Trouts Journal

Ice Off: Tips and Tricks For Fly Fishing Stillwaters

Ivan Orsic / Apr 22, 2022

If you are new to the stillwater game, there is no better time than spring to find success. Around this time of the year, a little north of Colorado’s Front Range and along the mountain valleys, we will start to see many lakes and reservoirs opening from the grips of winter and some may already have.

In other words, we are talking about “Ice Off”-- when the lakes and reservoirs are free of ice and the trout are eagerly cruising the shallows cruising for a meal.

But, if you are new to the stillwater game, walking up to a lake or reservoir can be pretty intimidating. Below are a few tips and tricks for best-approaching stillwaters.

Where The Trout Will Be

As I mentioned earlier, arriving at your first stillwater can be intimidating. As an angler would do with a body of water, it is best to break up the stillwater into sections. Look for the shallow to deep transition zones, or shallows with visible weed beds or plant life. If you arrive and are unable to make out clearly where those zones are, it is best to have a map of the body of water you are trying to target. Do your homework beforehand. Start scanning Google Earth (not google maps), or use OnX maps–two fantastic options– and start playing around with angles, and shadow overlays. This will allow you to see how the stillwater is oriented towards the sun and which sides get more sun (a sun path) than the others. Switching to a topographic overlay will also allow you to see where high and low points are surrounding the body of water giving you a better understanding of where to focus your efforts. With applications like Google Earth, you can also look at historical aerial images of the stillwater you are targeting.

A Bit About Gear

As the season progresses, the highly productive areas mentioned above can become overgrown with weeds, and at times, can become unfishable. When this happens, the angler will need to have the ability to cast beyond the weed beds to effectively target fish. This means opting for a heavier weighted fast-action rod that can deliver heavy nymph rigs and an indicator. Rods in the 6WT-7WT category are going to be the angler's best options, however, you can get away with a 5WT and a half-size overweighted taper fly line if you are just testing the waters. Opting for a heavier weighted fly rod will also enable you to deliver your flies better in the wind at distance, a very common occurrence on the plains lakes and stillwater systems.

When it comes to tactics, there are two options that are sure to bring fish to the net. Indicator rigs and stripping streamers. While this is an easy opportunity to recommend two different rods, with two different setups, I will refrain. However, I will recommend that you have an extra reel, or cartridge spool system with an intermediate sinking line for streamers and a floating fly line for indicator rigs.

Two Great Fly Line Options:

Scientific Amplitude Anadro Indicator Fly Line

Designed with line control in mind, its extended rear taper allows you to cast a mile, mend with authority, and turn over nearly any rig imaginable—from dredging double nymphs to larger dry-dropper concoctions. The floating texture on the tip section is designed for ultimate flotation on any piece of water. When the wind picks up, and it will, the Anadro’s long rear taper will perform excellently and the addition of a shooting texture running line will allow the angler to deliver longer, more accurate casts. By overweighting this fly line SA allowed the angler to throw heavy dry dropper rigs while still allowing for supreme line control at long distances due to the extended rear taper.

Scientific Anglers Sonar Titan Full Intermediate Fly Line

With a name like Titan, this line promises big things. The SONAR Titan Full Intermediate fly line is designed to effectively handle your largest flies at distance. The intermediate density allows the angler to fish your most heinous flies just below the surface, right in the strike zone. Right where they need to be. If you will be throwing big streamers for your day on the water this is the line for you. This fly line has excellent turnover due to its short and powerful head designed to deliver your flies even in windy conditions.

