by Steven Neely


Once the temperatures have plummeted and our small winter stillwater trout fishing venues have experienced heavy frosts, water clarity is starting to improve. Weed has died back and algae is clearing after the heat waves of the distant summer. As a result, many stillwater venues have dramatically increased visibility. Due to this clarity, the fish can see a lot more than they normally would. They can see further and they can see better when there are no suspended solids to create cloudy water. Such ultra-clear water can hinder us anglers at times, especially on pressured stillwaters. But, in the main, we have a better chance of catching these trout as they can easily see our flies. Whether they choose to take them or not is down to the tactics we use and our skills as anglers.

To increase your success rate with these potentially wily stillwater trout you must be on your toes when it comes to presenting your fly or flies and a little thought will go a long way. However many flies you choose to cast – if you’re brave enough and your venue allows it, then you may fish four – you must continually think about ringing the changes.

Angling fishing a fish when Winter Stillwater Trout Fishing

Winter Stillwater Trout Fishing – Single Fly

Let’s start with fishing the single fly, often the best and most effective way of targeting trout from stillwaters. The benefits of this approach are pretty straightforward. If you are not too au fait with casting or indeed casting far, then the single fly tactic means you’ll suffer far fewer tangles. This allows you a more pleasant day on the water. Your fly will spend more time where it needs to be and hopefully this leads to more takes ­– certainly far more than you’d get spending the majority of your time untangling and setting up all over again.

The other benefit is that the single fly – being on its own and attached to a longish leader – is a lot less of a threat to wary fish. This can often be the most successful tactic for targeting the more clued-up trout. Your fly is a good distance away from the thick, obtrusive fly line and so arouses far less suspicion.

Finally, changing your offering is easy. If what you have on isn’t working, simply take it off and get another fly on . . . all very straight forward and fuss-free. Generally I would say the best style of fly to be used on its own is a lure. Of course, there’s always dry fly too but, in the main, a lure. Something big – either fat or long, or even better both – and a fly that has plenty of movement which will appeal to our quarry’s inquisitive nature.

Winter Stillwater Trout Fishing – Suggested Patterns:

[Zonker] [Gold Head Damsel] [Apps Bloodworm] [Blob] [Booby]
Rainbow Trout held by angler whilst winter stillwater trout fishing

Winter Stillwater Trout Fishing – Two Flies

If you’re happy to use two flies, then you’re pretty much guaranteed to catch more trout. Due to the spacing of the flies on the tippet you will be able to cover two depths – a bonus! It also means you can offer two very different morsels which can entice more trout to investigate. Not always, you understand, but as a general rule of thumb this holds true.

A quick note here before looking at the set up for two flies. Rod choice for winter trout fishing tactics on stillwaters is as important as in any other branch of the sport. I can’t see past the Vision Stillmaniac 10ft #7 which in my view is simply the best stillwater all rounder on the market.

So, when fishing two flies it’s best to have a larger or weighted fly on the point position of the leader and a smallish, perhaps more imitative pattern further up the leader on a short dropper. The lure on the point will, of course, draw trout in and on most stillwater venues will account for its fair share of fish. But often it is the sombre, more natural-looking offering that accounts for the majority of trout landed. This is even more evident on waters that see a lot of angling pressure – in other words, pretty much all of them.

It seems that our small, inoffensive nymph is taken without hesitation. Even better, with the smaller fly, you’ll get solid hookups – unlike the continual nips and tweaks you may get with a long-tailed lure. A steady figure-of-eight retrieve will see this combination work best. However, don’t discount the good old one-foot strip and pause tactic, where increased movement can entice the trout to take.

Winter Stillwater Trout Fishing – Suggested Patterns:

[Cats Whisker & Pearly PTN] [Damsel & Hare’s Ear] [Minkie & Cruncher] [Pitsford Pea & Shrimp] [Humungus & Cormorant]
Close up of a Rainbow Trout fishinging in the water whilst hooked when winter stillwater trout fishing

Winter Stillwater Trout Fishing – Three Flies

To really up the ante you can employ a trio of flies and space them well apart on your leader. Make sure the leader is long enough to keep them apart with 3ft (minimum) between flies. Fishing with a trio of patterns starts to get a little bit trickier though. Fine from the boat and at a close enough range but fishing three in wind or indeed at distance can get a tad hairy.

Casting with a three-fly cast can at times be more hassle than it is worth. But there are a few things you can do. Make sure you open up the casting loop so that the line and leader can unfurl behind you. This applies to the forward cast too so the flies land on the water in order, rather than in a heap next to each other. As with all casting, it’s all about timing.

I’d also recommend increasing the breaking strain of your leader, preferably a fluorocarbon leader. This stiffer material, coupled with short droppers, will mean you should not suffer as much when it comes to tangles. Although modern fluoros are damned good, if you add knots you’re weakening the line. The more knots you have the more you’re tempting fate – especially  with thin tippet, so don’t take chances.

On many occasions I have watched anglers, ones who really should know better, try and hurl a trio of long-tailed, gold-headed lures to the other side of a fishery. Not only is a cast of flies like this more or less guaranteed to end up in a  bird’s nest, but it can also be counterproductive when covering water. This stillwater tactic is only going to work on recently introduced stock fish, and only in the short-term. The chance of a better quality fish picking out a big lure, with another in front and one behind it, isn’t high.

When fishing with three flies on the same leader keep it simple. Always, always when fishing a small water place your heaviest fly on the point. This should be followed by the second heaviest and the lightest fly should take up its position on the top dropper. A lure may be placed on the point and two nymph-style flies should be positioned on the droppers above.

This setup will allow you to fish your flies throughout the water column, from top to bottom on most smaller venues, and is a great way of finding the depth at which the trout are feeding. You can also mix up the droppers a bit, perhaps use a weighted nymph as the point fly, which will fish near the lakebed where the bottom-dwelling bugs tend to be, and a buzzer, corixa pattern or cruncher further up on the droppers.

When the trout are really hugging the bottom, swap the point fly for a Bloodworm pattern. A bright red fly down on the lakebed takes some beating.

Winter Stillwater Trout Fishing – Suggested Patterns:

[Rabbit, Hare’s Ear, Blakestone’s Buzzer] [Cat, Shrimp, Alder Nymph] [Apps, Diawl Bach, Cruncher] [Booby, Diawl Bach, Muskins] [FAB, Epoxy Buzzer, Cove Nymph]

There are pros and cons with all types of fly fishing but get to grips with the above techniques and you will be able to manipulate your set up to target trout in a variety of conditions and circumstances. You will be able to master your stillwater venue with ease!

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