Stillwater Brownies – Six Favourite Flies by Dick Marquand
Generally speaking, brown trout inhabiting Stillwaters like lakes, ponds and backwaters, present more of an angling challenge than those found in creeks, streams and rivers.
In moving water, a trout takes up a “feeding station” in a suitable position and only moves from that station to intercept nymphs, insects or other food being swept downstream by the current. When an artificial is carried downstream towards the trout, the fish has very little time to decide whether or not to accept the fly. Stillwater angling is entirely another kettle of fish. The trout does not take up a feeding station, instead, it swims on a predetermined “beat” relentlessly searching for food. Because the angler’s artificial fly is not being carried by a water current, the trout has all the time in the world to inspect the fly and decide whether or not to accept it.
Brown trout are, in most cases, more selective than their rainbow cousins, but even the wariest still water brownie can be fooled by giving natural movement to an artificial fly that closely resembles an item of food upon which it feeds.
There is a lot more to still water fly fishing than selecting an artificial from your fly box and giving it a go. When fishing a lake, pond, swamp or back-water, if you want any chance at all of success, you must think about the type of trout food that the particular water contains.
The Stillwater angler does not need to have a big selection of flies on hand, as only six different artificials are necessary for most angling situations.
1. The Dragonfly Nymph
2. The Damselfly Nymph
3. The Midge Pupa
4. The Emerging Caddis
5. The Backswimmer or Water Boatman
6. The Leech Fly or Woolly Bugger
For the purpose of this exercise, let’s look at each of the naturals, the artificials and how to fish them:
1. The Dragonfly Nymph
Many will need little introduction to the dragonfly nymph (Refer to “The McDonald Mudeye“).
The dragonfly nymph or mudeye as it is known in Australia is the nymphal stage of the dragonfly (Order Odonata, Sub Order Anisoptera). The nymph can measure over 20mm in length and is found amongst aquatic vegetation and under rocks and logs, in lakes, ponds, backwaters and slow-moving water. It spends a number of years as a nymph, predating upon other aquatic inhabitants such as small fish, tadpoles, worms and aquatic insects. During the summer months, the mature nymphs leave the security of cover and climb out onto emergent vegetation, logs or rocks, and after splitting the nymphal case, the adult dragonfly emerges.
The internal gills of this nymph are contained within a rear abdominal cavity, and the walls of this chamber draw in and expel water so that it is passed over the gills. When disturbed, the nymph can squirt water from this chamber under pressure, thus giving it a jerky forward motion.
There are many patterns that effectively imitate the dragonfly nymph, these being the Mortons Annie, McDonald Mudeye, Creedon’s Creeper, as well as others. These are available or can be ordered from most sports stores. For home tiers, instructions for the McDonald Mudeye.
The most success I have had with this nymph is by using what I call the “ambush method.” The brown trout is observed cruising the shallows and its “beat” is determined by the angler. The angler must then get well in front and cast the nymph back, ahead of the approaching cruiser.
When the fish is within visual range of the nymph, the angler gives a short, jerky motion to the nymph. This usually causes the trout to rush in and take the nymph. The hook is set and the battle commences.
This nymph can also be “blind fished,” although this method is not nearly as effective, or as much fun. The artificial is cast on a floating line out into a likely spot and is allowed to sink. The angler then retrieves the nymph with a series of five or size short jerky motions, each jerk covering no more than 5 cm. The nymph is allowed to sink and, following a short pause, the jerky retrieves are repeated. I have found that, more often than not, trout tend to take the nymph during the pause.
What makes the dragonfly nymph such a deadly artificial, is the short jerky retrieve. I am sure that this is far more important than either the shape or pattern of the fly. When you next get the chance, drop a live dragonfly nymph into a glass of water and observe its swimming motion. This is the movement that the angler must apply to the artificial nymph.
2. The Damselfly Nymph for Stillwater Brownies
This small green or brown nymph is the nymphal stage of the damselfly (Order Odonata, Sub Order Zygoptera). The nymphs are easily recognised from their cousins the dragonﬂy nymphs by a delicate slender body and three ﬂattened tail gill filaments. As with the dragonfly nymphs, they are carnivores and live amongst submerged aquatic vegetation in lakes, ponds, backwaters and slow-moving water.
The damselfly nymph swims with a twisting motion using its oar like gills in a “sculling” effect. It is impossible for an angler to give this action to an artificial, however, at times, a size 12 Olive Nymph fished in weedy areas will produce results. Trout are far easier to catch on an Olive Nymph if the angler initially spots the trout and then uses the “ambush method” that I have previously explained.
3. The Midge Pupa for Stillwater
The midge family (Chironomidae) is another important aquatic insect to the Stillwater angler. To understand this group of insects, let’s take a look at their life cycle. This four-stage life cycle consists of an egg, larva, pupa and an adult stage. The larva is known as a bloodworm and lives in the bottom sediment. Although the larvae are occasionally seen in the stomachs of trout, it is the pupae that are the important stage to trout and anglers. The entire life cycle can be completed in a very short time (less than one month) and, as such, this species is very quick to establish in new waters, such as hydro impoundments.
