Not long ago, Dave Brandt, the well-known fly-tier and fly-fishing instructor from Oneonta,N.Y., told me it had occurred to him that stillwater fly-fishing — lakes and ponds instead of streams — may be a lot more important in the years to come.
We were lamenting the sorry conditions on most New York trout streams for most of last season. Rainstorm after rainstorm made the streams too deep and swift to wade or fish. And then came Tropical Storms Irene and Lee, which effectively ended any hope of fishing for the season.
Most people agree that this happens more often than it used to. Sure, there have always been rainy summers, and hurricanes or tropical storms in September are certainly nothing new. But veteran anglers are finding themselves confronted by blown-out streams more frequently than ever.
It’s possible to fly-fish in high water, mainly by seeking out soft pockets near the shore, but it’s not what you look forward to. It’s not what you re-arrange your schedule to do.
Scientists have predicted more intense and more frequent storms as a result of global climate change. Of course, we can’t say the stormy summer of 2011 was caused by global warming; that will be for researchers to decide decades from now. But whatever the reason, we find ourselves looking in despair at U.S. Geological Survey stream gauges more and more often these days.
Lakes and ponds, of course, don’t blow out — at least not the way streams do — and do hold trout.
The trouble is that so much of what we have learned about fly-fishing relies on moving water. Everything we do is designed to make a fly drift naturally in or on the current, or pull the fly against the current so it looks like a struggling bug or darting baitfish.
We step to the shore of a body of non-moving water and wonder, “Where do I cast? And what do I do after that?”
Sometimes, of course, we can see where we should cast — when a trout reveals its position by rising. But unlike trout in streams, stillwater trout don’t stay put. They have a whole pond to swim around in, and as some of my saltwater fishing friends like to say, “Fish have fins.”
So your task is to watch for another rise, and then another, and try to discern a pattern. You end up casting not to where the trout rose, but where you expect it to rise next.
And just because you can see a trout doesn’t mean you can reach it. The fish is 100 feet away, your best cast is 70 feet, and if you walk three steps forward you’ll be in over your head. The answer, of course, is to use some kind of watercraft, but first, you have to acquire it and transport it to the water. Canoes, kayaks and float tubes are all fun to use, but they’re things that stream fishermen usually don’t bother with.
Then again, a vessel may not be necessary. As I understand it — and I’m no expert — trout in lakes and ponds do much of their feeding in shallow water near the shore. Even wading fishermen can reach plenty of productive water. An inlet or outlet is a bonus, an obvious place to look for fish.
There’s a whole science to lakes and ponds, involving stratification, the baitfish and insect life and more. We fly-fishers like that sort of thing. We like big trout, too, and they’re more likely to be found in lakes and ponds than in creeks.
The magic of moving water will always be a big part of the attraction of fly-fishing. But too often these days, there’s too much water and it’s moving too fast. Seeking trout in ponds and lakes may be an option worth exploring.
Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.