The first time a fish took me to my backing was when I was stillwater fly fishing. I quickly learned that the biggest fish I could go after were going to have some sort of connection to water that wasn’t moving all of the time. If you look at salmon or steelhead and lake-run brown trout, you see how much bigger these fish are than their stream counterparts. This also holds true for most fish that you find within rivers. The biggest fish normally have some sort of stillwater they can use to put on the pounds. Some of us pursue these fish when they’ve entered the rivers, some of us go after them in their stillwater environments, and some of us do both. If you want to go for these bruisers in their stillwater versions, you need to master sinking lines and the techniques and mindset that go along with them. In this podcast, Phil Rowley will help us do that. If you want to learn more about sinking lines, stillwater fly fishing, or any combination of the two, this podcast is for you. I know you’re going to learn a ton from Phil, the stillwater master.
KEY TAKEAWAYS: STILLWATER FLY FISHING WITH SINKING LINES
- Fishing stillwaters gives you a lot of peace and quiet, less crowds, big fish, comfortable fishing, and great hatches.
- Sinking lines help you to have a truer horizontal retrieve path.
SINKING LINE FEATURES
- Sinking lines run from intermediate to type VII sinking lines (this is separate from your rod weight).
- The higher the number, the faster the sink rate.
- Clear intermediate sinking lines have largely replaced type II sinking lines.
- The line weight number more or less accords with inches per second, so for example, a type III is about 3 inches per second on the sink rate.
- Non-stretch cores are really an improvement: you get more sensitivity, better casting, and a more responsive experience for hooksets and playing the fish.
- Density compensation: normally with type III to VII lines. Density compensation means that the tip sinks the fastest, and therefore you have greater sensitivity without a bow in the line.
- Clear intermediates are not density compensated and therefore sink belly first, creating more of a U-shaped profile. You can use this to tell where the fish are at. If they hit at first, then this is a sign that the fish are shallow. Towards the end of the retrieve, the line and flies are at their deepest. If you get takes during the latter portion of your retrieve, this signifies that the fish are holding deeper.
- For fly fishing lakes in general, a floating line, clear intermediate, and type V sinking line would probably cover your bases, but with just sinking lines, perhaps a clear intermediate, type III, and type VI would do the job with three lines.
- The slower the sink rate, the longer the leader.
- Intermediate and slower sinking leaders: 9 – 12 ft. with fluorocarbon tippet.
- Faster sinking line (type VI or greater) leaders: 3 – 4 ft. Short 3’ to 4’ leaders aren’t commercially available but can easily be put together by joining two pieces of fluorocarbon. The connection between the two sections serves as a ‘fusible link’ in the event of a breakoff and protects the welded loop of the fly line.
MOVING THE FLY
- Water temperature dictates retrieve speed as much if not more than prey items.
- He wants trout in about 50 to 65 degree water.
- Slower lines will keep you in the zone longer if you have to use a slower retrieve.
- When the water temp is up or the fish are generally more active, then you can use faster sinking lines.
- He doesn’t use weighted flies most of the time except on a few specific patterns or styles.
FLOATING FLIES WITH FAST-SINKING FLY LINES
- Floating flies with fast sinking lines are great for sparse weed growth and cover and for sight fishing where you might spook fish by casting too closely to them with a slower sinking line.
- The “washing line” is great for tall and heavy weed growth.
- Intermediate to type III that stays right above the weed line, the point fly is a buoyant fly, and the dropper is not a buoyant fly.
SETTING THE HOOK
- When setting the hook, strip-set when fishing heavier lines.
- The deeper you’re fishing, the harder you set.
- In shallow water with smaller flies, a small strip set or a sweep to the side works well.
GENERAL MINDSET AND APPROACH FOR STILLWATER FLY FISHING WITH SINKING LINES
- Focus on DRP: Depth, Retrieve, and Pattern.
- Rule of 12: divide sink rate of your line into 12, and that tells you how many seconds it takes to sink one foot. If you need to have it sink ten feet, then times that number by ten. For example with a type III line: 12/3 = 4 seconds; 4 x 10′ = 40 seconds to get down 10 feet.
- He likes to focus on the 1 to 2 feet above the bottom (if there are weed beds than adjust to the weed bed etc.).
- Finding fish: concentrate on getting to 1 to 2 feet above the bottom (adjust for weeds etc.), concentrate on irregularities and transitions/edges, and keep your eyes open for signs of prey item activity.
- Present the fly with different angles by casting to different positions and fanning out each cast.
- Fish feed into the wind, so use different angles to present the fly with your back to the wind.
FISHING NEW WATER WITH SINKING LINES
- Fishing new water: local knowledge, fishing forums etc., Google Earth (transitions, points, edges, and weed growth. Deep water nearby is a plus).
- You can use the angle of the shoreline to gauge the water’s depth.
- He normally starts with a slower sinking line, but he uses flies that imitate possibly bigger food sources, or at least active, predator-style food sources, to catch that first fish. Then, he uses throat pumps to check the fish.
- He uses electronics to find and keep track of fish with way points.
- Phil moves from a site earlier, the slower his has retrieved his fly because the fly has been in the water for a longer time.
- Always look for signs of moving fish.
LINKS AND RESOURCES FOR THE PODCAST
Phil’s Website: Fly Craft Angling
Phil’s Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phil and Brian’s Stillwater Store
Loch Style Fly Fishing
Way Points with Fish Finders
The Angling Edge: General Tackle Techniques that Advance Stillwater Knowledge
Stillwater fly fishing with sinking lines is a really fun way to catch trout or any other fish for that matter. The fish get fat and strong with the humongous pantry they have at their disposal that is filled with every type of prey item they might want. Stillwater fly fishing has its unique challenges though, and if you’re going to be successful at all on a consistent basis, you need to be very familiar with sinking lines, the tactics, and approach that you take with these lines. If you have any questions or something isn’t clear to you, feel free to leave a comment below. Now, get out there an fish.