There’s not a dang thing you can do about the river conditions. Spring runoff has been going on since the beginning of time. But what you can do is challenge yourself to lake fishing. Trout lakes are full of life, clear and often fish best in late spring and early summer when rivers don’t fish.
For most Americans it’s the “dreaded lake fishing”. “No, I don’t like the wind. Or, no, there’s just too much water out there. Or, no, I like to stand in my waders and feel the running water of a river hit my legs.” Sorry folks, time to step it up and overcome all those obstacles. If you continue to feel this way about lakes you’re missing out on some great fun. I love lake fishing and probably do more than anyone in these parts. I love lake fishing because I often have lakes to myself. I love lakes because the fish are frequently bigger. The fish have rarely been in human hands before mine. And last but not least, I love lakes because lake fishing is harder. Enjoying harder conditions probably sounds stupid to most, but I like to test myself in fishing. It makes my experiences a whole lot more interesting and it’s these experiences that hopefully make me a better fisherman.
Yesterday my friend Mark Fuller and I went to Island Park Reservoir. Mark is a long time fishing guide that came up through the ranks when I ran the fly shop. First he worked in the store. Then he worked in the fly shop. Then he taught fly fishing. And then he went on to be one of the better fly fishing guides you’ll find in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Island Park Reservoir was not the lake we intended to fish. We planned to challenge our fishing skills by going to Ashton Reservoir. Unfortunately, there’s work being done to the Ashton Dam of the Henry’s Fork and the water of the reservoir is so low we couldn’t get the boat in. That kind of stunk up our plans; however, we weren’t far from IPR so off we went.
By noon (we had a late start to begin with) we were drifting along the banks of IPR. The first tip I can give you is when exploring a lake, cast towards structure. Trout do head for deeper water during a prolific midge hatch but in general, if I’m exploring I pound the banks like I do on a river.
I always use multiple flies. In Idaho we’re allowed three flies and I take advantage of this. I put a bead head streamer (black about size 4) on the bottom (the point fly). Five feet up is my first dropper – a smaller brown fly, usually a woolly bugger. And then five feet up from there another dropper of a small olive woolly bugger type fly with no bead. When I say small I mean about a size 10 or 12. So you’re picturing this and thinking my God, Jeff’s leader must be at least 15 feet long? You’re right. My leader for lakes with big trout is generally an 18 foot level leader made of 0X Flourocarbon attached to a clear intermediate line. My line of choice these days is the Scientific Anglers Mastery Stillwater WF6I.
I have years of lake experience including plenty of competition in Europe. I was even trained for two weeks in England when I had the good fortune of fishing on Team USA in the late 90’s. The English are considered some of the finest lake fly fishers in the world. Anyhow, my set up is a simple suggestion to allow you to cover mass amounts of water, present flies of several colors and different sizes in ONE SINGLE CAST. Remember there’s a lot of water in a lake. The faster you can figure out what the trout are eating the more fish you will catch before its time to go home. There are a lot of other tricks for lakes as well. In fact, someday I just might write a book about them!
Mark and I got blown around like you would expect in a drift boat on a cold day in June while fishing at an elevation over 7000 feet. It was flat out difficult to handle my boat and cast a long leader. One mechanism I use to help control my boat is the drogue, (wind sock) because it helps slow down drifts tremendously. I use mine every time I fish on a lake. And as far as helping your cast, perhaps three flies can be downed to two in such conditions. I usually go for it though and just hope not to stick a hook in my friends or even worse – me!
We caught three fish in about five hours of fishing. That’s not many but the bottom line is that we didn’t get skunked. I caught two rainbows and Mark caught this gorgeous Utah Sucker. Yes, I was jealous of the sucker.
I have a friend trying to coax me to fish tomorrow. We’ll see. I still have plenty of work to do including preparation for a night of art showing and a presentation I’m doing Tuesday night in Ketchum, Idaho at Sturtevants Mountain Outfitters for another Simms Night. If you’re in the Sun Valley Tuesday this event will be a fun night ending with my presentation, “Fly Fishing Through Midlife Heaven”.
Hope to see you there!