*I apologize in the delay in posting this, I just moved at the beginning of the month and have not only been crazy busy unpacking but also unable to use the internet due to disconnected wires. I hate moving.*
Before we delve into lake fishing techniques, let’s talk about tackle again.
Choosing the right products can make a big difference in being able to effectively fish a lake. The two most important tools are your rod and line. A decent reel is good if you are always targeting trophy fish, but in the grand scheme of things not as important as the others.
Rod preferences range from 9 – 10 feet and 3-6 wt, depending on angler and experience. While a 9’ 6wt is a great all round rod, it is a little heavy if all you’re planning on using it for is lakes. Most dedicated lake fishermen find that 9’6” or 10’ 4 and 5 weights are the best option. The longer rod gives more height off the water for casting, especially when in a float tube or V-boat. The length also makes it much easier to roll cast your line, and when you have long leaders and indicators this is a great way to get your line out without risking a tangle on a back cast. Going with a 4 or 5 wt is also much more fun to fight smaller fish with, and the lighter rods help protect finer tippets. Action of the rod is personal, although a medium to medium fast rod will have the power to cast in wind and punch out heavy rigs without being too fast on the hook set.
The most important line for a lake angler is the floating line. Again, most experienced anglers will have their own ideas about what is the best choice, but most would agree a high end line is important, not only for casting but for presentation. An all purpose line is a good choice for versatility – options like the SA GPX or Rio Gold. If you are doing a lot of naked chironomiding (not you, the line – no indicator) and are more focused on soft presentation, then a low memory line such as the SA Trout, Rio Selective Trout II or Airflo Ridge Tactical Trout are a good choice. However these lines are not as efficient in casting distance, casting into the wind, or turning over the long leader/indicator/split shot setups. Airflo’s 40+ and Rio or SA’s Nymph tapers are a much better choice in those situations. I have been using the Airflo Sixth Sense for a couple years, and am absolutely loving it. It excels at roll casting, punches out long, tight loops, turns over the big stuff and can (if I’m on my game) drop a size 16 dry like a feather. If you plan on fishing chironomids, have two rods rigged with floating lines ready to go.
Next are your sinking lines. Having two full sink lines with different sink rates is a good idea. A clear intermediate sinking line such as the SA Stillwater or the Cortland Clear Camo is essential for presenting nymphs in shallow clear water. Sinking at an average or 1 – 2 inches, they allow a horizontal presentation that is nearly invisible, and will allow you to fish up to 15 ft deep. A faster sinking line, usually a Type 3 or 4 is also an important line to have, to cover deeper water, those instances where you want to troll around, fast and aggressive retrieves in shallower water and deep line (25+ ft) chironomiding. There are regular sinking lines, and then there are density compensated sinking lines, where weight has been added to the front taper of the line in order to either maintain an even sink rate throughout the line or have the tip sink first. For trolling purposes, it doesn’t make much difference which line you use as the line is usually under constant tension. However when you decide to anchor up and cast and retrieve your line, having the density compensated line can make a big difference in your presentation. Some options are the SA Uniform Sink Plus, the Rio DC Lake Line or the Airflo Sixth Sense Sinking Line.
As far as reels go, unless you are targeting 10+ lb trout consistently, any reel that works is fine. I have everything from standard to large arbour, disc drag to click and pawl, low end to high end. I prefer having multiple reels as opposed to spools for the lines I use the most, and at least four rods rigged up and ready to go. I find it way too frustrating to change spools and re-rig rods while I am out on the water, and if you are in a small boat it can be nearly impossible. That being said there are many affordable reels that have a cassette style spool system, allowing you to have multiple spools without the cost. For those targeting the “big boys”, a large arbour reel with a decent drag is worth spending a few extra bucks on.
I always carry a handful of tapered leaders with me, usually 9-10 ft in length, as well as multiple spools of tippet ranging from 4 lb test all the way up to 20 lb. Anytime I add tippet, except when fishing dries, I use fluorocarbon tippet material. It tends to be stronger (breaking strength to diameter), sinks faster, and becomes nearly invisible in the water compared to normal monofilament. A long leader is not necessary on your sinking lines, except when you are looking for a diving presentation or using your clear line casting to spooky fish in shallow water. You can build a short leader out of two or three pieces of tippet quite quickly. On the floating lines I use tapered leaders, lengthening them out as necessary. When chironomid fishing with indicators, especially over 15 ft, presentation is not as important as getting your fly down to the zone and keeping it there. In this case, add a straight section of 8, 12, or 16 lb test to a short butt section, and a couple feet of tippet to the end.
There are a million different choices for indicators, but some popular choices are the Thills Strike Indicators, which are plastic with a toothpick and very durable. They work well when fishing in shallower water, but once you start using longer leaders a quick release style like Phil Rowley’s or the new Balsa wood indicator by DNE are much easier and more convenient to use.
Always make sure you have either split shot, twistons, or sinking putty with you, as well as dry fly floatant.
Nippers, barb crushers, pliers, nail knot tool, thermometer, throat pump, clear vials, bottle opener and a good long handled catch & release net are essentials. Don’t leave home without them.
You can’t catch fish without them. Make sure you are well stocked on all of the essentials, and bring your tying kit if you’re going to be out for more than a couple of days. Sometimes, no matter how many flies you have, you still don’t have the right one. Being able to go back to camp and whip up a couple flies to match the hatch can be all the difference in the success of your trip.
When you’re packing around a lot of gear, you need to have a good system to keep things organized. There are several manufacturers that make great gear bags with dividers and multiple pockets to sort everything out. I personally am a fan of Fishpond products, and use their Cloudburst bag which has a hard molded bottom, tippet holder, rain cover, gunwale hooks, fly dock, and a ridiculous number of pockets. If you're in a float tube or v-boat, a vest or chest pack may come in handy as its difficult to fit a full gear bag in the pocket of your tube.
Layers are key. Weather and temperatures can change quickly and drastically on the lakes. Polypropelene base layers, fleece layers, wool socks, gloves, and a toque for cold weather; sandals, lightweight/quickdry pants and shirt, ball cap for warm weather; rain jacket, rain pants and/or waders for wet weather. Take them all with you, as it can be sunny and hot only to have thunderclouds roll in and the temperature to plummet. Even mid-summer it can get cold at night at high elevations, so if you're camping make sure you've got a good cold weather sleeping bag and warm clothes to sleep in.
More on boats, depth finders, and fishing technique to come.