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Stillwater Trout fishing from Bank and Boat

By Chris Hayward

It can be argued that stillwater fly fishing, with the plethora of small waters and reservoirs open and available for fly fishing, offers some of the best fishing anywhere in the UK. It is the route that most newcomers take into this fantastic sport.

Small stillwaters are the perfect environment for beginners. Fish are stocked on a regular basis and are keen to take a fly; this breeds confidence in your fishing and ability. They are also prevalent across the whole of the country and can be accessed on a day ticket basis, in theory at a time to suit you.

This is not to say that they can’t be a challenge, fish location, food imitation and time of year can all make a big difference to your success or lack of it!

What do you do when confronted with a new stillwater fishery? If you fish a lake regularly you gather, over time, a picture of the lake through the seasons and can make an educated guess based on experience of where and when to go to maximise your chances of success. You also build up a picture of the insects and aquatic life the water holds and when they are being taken to help with fly selection.

This advantage is diminished when confronted with a new water but there are things that can be considered to help you maximise your chances. The first of these is location.

Fish like to be comfortable, like us they require several basics to survive; food, shelter and warmth. Remember they are cold blooded so are always the same temperature as the water. If the water is too cold they will find warmer water, if they are too hot they will find cooler……

Now the term Stillwater isn’t true, even on a calm day. Water is blown across the lake by the wind and if it didn’t return back from where it was blown the water would all be at one end!! Therefore there is a reverse current running against the wind under the surface returning the water back from where it came. This movement of water affects the temperature of the water and is our first clue as to where the fish may be.

We can put jumpers on and take jumpers off to maintain a comfortable temperature; fish can’t so they will change their position and depth on a lake to stay comfortable. In early season for example when the relatively warm westerlies have been blowing across a lake the warmest water will be at the leeward end (downwind end) the water then cools as it returns along the bottom of the lake to the windward end (the upwind end) so in early season you will expect to find fish in the wind. This is uncomfortable for us as it makes casting and fishing difficult but it is where I would expect to find the fish.

Conversely in the summer the westerlies will warm the water up further so the reverse could be expected with fish lying deeper in the cooler water at the leeward end (making fishing more comfortable). Cooler water also holds more oxygen despite the agitation of the surface by wave action.
The reverse is also true of course if the weather has been very warm and we get cooler winds then the fish will move accordingly to the end of the lake which has the cooler water (holding more oxygen).

As a rule of thumb if the wind is colder than the water in winter then you want it on your back, if its colder than the water in summer then you want it in your face.

If it is warmer than the water in winter then you want it in your face if it is warmer than the water in summer then you want it on your back.

Fish also need shelter from predation and love features within lakes, so have a look around the lake for drop off areas, shelves, submerged tree stumps or over hanging branches etc all of which provide cover or access to depth quickly while allowing feeding in relatively shallower water. Ally these features to the wind and we can build an even better picture of where the fish will be. Don’t ignore the topography of the bank either in this regard. If nothing is obvious in the water use what you can see to build up a picture of what you can’t. For example, if the bank you are on is steep it’s a fair bet that the subsurface terrain will be of a similar nature once that bank disappears under the water indicating that there’s deep water close in.


As far as feeding is concerned there is one pattern that you should never leave home without; the buzzer. It’s the largest constituent of a trout’s diet and can make up to 80% of everything a trout eats. Even on the coldest of winter days, during the warmest part (10am – 2pm) there is a good chance of some sort of hatch of these insects. They are prevalent in every stillwater in the land and a selection of these in various colours and sizes are a must.

Other patterns will be dependent on the time of year and what insect life the lake supports. Again as a rule of thumb I would go equipped with a selection of buzzers, damsels and general imitations (Hares ears, diawl bachs, pheasant tails) all year round, with the addition of a few seasonal options such as sedge imitations for summer and olives from May to September. Emerger patterns will also play an important part during the year with shuttlecock buzzers, bobs bits and hoppers forming the main stay of this line of attack.

Towards the back end (Mid Sept onwards) fry patterns will come into their own as trout try to pack on weight to support them through the leaner winter period. Minkies, floating perch fry, boobies and suspender minkies will all play a part in the shortening days.

Boat Fishing

When boat fishing on larger expanses of water look also for features that are created by the wind such as scum lanes and wind lanes. Both trap food and draw fish like a magnet. If you can present your flies across the wind lane then you stand a good chance of connecting. The fish tend to use the ripple at the sides of the wind lane for cover and move in to the wind lane to take food. By casting across the wind lane you cover fish in the ripple both sides and present an offering in the lane itself, assuming a three fly cast is being used. Scum lanes trap food underneath and alongside them so present your flies along the edges to intercept fish.

Another feature that will draw fish in the summer are aerators. These are installed on large deep reservoirs to mix the water column regulating temperature and mixing the water to reduce stratification. This improves water quality. The pumped air from the bottom brings with it a plethora of food towards the surface and with it the fish, feeding on these items in the now cooler top layers of water.

Remember that the larger the water you are fishing the more pronounced the effect of wind and weather on your quarry. Take your time to assess the location and the temperature, marry it to the topography and the likely food items available, get on the water and catch some fish.

Suggested equipment

Small stillwaters

Rod 9’ # 6wt Guideline Reaction
Reel Lamson Guru No 2 + Spare spools
Lines Mastery GPX or Rio Gold Floating
Mastery Stillwater Intermediate
Airflo Sixth Sense in a Di 3 6/7wt

Larger Stillwaters and reservoirs

9’6 #7wt or 10’ #7wt (boat)
Lamson Guru no 3
Lines as above in 7wt plus
Di 5 and Di 7 in 7/8 wts.