Oregon Private Trophy Lakes: Keys to Success
By Deschutes Angler Staff
Many people think of pay-to-play lakes as a great way to catch nice fish with minimal work. To some degree they are right. I can certainly jump in a float tube and begin back peddling with 30 ft. of fly line out and a woolly bugger and wail on 16 to 18 inch trout all day. But to catch the true leviathans, you have to apply skill, tactics and above all else you must have a good fly selection. The bigger the fish, the more selective feeders they become.
What comprises a good fly selection? First and foremost, a good selection of flies must have diversity. This doesn’t mean you have to have one of every fly ever tied, but size and color variation are certainly important. For example, midges are out almost everyday on the lakes, but size and color vary from hour to hour and day to day. Oftentimes, it is too difficult to predict exactly what type of midges you will encounter on a given day. In order to be completely prepared for a day of lakes fishing, the safest and surest route is to just ‘bring it all’. It’s easy enough to have a few fly boxes on shore that you can refer to for the perfectly matching midge pattern if you discover that that winning fly didn’t make it into the box currently in your vest. Start with a solid foundation of the best patterns in different sizes and colors. As you continue to fish lakes your selection will grow. Many of the same patterns are ones that you can use on different lakes in the Northwest as well. In this way, you’ll have an entire box or boxes devoted just to midge patterns before you know it!
The same applies to your callibaetis and damselfly patterns, other fly categories that are used commonly on Deschutes Anglers’ private lakes as well as just about any stillwater fishery you might encounter. Callibaetis are easier to predict in terms of size and color, but having a solid selection of different patterns in several different sizes lays the groundwork for success. Generally speaking, fish in lakes are constantly in motion. They need to do so in order to pass water over their gills and get the oxygen necessary for survival. In some cases the fish will move in approximate traveling lanes, typically a circular route which some people might call a daisy chain. If you see a fish rise and you cast to that rise formation, there is a strong chance that you are actually hooking the next fish in the line. Once these fish have seen and eaten your fly, or refused it for that matter, they won’t be interested in it on the next pass (understandably so!). This is the time when the diversity of your fly selection will save the day. You can continue to fish callibaetis cripples- the naturals that you are seeing on the water- but after changing flies a few times, you’ve found a callibaetis cripple pattern that is different than the pattern you just hooked several fish on, and yet the fish are responsive to it. After several fly changes it is game on once again!
In respect to leeches and buggers, a strong representation of color variations proves critical because lakes fish will wise up quickly to a specific color. Don’t go deep on one pattern in one size and one color; instead, go light and broad on fly pattern and color offering a selection the fish will not grow bored with, nor the angler! Possessing a range of sizes in different colors also prepares you for unpredictable water clarity and different depths of different lakes. Obviously, heavy flies sink faster and allow you to fish deeper. If you’re fishing from the bank and want to achieve a longer cast, an unweighted woolly bugger is a lot easier for most people to cast at distance than one with a big lead bead head. While fishing you can experiment with size and color, incorporating different stripping patterns until you find the winning combination.
In determining your lakes fly selection consider also the various stages of development for each aquatic insect you expect to see. Your callibaetis selection should have the nymphal stage, the emerging stage, the adult stage, and the spinner stage. For midges you need larva, emergers and adults. This will allow you to fish every stage of the hatch from beginning to end- thus turning a couple of good hours of fishing into a whole day of good fishing. In addition, avoid buying just one pattern for each stage of an insect’s development. Be sure to diversify. Again, in order to entice the next fish in the circle of cruising fish you might need a new pattern of the same stage of the insect’s development. This will allow you to prolong the good fishing at every stage of the hatch. If the last three fish ate a marabou callibaetis cripple, the smart money says the next three will take the callibaetis flash cripple in its place.
Fishing the different stages of the hatch requires a keen eye and careful observation to discern the subtle differences of each rise. Often, toward the beginning of the hatch, fish will be porpoising all over the lake, but by no means does this imply they are feeding on adults or dry flies. When you observe a rise try to determine what part of the fish is actually breaching the surface. Typically toward the beginning of the hatch you will see the dorsal fin cutting through the surface film (porpoising). This indicates the fish are feeding primarily on nymphs, larva and/or emergers. Using a floating nymph or drowned emerger will be the best option. As the hatch progresses, you will begin to see the dorsal fin more prominently as well as the tail which lets you know they are now dialed on emerging and crippled callibaetis or midges. Once you begin to see the nose breaking the surface you know it’s time to put your adult dry fly on.
Combining a good fly selection with keen observation will increase your success rate exponentially. Knowing what fly to fish and when will also eliminate a lot of down time associated with changing flies. This is something that comes from both experience and careful observation. It has been said that the slower you fish, the faster the fishing. Remember to be patient when you decide to fish a particular fly, fish it properly, and do so with confidence. Once you feel comfortable with the time you’ve spent with one fly, it may be 10 minutes, it may be an hour, if it’s not working try something different. Don’t be afraid to experiment because surprises are inherent in the nature of the sport. As much as you think you have a situation figured out, things are not always what they seem, and the fly that facilitates the best day of fishing you’ve ever had may be sitting in your box three flies down from the one you just put on. This winning fly sits patiently, quietly, waiting for an opportunity to show you it was worth the $1.95 you paid for it. All in all, you don’t want to miss out on stellar fishing because you shorted your fly selection. Not to mention the feeling of frustration when fish are feeding in circles around your fly and you’re pulling your hair out trying to understand what they don’t like about the bug you’ve got tied on. You think to yourself, “I just caught three fish on this fly, and now nothing will touch it!?” Your next thought should be…”what else do I have in my box…”
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