Taking a trout on a fly from a stream is rightfully considered by many to be one of the purest and most delightful forms of angling. But good trout streams are rare, and for years fishermen have been seeking the brook trout and his cousins in still water—ponds and lakes.
I have fished for trout throughout the eastern half of the U.S. For the past 12 years my experience has been largely confined to New Hampshire, a state that is an excellent example of how still waters are providing the trout fishing that was once found in rivers and streams.
New Hampshire more than a decade ago launched a remote-ponds program in which bodies of water off the beaten track—usually no closer than a mile and a half to a vehicular road—were cleansed of coarse fish, if such fish existed, and stocked with trout, usually brook trout.
Fly-fishing on a stream has its pleasant mysteries. A stream is alive. A stream is full of surprises, of sound and movement. A stream beckons the angler to go around the bend, to try the next stretch of fast water. A stream presents unusual challenges to the expert fly-rod man. Problems of proper drift, of pinpoint presentation, of slow water and fast water, of overhanging branches or log or brush jams must be met. And a thoughtful fisherman can spend an hour puzzling how to approach properly an inaccessible pool.
When I moved to New Hampshire I worked every decent stream I could find, traveling hundreds of miles to do so, but gradually I was driven to try the remote ponds. And when I began to fish them, I discovered that the few veteran anglers who were occasionally on the same waters with me were taking three fish to my one. At that time I acquired a fishing companion—a rare and priceless fellow who can cast for three fruitless hours without a hit and still enjoy himself—and together we learned to take trout on the fly from still waters. Much of what we have learned would apply to trout waters from Maine to California.
If you are a devoted stream man, gird yourself against ennui. Granted you have the basic skills, the ability to keep casting long after your wrist has begun to ache and long after you're convinced all the fish have died could be the key to your success. Take care that monotony does not dull your inventiveness. You may discover that you've been throwing the same fly the same way in the same place for an hour. Realize, too, that a pond or lake has deeps and shallows, shaded areas and a shoreline. If there are rises, cast to them. Chances are, unless your fly is a horrible mismatch or unless your presentation is dreadful, you'll get at least a playful leap. An exception to this is in the fall, when the size of the hatching aquatic insects is often exceedingly small. A tiny No. 22 fly on a 12-or 14-foot leader taped to a gossamer 4X tippet is usually required at such a time.
Look carefully for the rises. Sometimes you'll find them under shoreside bushes where trout lurk to pick up objects dropping into the water—terrestrial insects, berries or even the needles from hemlocks.
It would be presumptuous and foolhardy to suggest that certain flies are de rigueur for still-water trout. There are times when trout will hit anything, but each winter I spend some time at my vise tying half a dozen each of certain patterns that have taken fish with consistency year after year in New Hampshire. These include streamers, buck-tails and nymphs. A must for remote northern ponds is some form of a back-swimmer nymph. These nymphs are the erratic-swimming fellows you've seen cutting a jagged course through the water with an occasional short flight into the air. Incidentally, if you capture one, don't be surprised if you get sharply bitten. They have a bite all out of proportion to their size. Excellent patterns for this nymph include one by Bill Blades and another by Ernest Schwiebert.
My aforementioned fishing companion, Vic Pomiecko, and I have developed two flies which account for many trout, both rainbows and brookies. We call them the Careless Coachmen. They are tied on a No. 12 long-shanked hook. Both call for fluorescent floss bodies—one is orange and the other red—and both have a butt of peacock herl and a tail of golden pheasant tippets. The orange-bodied fly is topped with a heavy bunch of dark-brown bucktail, the other with gray squirrel tail. Brook trout favor the red one, rainbows the orange. Both these flies, if whipped back and forth a few times and presented gently, will float for several seconds and although they resemble no insect of my acquaintance, I have had many trout, especially during big Mayfly hatches, hit them on the surface.
A wet, or sinking, line is an absolute imperative for still-water fly-fishing if you wish to take trout with consistency. Most of the time trout are feeding under the surface, often near the bottom and near the bottom in some spots can be from 10 to 30 feet down. I prefer to angle for trout with a dry fly—it's more fun and a lot easier than wet-fly or nymph fishing—but I now use a wet line 90% of the time when fishing a pond. There are fast and slow sinking lines and, in my opinion, the faster a line sinks the better. There are times when it will get you into trouble, particularly when you're working in fairly shallow water, but over the long haul it will save many precious hours of waiting for your fly to get down where the fish are. Lines vary a great deal—even within the manufacturer's lot—in their capacity to sink. If you find a good one, treat it tenderly. With care it will go three years. Because throwing and hauling a wet line is rough work, I use a fairly heavy 8�-foot rod. It just doesn't seem right to use a fine, light stick for such fishing and, of course, more distance can be gotten with the larger, stronger rod.