Flies and Rigging For Stillwater

When it comes to stillwaters, particularly during ice off, the fly choice is relatively simple and straightforward. Leeches, Chironomids (non-biting midges), Scuds, and appropriate baitfish patterns. Additionally, when it comes time to choose which ones to pick, the color of the fly is going to have more impact on your day than the size of the fly (in reference to nymph rigs), think red, black, and olive. In terms of rigging, the best approach will be with a Standard indicator rig or right angle rig. This will allow you to effectively fish multiple depths of water allowing your flies to move vertically in the water column rather than horizontally, mimicking bugs making their way to the surface. Another benefit of the right angle rig is that your flies will get to the bottom quickly, and since you will be using a heavy point fly, (think jigged or balanced leech) that will eliminate the slack that may present itself. Distance is key in stillwater fishing, so a stout leader and a minimum of 20” between your flies is recommended in order to effectively fish multiple depths. Once you have your flies and rig setup, it is as simple as waiting for your bobber to go down.

Streamers and baitfish patterns work just about anywhere you can fish with a fly rod, which is well…anywhere. But when it comes to stillwaters, especially during Ice Off, fortune favors the bold, so don’t be afraid to throw big streamers. I am talking about an articulated size 2 streamer that’s been sitting in your box for the past couple of weeks. Remember that during this time of year, trout will be cruising around looking for a calorically dense meal, and a streamer that’s flashy/moves a lot of water fits that ticket perfectly. In terms of size, look in the 4”-8” range, however, feel free to size down or move to something unarticulated if you find yourself not getting any takes. Start throwing your confidence patterns. Throw white. Throw black and purple. Throw yellow. Throw something you tied up and hate the look of. Who knows it might just work.

In terms of presentation and casting, the fan cast method will prove much better than a simple spray and pray method. By utilizing the fan cast method, you are also breaking down the body of water into pieces which, if you remember, is key to approaching stillwaters. In terms of retrieves, slow steady retrieves with long pauses in between will be best, however, short quick strips with long pauses will be great as well. This is a time to really let the materials in the fly work for you and ungulate.

Final Thoughts

Stillwaters are a fantastic place to spend your day off, and for many anglers, it is their preferred form of fishing. While they may be intimidating, breaking them down into sections, doing your homework beforehand, and having the proper gear will make your first or 50th time on stillwaters much more enjoyable. For those looking to pick out stillwater flies for their next trip, opt for chironomids, leeches, streamers, damselflies, and even some worm patterns. I hope you enjoyed these tips and tricks for fishing stillwaters. The weather outlook and the upcoming opening of Spinny Mountain Res. and Eleven Mile Res. will be fantastic options for the new stillwater angler!

If you were wondering if we have a class for stillwaters, you're in luck! Here at Trouts Fly Fishing, we are proud to offer a dedicated class revolving around stillwaters and how to approach them. The school is designed around a full-day float or wade (dependent on conditions) on one of Colorado's stillwater fisheries with our very best Guides.

During the class, our guide instructors will teach you the basics of fly selection, presentation, and other details you need to know when it comes to fly fishing these bodies of water.

No matter your skill level here at Trouts, we want to ensure that your time on the water is well spent. That means we want to answer any questions you may have regarding hatches, gear, or where to fish this weekend.

Our Favorite Stillwater Flies

Our Favorite Stillwater Streamers


Rods - Orvis Rods
Orvis Helios 3D Fly Rod
Orvis Helios 3D Fly Rod
Rods - Winston Rods
Winston Alpha+ Fly Rod
Winston Alpha+ Fly Rod
Rods - TFO Rods
Temple Fork Outfitters Axiom II-X Fly Rod
Temple Fork Outfitters Axiom II-X Fly Rod
Terminal Tackle - Fly Line
Scientific Anglers Amplitude Textured Anadro Indicator Fly Line
Scientific Anglers Amplitude Textured Anadro Indicator Fly Line
Terminal Tackle - Fly Line
Scientific Anglers Sonar Titan Full Intermediate Fly Line
Scientific Anglers Sonar Titan Full Intermediate Fly Line
Terminal Tackle - Leaders
Scientific Anglers Absolute Right Angle Leader
Scientific Anglers Absolute Right Angle Leader

Shopping Cart


Free shipping over $50.00

Shipping & taxes calculated at checkout

Checkout View / Edit Cart


Sold Out