Perhaps the most fundamental difference when flyfishing for stream trout compared to flyfishing for lake trout, is the latter are constantly moving towards or away from the angler. Yes, there are a few exceptions, but lake fishers are mostly dealing with a moving target, whereas stream fish are mostly waiting for the current to deliver food. Stream fish may move a metre or so from side to side or up and down, however they will usually occupy the same lie until they’re spooked, or the food runs out.
For sight-fishing, this creates a fundamental difference between stillwater and flowing. Basically, stream fishers have time – plenty of time – to deliver the right presentation. Stillwater sight-fishers do not. Not only do lake fishers have mere moments to put the fly in the right place, they also have to make split second decisions about where the right place is.
As one who guides exclusively on lakes, the most significant shortcoming I see by far among otherwise experienced guests, is an inability to execute this required fast, accurate presentation.
The Three Second Window
Look at it like this. Most sight fishing on lakes involves finding a trout through polarised glasses, or watching the disturbances it makes as it rises, tails, chases baitfish etc. I’ve worked out that, on average, you have about three seconds from when you first sight a lake trout, to place your fly a couple of feet ahead of it – this being where the fly needs to be to get the fish to eat. Any slower than this, and the trout is likely to disappear from view again. That moment of luxury, when you knew precisely where the fly was going to be in relation to the trout, will be lost. If your fly gets there in four or five seconds instead, it’s down to dumb luck whether you line the trout, have it miss seeing the fly, or have it eat. (Yes okay, I realise sometimes, we can track sighted trout for longer and sometimes not as long. And at times we want the fly to land further ahead of the trout, or closer. But you get the idea.)
When I’m guiding, I’ll often say, “Trout beside that big fence post, coming towards us … one… two… three.” And usually, if the cast hasn’t been made by the count of three, the opportunity is gone. We no longer know where the fish is, and usually, it’s best not to even make the cast by then, for fear of spooking the once again invisible trout.
Perfecting the Fast Cast
So, it’s occurred to me that if you can’t actually fish at the moment, this is a perfect time to practice lake sight-fishing casts. You need a bit of open space (a large backyard will do), your lake fishing rod, an 11 ft leader (including tippet) with a bright piece of wool or something tied on the end. Next, you need a willing friend/ family member with several frisbees, sports cones etc.
Here’s what happens. You walk along slowly, with the ‘fly’ in you non-casting hand, and a couple of loops of line in your casting/rod hand (as you would when fishing). Your assistant follows just out of sight on your non-casting shoulder. Without warning, they throw the frisbee or cone roughly 10-30 feet (it doesn’t matter exactly how far it goes – that’s the point) and simultaneously, they say ‘metre right’ or ‘metre left.’ They then count ‘one… two… three.’
Your objective is to land your fly a metre left or right (as requested) of the cone or frisbee, by the end of the count.
Distance and direction will vary: there will be a mix of closer targets and targets further away. If space allows, by all means try some casts over 30 feet, but in practice, most stillwater sight fishing casts are quite close. And in fact, make sure there are a few really close ‘throws’ – it’s not easy to quickly perform a short a cast after doing a long one.
If you have access to a casting pool, then obviously make the targets floating objects (plastic balls for example). And once you start getting the hang of it, try casts on your offside, or into wind, etc. Remember, this is about accuracy and speed… and by default, good line management between casts.
Hopefully, by the time you’re back casting on a real lake to real fish, they will be in trouble!