Purposeful Approaches to Lake Fishing

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Purposeful Approaches to Lake Fishing

article by Peter at Fred's Custom Tackle
insect illustrations by Barb Krimmer

The long awaited trip into one of the interior lakes will be accompanied with questions regarding the conditions of weather, roads and fishing conditions. Both spring and autumn seasons can be beautiful times to fish lakes, they can also be times of cold weather, high winds and even hail and snow. These factors will at times make it hard to find any lake with consistently good fishing throughout the day. When you do get a small hatch or feeding activity it will be important to recognize and take advantage of it.

Search the Shoreline

Upon arrival at your chosen destination an investigative look along the shoreline can answer some of your questions regarding insect activity. Aquatic insects will show themselves if water temperatures have risen enough to start activity. The wash area of the shoreline will reveal the pupal skin or "shuck" of some insects which have hatched fairly recently.

Insect Identification

The identification of nymphs, pupae or the shucks of the same is best described as follows:

Chironomid pupae - total length 1/8" to ", thin body thicker wingcase/thorax, white gills in head area, no tail

Mayfly nymph - total 1/8" to 5/8", thicker body portion with slightly thicker wingcase/thorax, no gills, short legs are usually apparent, evidence of tails - 3" in total.

Sedge/Caddis pupae - total length 3/8" to 7/8", modest body portion, thick wingcase/thorax area, prominent head, long legs, no tail.

Damselfly nymph - total length 3/4 to 1 1/4", long slender body with thicker wingcase/thorax, long legs, prominent eyes, flipper-like tails, 3" in total.

Dragonfly nymphs - total length of Darner is 1 " to 2 " and Gomphus is 3/4" to 1 1/4". Fat elongated body with large wingcase/thorax, sturdy long legs, large head and eyes, no tail.

Both dragonfly and damselfly nymphs will climb reeds, rocks and branches to emerge. Inspection of these areas will reveal the shucks if "hatching" has occurred. Larger sedges will also be found in similar areas.

A look in the shallows may reveal shrimp or leech activity as well. The colour and size of the shoreline inhabitants is often the same as those found in open water areas.

The husks of most insects will reveal the size and type, the colour will be revealed by the live pupae or nymph. In the case of chironomid, mayflies and sedges the adults are usually the same colour as the pupae or nymph.

Damselfly and dragonfly nymphs usually have the same colouration as the bottom or vegetation they frequent.

Search the Water

Having made a quick inspection of the shoreline, it's time to get fishing. Once on the lake, look around! Surface activity of fish will almost always indicate surface feeding. Look closely along the surface for adult insects. Early in the season the most likely is chironomid and mayfly. Later, dragonflies, damselflies and sedges will follow.

The prior shoreline inspection along with the inspection of adult insects on the lake will provide you with enough information to chose a most likely fly pattern, colour and size! Water depth and temperature and the make up of the bottom will dictate which areas will produce the first hatches. It is fairly common in early season to have isolated hatches in specific areas. Do not troll through or anchor in these areas. It is much better to anchor or drift along within casting distance. When anchoring try and do so quietly to avoid putting the fish off! Two anchors will prevent your boat or float tube from "swaying" in the wind, it will also make your casting easier and your retrieve more effective!

If there is no visible surface activity by fish but there is an obvious hatch, it is usually safe to assume that the fish are feeding subsurface. Again it is best to cast into those areas and retrieve your fly!

The absence of surface activity by either fish or insects is a sobering experience. It is common to experience short hatches and feeding in the early season. Between these times, it is often most productive to fish with attractor patterns or "meat and potato" type flies, the most common being: Doc Spratley's, Halfbacks, Careys, Werner's Shrimp, Dragonflies, Wooly Buggers and Leeches (see The Fly Patterns of BC). A fish caught at such times can open the door to success. A stomach pump can be used to extract a sample of actual food, which that fish has been feeding on. Carefully read the instructions on using a stomach pump, this will ensure the fish is unharmed.

