Big snow years are a blessing and a curse here in Montana. They mean happy and healthy fish at the end of summer, but make the rivers unfishable for a few months at the beginning. Big snow years do however provide proper encouragement to explore some local area lakes. Lake fishing provides opportunities to lob bobbers and wait, sight fish shallow cruisers with dry dropper rigs, or even work big streamers along shelves and drop offs. There is an abundance of lakes around that have big fish, lots of fish, and are manageable on foot.
Targeting fish on lakes is all about reading water. A few key areas to look for are underwater structure, peninsulas and points, drop offs, tributary inflows, bubble lines and current seams, as well as weed beds and dead fall. Additionally, this time of year, ice out can make an easy target when fishing. Work the edge of the ice with streamers or nymphs and hold on! Working these areas with the following tactics can at times make for epic days on the water.
Lobbing bobbers with a couple nymphs beneath them is a great way to sip beer on the lake, but it can also be a deadly tactic. A great rig is a leach pattern with a pheasant tail or snow cone behind it. Pay attention to water depth, as it will indicate how deep your rig should be. Additionally, pay attention to where the fish are holding in the water column. When the fish reveal where they are holding, adjust your rig accordingly. Generally, fishing water over 15 to 20 feet deep can be difficult with this rig. When there is a little wind and waves out on the lake, let them provide the action for your flies. Sometimes, the slight up and down motion is all that is needed to get into some fish. When the lake is calm or more movement is needed, small strips with long pauses of 15 to 20 seconds in between is a good alternative. Watch the bobber closely as the smallest twitch can be a large fish.
Sight fishing can be a blast on lakes! Seek out shallow bays or any calm areas that the wind is blowing towards. Wind often pushes bugs, nymphs, and bait fish to localized areas of the lakes. Walk slowly and look closely, because lakes are stagnant and fish have to be moving to keep water flowing over their gills. These fish will be cruising and if you find a good spot, stick around and wait for the next wave of fish. A good rig for this can be a purple haze or Adams with a pheasant tail or snow cone below it. Again, adjust the dropper fly to the depth of the lake.
A personal favorite method for lake fishing can be pitching streamers. During ice out, the fish will hang along the ice shelves or begin moving in shallower for more oxygen and warmer bottoms. This is the time to target fish with streamers. Try stripping big streamers like sparkle minnows, dungeons, or sliders with an aggressive retrieve, or fish smaller leaches and baitfish slowly along the bottom. A good retrieve for fishing slow is the figure 8. Basically, just keep the fly moving in slow constant motion. Another good retrieve is the hip drop. Place your hand on the line below the first guide and let the weight of your hand fall to your hip. If you want to fish big flies, using the tarpon retrieve, or hand over hand stripping is a good option, but a jerk strip will do just fine as well. Search for areas with dark bottoms, these will heat up first on sunny afternoons. Areas where there is a foam line or bays where the wind is blowing in can also congregate bait fish and the big trout that follow. This is also a great method for stripping around the inlets of creeks. Don’t be afraid of shallow water!
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