Philip wonders if, despite his best intentions, he’s sometimes a bit loose with the truth when it comes to lake fishing.

Lake fishing is hard. There, I’ve said it. It’s also wonderful, challenging, rewarding and it provides some of the best fish – and fishing – I ever experience. But above all else, compared to most other forms of flyfishing, fishing for trout in lakes is hard.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be prolific, occasionally even easy. However, it’s important to make the overall point because you might read reports on FlyStream and elsewhere, and wonder if there’s something wrong with you if you’re not catching lots of big lake trout every time you head out.

This is fresh in my mind because recently, Max and I had headed off for some lake fishing, quietly confident we’d nailed it for perfect conditions. I’m not going to name the lakes or even the district, because, as you’ll hopefully see, that really isn’t the central theme here.

Anyway, in this case, ‘perfect’ meant fine weather (not always what you want for lakes), gently rising water levels, no wind, and a fishing competition starting a day later than we initially feared. If I was to describe our mood as the glassy, uncrowded lake first appeared in the distance, it was confident rather than cocky – the sort of mindset you want to start the day with. (The fishing gods don’t like cocky.)

Normally, when we pull up at the carpark beside this lake, our first move is to walk at least half a kilometre to give ourselves a bit of space and less disturbed water. This time, the lake looked so idyllic and deserted, we decided to have a few casts right by the car. After all, both Max and I had caught trout this close before, and was our decision influenced by the coincidental presence of two photographers from the local tourism authority? I modestly waved off their suggestion that I ‘catch a trout for the camera’, promising no more than some nice casting shots against a beautiful backdrop. In my mind though, I did allow that I might be about to surprise them with a leaping fish on my line.

But I didn’t, and 40 minutes later, as we neared a favoured bay after a long walk along the lakeshore, the only sign of a fish had been a solitary rise, way out in the lake.

More hours and more moves to different bays and shores passed by with very little excitement. At some point on days like this, hope can be replaced by bewilderment, even desperation. However, such was our faith in this lake under the ‘ideal’ conditions, we hung on until the very end, expecting things to change. But they didn’t.

On the drive back to our accommodation that night, there was plenty of conversation around what had gone wrong. We’d both noticed a puzzling scarcity of trout food – especially midge and minnows – which normally help drive the fishing during the colder months. This was a big lake, and was it possible the food (and the fish) were somewhere we simply hadn’t got to? “Oh well, at least we caught a couple,” offered Max. But we both knew the result – a modest-sized trout each for roughly 14 hours of angler effort – didn’t really cut it. While it had been a nice day in a pretty spot, Plan A had effectively failed. We wouldn’t be going back; not this trip anyway.

Never mind, Plan B gave us plenty of hope for day two. Max and I always choose an area with multiple options for precisely this reason, and all looked good for the next lake: a decent stocking history, healthy water levels in recent years, and clear, rising water in real time. So why we made the impromptu detour to yet another lake, I can’t say for sure. This water definitely ranked third on our list, as recent visits had produced underwhelming results. Not only that, the stiff breeze which had blown up overnight would work against the midge fishing we typically relied on for this water.

Active stick caddis are always a good sign.

As with other decisions in my life that have turned out to be good ones in hindsight, I’ve since wondered if what seemed like just a whim at the time, had more to it? Maybe we were curious to check the lake condition for future reference while we were nearby? Or maybe we’re smarter than we think!

Anyway, the next 2½ hours produced 5 nice fish, two ‘almosts’, and a couple of other hits – all fishing blind, and (not surprisingly given the wind and waves) without a midge to be seen. There were however plenty of stick caddis dog-paddling along, and plenty of minnows darting around in the shallows.

Well, if the fishing was so good on this ‘also-ran’ lake, we thought, just imagine what the lake we’d detoured from would be like! We packed up and headed over there.

Best fishing on the third choice!

It looked good (we don’t mind wind on this lake and in fact prefer it on some shores) and when I spotted a big trout early on, I could almost taste success. As darkness closed in a few hours later, a solitary 2 pound rainbow landed and a couple of other possible sightings that probably wouldn’t stand up in court, left me wondering if maybe we weren’t so smart after all.

It’s with this trip fresh in my mind that Steve Dunn’s article in this issue, about blind fishing lakes, seems especially appropriate. Lake fishing can still seem a bit like witchcraft at times, even for me. So it’s been timely to read a bit more to help unravel the mystery, from one of the best blind fishers I know. Yes, I appreciate we’re at the beginning of the stream season. But for all their confusing and at times infuriating idiosyncrasies, don’t forget the lakes – they really can be special places to fish if you put in.

Philip Weigall