Stillwater Fishing

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   Tips on How To Fish Stillwater

Information provided by Fly Fishing The Sierra
Types of Lakes for Trout:

The lakes of the Rockies can be separated into six main categories. Each of these categories have their own particular tactics for flyfishing :

Mid-Elevation Glacial Lakes

Many of the natural lakes in the Sierra Nevada over 6000' elevation were made through glacial activity during the Ice Age. Expansion and contraction of the ice left depressions within the rock as well as forming sand and gravel. Much of the debris from a glacier created large moraines which acted as a natural dam in forming a lake behind it. Many of these moraine structures will occur in steps so that a number of lakes will result in a step-like formation or a chain of lakes. Above 10,000 feet elevation most of the geologic material is recent and the bottoms of these lakes will be relatively sterile in organic matter, slightly acidic, with little dissolved nutrients. I've grouped these particular lakes as Alpine Lakes. Below 10,000 feet, there will be some turf or soil is around the lake and the chances are better that there will be improved habitat for the trout. These are the mid-elevation Glacial Lakes.

Spring-fed Lakes

Spring-fed Lakes are between 4,000 and 10,000 ele. with a pH of 7.0 to 8.0 . They lie within the same forest environment as mid-elevation reservoirs. Rather than being fed by major streams and tributaries, these lakes recieve much of their water from Springs and Spring Creeks. The bottoms can be a mixture of rock, gravel, and mud. The depths of the lake will vary but will have clear water with little algea. The fish are Rainbows, Browns, and Brookies feeding upon baitfish and transitional Insect hatches. The lakes are ice-free from June to November.

Alpine Lakes

Eastern Slope Alkaline LakesEastern Slope Alkaline Lakes are below 10,000 ele. with a pH of 7.5 to 9.5, which is an optimum pH for fish habitat. They are located in arid semi-desert environments along the eastern slope of the Rockies. They are high in nutrients with shallow flat feeding areas and extensive weedbeds. The high pH increases the clarity of the water and sunlight is able to penetrate up to 40-50 feet, increasing weedbed activity. The lake bottom is volcanic in origin with plenty of mud and silt. Usually spring creeks are associated with the lakes supplying cool, highly mineralized water. The lakes will have seasonal algea blooms as the temperatures rise during the summer. The fish are usually Rainbows and Browns that will generally feed upon a resident food supply of leeches, snails, scuds, and baitfish. Intensive hatches will also occur such as Chironomids and Damselflies. The lakes are ice-free from May through November allowing for a longer growth period for the fish..

Low-Elevation Reservoirs

Low-Elevation Reservoirs are between 2,000 and 4,000 ele. They are generally along the Western slopes of the Sierras associated with Digger Pine, Scrub, Ponderosa Pine, and Oaks. The reservoirs are fed by major freestone streams and rivers originating from snowpack areas of the higher elevations. These reservoirs have dams and are subject to high fluctuations in water levels depending upon water and power needs. These reservoirs are usually deep with flat areas at the stream inlets. The lake bottoms are usually a mixture of rock, mud, and silt. The fish are Rainbows, Browns, Crappie, Carp, and Largemouth Bass. The fish will feed on baitfish as well as transitional insect hatches. The lakes are ice-free year round and usually open to fishing year round.

Mid-Elevation Reservoirs

Mid-Elevation Reservoirs are between 4,000 and 10,000 ele. They are found on either side of the Sierras and are associated within a temperate forest environment of Mixed Conifers or Ponderosa Pine on the Western slopes and Jeffrey Pine on the Eastern Slopes. Most of these reservoirs are created by dams along major stream and tributaries. They are deep with rocky bottoms and canyon slopes. They have smaller feeding flats located at the the stream inlets. The fish are usually Rainbows, Browns, and Brookies feeding upon the transitional insect hatches. The lakes are ice-free from June through November.

When the surface temperature of the water reaches 39 degrees Farenheit, the lake will turnover. This creates a turbid condition with sediment from the bottom clouding the entire water column. Fishing is usually poor during this period. The period usually lasts for only 1-2 weeks when sediment settles again and the water column has the same temperature and dissolved oxygen content.

Second Warming

A second warming occurs after turnover. The shallows become warmer and and the water becomes clearer. The fish are still sluggish from the sub-forty degree water and presentations must be slow to provoke actions from the trout. Chironomids usually start showing a lot of activity on the bottom at this time since the oxygen content is high after turnover. The trout will often feed upon the active chironomids at these depths for weeks prior to any ascending hatch activity.


As the surface temperatures of the lake warm, the lake will stratify into two temperature zones separated by the thermocline. The trout will tend to seek those areas with the right temperature requirements and areas that provide both cover and forage. Often, this will be within a middle depth feeding area. Daphnia blooms will often occur within these depths and the trout will feed upon them exclusively. This can go on for about 2-3 weeks.

Descending Thermocline

As the surface continues to warm up, the warmer surface temperatures will push the thermocline downwards. Oxygen levels in the shallow areas will decrease as the water heats up, so that the trout will only explore these areas during the early morning hours. During the day, the trout will seek deeper depths where they can find forage yet remain within a comfortable zone of temperature and oxygen, just below the Thermocline. At some time, the thermocline reaches the lake bottom and the water becomes iso-thermal. This is usually the period of the summer doldrums where the trout are lethargic due to the lack of oxygen. Most of the fish seek underwater springs and inlet areas. Thunderstorms will bring increased fishing activity by injecting oxygen back into the lakes ecosystem. Wind will also help create subsurface currents bringing zooplankton to the surface.





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