We've all been there - you get an invite to fish with a friend on a private lake and he maxes out while you blank. You know the rules on a big water and you aren't at all bad on a river but the Trout in this lake appear to be uncatchable. Read on and you won't get skunked again.
Small lakes by which I mean stillwaters of three hectares or less can be prolific Trout fisheries but demand very different tactics to large reservoirs. Some methods are completely out: for example using a fast sinking line to haul a team of buzzers will have you snagged in thirty seconds flat and on many smaller venues the rules ban larger patterns so lure fishing is out and half the contents of your fly boxes will be redundant. In circumstances like that it can be very hard to adapt but the rules are relatively simple once you get the hang of them and if you follow the advice here you should get plenty of hookups.
The syndicate I belong to Jervaulx Fly Fishers offers some quite demanding venues that have taught me a great deal over the years. One of the keys to success is understanding that small lakes offer a series of micro-habitats for Trout and the fish are often concentrated into relatively small areas where they focus on a single food item. For example the reason why your friend is casting across the lake and dropping his fly on the edge of the reed bed is almost certainly because he is fishing a corixa pattern. Corixa are found in depths of four feet or less and they can be so prolific in small lakes that on occasion the Trout won't look at anything else. Fishing heavily weighted small corixa patterns and watching your leader on the drop can be pay dividends in late spring summer and early autumn when corixa are most active. Just concentrate on the margins.
Buzzers are ubiquitous on small waters but on lakes which aren't particularly deep traditional methods which rely on sinking patterns don't work very well. The reason is that the buzzers reach the surface so fast that the Trout often concentrate on crippled emerges to the exclusion of all else. The clue that this is happening is when you find yourself watching unhurried rises in a flat calm and can't figure out what the fish are taking because nothing seems to be emerging. The fish are sipping cripples down and you can catch them by fishing small (size 18 or 20) floating midge patterns. When the water is mirror-flat anything bigger will result in rejections and in my experience it is best to use a pattern with a black body. If you get a rise near but not at your fly begin a very slow figure of eight retrieve so slow that the fly doesn't leave a wake but whatever you do don't point the rod tip at the fish or you will risk a smash.
First thing in the morning in early season your friend may try a pond olive spinner because some lakes see generous falls of these on warm evenings and the Trout can still be found mopping up the stragglers in the margins the following day. This spinner can be imitated with a size 16 pheasant tail and this pattern is well worth a trial on the dropper of a twin dry fly rig with a midge emerger on the point. If there is any sign of olive emergers try one of my Pheasant Poppers because these can be stunningly successful during a Pond olive hatch-we caught over a hundred trout using the pattern this season. You can read about the pattern in November's Fly Fishing and Fly Tying magazine.
Don't forget to watch for sedges. It is worth keeping some crippled sedge emerger patterns in your box because many small lakes see stunning hatches of these insects. It isn't worth carrying more than a couple of sizes of brown and black sedge patterns and mine are tied with Zelon wings on size 16 and 18 hooks because the emergers are smaller than you think. If you don't have anything else to hand a small black Klink is a very good substitute (thanks Hans what a wonderful fly).
Nymphs can prove very effective especially in clear water where generously weighted size 16 pheasant tails will often take a trout or two. The secret is fishing a small pattern that sinks fast and doesn't make a splash like a brick going in. If you can see the Trout you know the drill cast to hunting fish strike when the trout turns near your fly-in fact hit any movement you think might be a take. If you are getting lots of rejections change to a corixa and you will very often get connected.
Tackle? This time I am going to begin with a net. Greys make the most fabulous scoop net that doesn't attract weed never takes your fly prisoner and won't stink your car out. Get one. Hardy and Greys both make some fabulous rods for this kind of fishing my preference being a 10' #5 simply because it is long enough to keep the backcast out of the long grass and thistles behind you and also because of the control it gives playing a fish over reed beds and other obstacles. If you are thinking of packing something a little shorter then a Hardy Shadow 9' will do the business. The Zenith range has an excellent rod in this class and the Greys XF2 Streamflex range has another. As far as reels go I use the Hardy Ultralight 4000 DD.
Andrew Herd is an official photographer for Hardy and Greys. Andrew is also an Angling Trust Ambassador angling researcher historian and writer. He is the executive editor of Waterlog magazine.
Customers in the UK can purchase Hardy products mentioned in this article online on the Hardy website.