION is sprinkled with incredibly
rich ponds and lakes. Within an hour's drive
from Deer Lodge [MT] there are two lakes and
thirteen ponds that grow very large trout. They
are great waters for fly fishing, shallow and
weedy and full of insects and crustaceans.
For years these waters were an afterthought in
my fishing, places I'd go to no more than a
dozen times a season. My progression from casual
to fanatic stillwater angler happened on these
ponds and lakes, but it wasn't a gradual shift
in focus. One day stillwaters were just an occasional,
slog-and-flog diversion—the next day they were
the most exciting and challenging fisheries
Everything changed on July 21, 1983. An English
fly fisherman, James Harris, and I sat on the
bank of the Hog Hole, one of the famous Anaconda
Settling Ponds, and watched at least twenty men,
some on shore and some in float tubes, beat the
water all over the pond, the group hooking roughly
one trout per hour. In British understatement,
James said, "They're really very bad at this game,
James was not an unfair man. He would later write
an article about the group of fly fishing friends
who help me with scientific research, calling them
"the greatest running-water fly fishermen" he'd
seen in twenty years of international angling.
I didn't know the other anglers on the Hog Hole,
but they fished the water pretty much the way I
would fish it. They played slog-and-flog, throwing
out a sunken fly — in most instances a Woolly Worm —
and retrieving. The more sophisticated fishermen
counted down the sinking fly, and worked it just
over the weed beds. Most just threw a fly out and
randomly pulled it in. These people, by the license
plates on their vehicles in the parking lot, were
from eight different states and one Canadian
province. They were decked out in the newest
equipment. They were probably a fair cross-section
of North American fly fishing talent.
They were, in the words of James Harris, ". . . not
very good at this game."
I knew what I disliked about pond and lake fishing —
it was exactly this boringly random method of deep
prospecting, even if it did produce an occasional
trophy trout. Most of the anglers on the Hog Hole
would probably be satisfied with one or two fish
over five pounds, which was virtually guaranteed
here with enough time on the water. None of us
knew any better because, unlike the anglers of the
United Kingdom, we weren't stillwater specialists.
James and I fished the Hog Hole for the next
four hours. With him leading, and me following
his example, we landed fourteen trout, the biggest
an eight-pound brown. Those four hours changed my
angling outlook forever. Over the rest of that
season I fished stillwaters fifty-seven days,
mostly in my home valley.
My stillwater education flourished into obsession,
one that has never really died down, beginning
that summer. Every new experience confirmed that
stillwater fly fishing didn't have to be that
repetitive slog-and-flog approach.
My education didn't progress evenly. It leaped
ahead with bursts triggered by experimentation
on local waters with a growing group of friends
who were as fascinated as I was by our stillwater
opportunities; my exploratory trips to hotbeds
of North American stillwater fly fishing,
especially the Kamloops region of British Columbia,
to study the tactics of experts; and visits from
English anglers steeped in their two-hundred-year-old
stillwater tradition. It didn't take long for me
to gather more than fifty distinct stillwater
techniques, all of them effective, most of them
relatively easy, and many of them visually thrilling.
Not all techniques worked on all stillwaters—thus
the need for over fifty methods. My usual procedure,
after arriving on the bank of a pond or a lake,
was to climb a hill or cliff and just sit and
watch the water for fifteen minutes before
setting up any piece of tackle. The only exception
to this observation period happened when trout
were rising— and then I would try to start casting
as quickly as possible. The trick when fish weren't
rising was to guess which technique was perfect
for that fishery at that moment.
Twenty years ago it was hard for me to find anyone
in my home area who even wanted to fish lakes.
Now there's a bunch of us who hit the stillwaters
in the valley regularly; with a quick telephone
call I can get a few friends together for a trip.
My regular companions are Andy Stahl, Joel Hart,
and Ken Mira. They live in the area and they
actually prefer the ponds and lakes to moving
water, fishing stillwaters a couple of times
a week throughout the season. Another group,
Bernie Samuelson, Matt Quinn, and Ron Ruddig,
hit the lowland waters, but for them the valley
ponds and lakes are only practice grounds until
the mountain waters open up.
One evening in May, after a day on Georgetown
Lake, we relaxed in an Anaconda restaurant. "On
most of the high lakes I don't need all the
techniques we use down here," Matt observed.
"But then there are other lakes where you wish
you could carry in every bit of equipment you own,"
"We can't," Matt answered. "That's the problem."
The whole group stayed there until closing time
that night, playing with a problem of logistics.
Which unique stillwater methods, honed on lowland
reservoirs, were the most valuable in the mountains
when the trout get difficult? Out of a bag of more
than fifty techniques, which ones justified bringing
extra equipment into the high country?
We eliminated some of our favorite methods that
were effective on weedy, silt-bottomed valley
lakes because they don't work well on the
typically deep, rocky-bottomed mountain lakes.
We rejected others because they require equipment,
such as a boat, that couldn't be packed into the
We discarded one method that stood at the top of
everyone's list because it is so universal that
it envelopes virtually every other technique. The
most valuable technique in lowland lakes is
spotting and casting to a particular fish; and
this is also the most important trick on
high-mountain lakes. But spotting, the skill that
separates the beginning angler from the expert
angler, is so universally applicable to fly
fishing, in moving as well as stillwaters, that
it is elevated to a level above technique. It is
the umbrella under which every other method exists.
Every member of the group made a list of the ten
"most unique and effective" methods for mountain
lakes. Seven members and seven lists—there were
three techniques that appeared on every list—three
that everyone agreed are invaluable when trout in
mountain lakes became difficult to catch. Two of
the strategies were developed by someone in our
group—a guarantee for the "unique" part of the
qualifying standards—and the third, a United
Kingdom technique, was a certain choice because
it was the most exciting approach.
We even put these methods into their own categories:
Most Exciting (Floss Blow Line), Most Effective
(Hang-and-Bob), and Most Valuable (Multiple Roll).
To be continued, next time: Floss Blow Line