Identifying Adult Insects on the Water

Let's assume that there is a hatch and adult insects are visible on the surface. These adults are fairly simply to identify:

Chironomid - mosquito like in appearance, fairly long bodies up to " overall, grey, green or black body common, 1 pair of clear elongated wings lying parallel to the body at rest, no tail.

Mayfly - body style similar to chironomid but of heavier build, 2 pairs of wings (large & small) held in an upright position, body colours of grey, greyish brown and olive are common, three long dainty tails.

Sedge/Caddis - body is quite large and plump, 2 pairs of elongated wings held parallel to the body in a "wedge" shape at rest, long legs, long antennae, no tail. Grey, black and brown common colours.

Damselfly - very long slender bodies, blue and black or brown and grey, 2 pairs of long clear wings held parallel to the body at rest, large head with small but obvious eyes.

Dragonfly - Darner and Gomphus - thick, very long body and large thorax, blue and black through red, brown and black common colours, 2 pairs of long clear wings held perpendicular to the body in flight and at rest.

Fishing the Surface

Surface feeding fish, usually target on the emerging insect as it frees itself from the pupal case and dries its wings. At this time a floating line with an "emerger" or "adult" dry fly will produce the most excitement. The use of fly floatant or "dryshake" will greatly increase the floating ability of your dry flies! Fish that are actively feeding on adults or emergers often rise predictably at intervals as they cruise along the shallows or drop-offs. Watch for this and try and place your fly in the path of a predictably rising fish! A good tip when fishing a dry fly is to allow the fish to take your fly but wait until you feel your line tighten before raising your rod.

At times a nymph or pupae pattern can be fished near the surface by using a floating line with the leader treated with floatant to within 3 feet of the fly.

Fishing Chironomids

Fishing chironomid pupae with a floating fly line can be extremely fun and effective. It can also be very demanding on your patience and attention. To get the most out of fishing chironomids, it is best to follow some important rules:
- anchoring your boat or float tube is recommended.
- use a fine tippet for best results.
- ensure your leader breaks the surface film by using weighted flies, sinking (fluorocarbon) tippet, lead wire or microshot on your leader or leader sink solutions.
- your leader length must allow your fly to get to the depth of feeding fish - sometimes over 20'.
- cast mostly down wind to prevent excessive bellies from forming in your line.
- allow plenty of time for your fly and leader to sink to a vertical position in relation to the floating line.
- floating strike indicators will make it easier to watch your line.
- keep your line straight and your rod tip low.
- at the slightest take, lift your rod tip high and allow for the line to be taken out to avoid breaking your fine tippet.
- most of all, take your time on the retrieve, chironomids seem to take forever to rise vertically to the surface, it is most common to retrieve too fast.

Fishing Subsurface

When fishing nymph, wet or attractor patterns, it is important to fish a fly line, which will allow for the proper speed of retrieve without dragging up weeds on every cast. In shallow water, 2' to 6' deep, floating lines will work well. Water 6' to 15' is fished well with intermediate or type One lines. Type two sink-tip or full sinking lines fish well in depths to about 25'. It is also quite important to use a "countdown" method between the completion of your cast and the beginning of your retrieve. This will ensure your depth is consistent and will allow you to fish effectively and avoid bottom. Your retrieve should mimic the naturals you are imitating in both speed and action.
Mayfly nymphs swim diagonally from the bottom to the top at a slow to moderate speeds, slightly erratic!

Sedge pupae rise fairly vertically to the surface at a moderate to fast speed.

Damselfly nymphs rise fairly vertical to within a couple of feet or less from the surface and then swim quite rapidly towards shore. Swimming action quite erratic.
Dragonfly nymphs will travel by slowly crawling along the bottom, they will swim fairly rapidly for short periods.

Shrimp and leeches swim at moderate speeds with short and erratic burst of speed and pauses.

Your fishing productivity will be most based on the combinations of fly pattern, size and colour, the proper depth and fly line choice, appropriate retrieve and selection of a productive area.

Most of all remember, that productivity and enjoyment do not always have to coincide!

Have lots of fun and good luck!

Be sure to read all of the other articles from Fred's Custom Tackle & Fishing Adventures, the Fraser Valley's fishing authority.

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Purposeful Approaches to Lake Fishing