The population of Chironomids recently exploded in Lake Dunstan and during the warm still evenings, curtains of hovering adults could be seen around the lake edge. Out on the lake, I saw a floating raft of Chironomid pupal shucks that was 30-40 metres long, two metres wide and too thick to see through. Considering that a few years ago I counted over 1200 pupae in a 1.5 kg rainbow trout, it is obvious the number of midges that hatched from the pupal shucks would have been astronomical.
Midge Pupa flies are readily available from most sports stores, usually in sizes 12 to 16, and in a wide variety of colours. Colours probably don’t matter too much, but I always choose the ones that match the local pupae, in the case of Lake Dunstan, they are various shades of brown.
Fishing the Midge Pupa is (or can be) a specialised form of angling and for the best results, special methods are required. The method that I have found most successful, is by using a floating fly line and greasing or putting ﬂy ﬂoatant on all but the last 30 to 50 cm of tippet. It is important not to allow the ﬂoatant to get on the artificial as it must not float on the surface. The natural position for a Chironomid pupa is to be suspended vertically. If you think this isn’t important, then realise that you will probably be presenting your imitation amongst dozens of naturals and hoping for a take from a selective trout. A short draw on the line will give the artificial movement that will be quickly spotted by a hungry brownie.
From experience, I have found that the best time to take trout on a midge pupa artificial is during the evening, often when trout can be seen bulging as they take natural.
4. The Emerging Caddis
The caddis or sedge, as it is known amongst trout anglers, is an insect belonging to the Order Trichoptera. The nymph stage and the adult are readily taken by trout. Various species of caddis frequent running water, while others prefer slow-moving or stationary water. To the backwater angler, the important stage in the life cycle of the caddis is when it emerges from the pupal case and ascends to the surface. At this moment, it is very vulnerable to trout. By imitating this stage of the caddis life cycle, the angler can find success a relatively easy process.
Emerging Caddis imitations, tied in size 14 or 16, can be purchased from some specialist fly fishing stores. For the home fly tiers, there is an excellent
pattern in Norman Marsh’s “Trout Stream Insects of New Zealand.” My favourites are some small soft hackle wet ﬂies tied by Brian Drew of Queenstown. Thanks, Brian, they work perfectly for me and are worth their weight in gold.
During the late evening, trout often rise to take the emerging caddis as it struggles to get through the surface film. Casting an Emerging Caddis imitation at expanding riseforms as darkness approaches is an exciting way to spend a warm summer evening. The trick is knowing – “Was that my ﬂy it took, or was it a natural?” If in doubt strike.
5. The Backswimmer and Water Boatman
The backswimmer (Anisops) is a member of the bug family (Hemiptera) that frequents lakes, ponds, backwaters and slow-moving water. This predatory species is often confused with another aquatic bug, the omnivorous water boatman (Sigara). Both species “row” themselves through the water with oar-like legs which are specially adapted for this purpose. The water boatman and backswimmer are a favourite meal for Stillwater trout and, often, imitations will take trout when all other flies fail.
Artificials are commercially available from better sports stores. Those who prefer to tie their own can refer to “Deceiving Trout” by John Parsons or Norman Marsh’s “Trout Stream Insects of New Zealand.”
I often use the “ambush method” and cast the artificial into the path of an approaching trout. When the trout is within visual range of the fly, a series of short sharp jerks usually produces the required results. The rule I use is that I “ambush” with a floating fly line and “blind fish” with a slow sinker. When using the latter method, as soon as I feel the slightest resistance on the line, I strike.
6. The Leech Fly (or Woolly Bugger)
Just what the Leech Fly or Woolly Bugger imitates, I am not sure, but what I do know is that it is a deadly pattern in Stillwater. I have been told by respected anglers that it imitates bullies, tadpoles, koura, creepers and even leeches. I have used the Leech Fly in ponds that contain bullies and backwaters that contain tadpoles, and in these cases, success was undeniable.
On one occasion, I landed over 50 brook char and four rainbows, the heaviest being 2.3kg, in an afternoon of hot action. Surprisingly, the Leech Fly is not commonly seen in sports stores. It is an easy fly for the novice tier to accomplish and, for this reason, I have included instructions on how I tie this ﬂy.
How to tie the Leech Fly:
1. Place a No.8 extra long shank fly hook securely in the ﬂy vice.
2. Tie a medium length of marabou (either olive, brown or black) as a tail.
3. Along the shank of the hook, wind on the lead wire, then cover this with a chenille (either olive, brown or black).
4. Wind on two hackle feathers along the body from the tail to the head.
5. Wind on another hackle close to the eye, then tie off.
The most successful method of fishing this fly is with a slow, medium or sinking fly line (depending upon the depth of water). The fly is cast out, allowed to sink and retrieved in a series of short sharp jerks. When any resistance on the line is felt, immediately strike.
Of course, there are other artificials that will also take trout in Stillwater, however, the flies that I have covered will be successful in about 90% of all still water fishing situations. By being quiet in your approach and by carefully presenting the artificial flies in this article, you will be well on your way to successfully catching trout, even large brownies, at most Stillwater locations.