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Phils Articles
Pre Season Primer


During the early season trout are often concentrated in the shallows.
The gentle swirl of a foraging Blackwater, the bow wave of a late fall trout chasing scuds in the near shore shallows or the firm grab and headshake of a large Kamloops rainbow.  These are some of the numerous memories entrenched in the minds of stillwater fly fishers everywhere.  Gathered from a myriad of experiences these visions are stored in a special cache, ready to access in a moments notice when the everyday stresses squeeze us a little more than we would prefer.


As the season wanes and winter slips her icy grip around the lakes of the south central interior it is these memories that help ease the pain of another passing season.  But when winter is at her darkest and coldest these recollections begin to work against us.  Weakened under the relentless barrage of cold, rain and snow we all slip into the clutches of that magical illness, cabin fever.  Left uncontrolled it consumes all, making the remaining winter one of shear agony.  But the stillwater fly fisher can fight cabin fever by turning this negative energy into something positive by beginning their preparations for the upcoming season.  Those who are primed and ready will be amongst the first on the water as the first lakes of season become ice-free and we are released once again to add to our mindís eye.


Fly fishers should be familiar with the most likely food sources on the menu during the inaugural weeks of the new season.  A good basic approach focuses upon stillwater staples, those food sources that are available year round.  Chances are hatches will be few and far between.  Scour the fly box, make note of the voids and fill them.  Sit down at the vise or visit the fly shop and restock the promising rookies from last season, hopefully they wonít suffer from any sophomore jinx, donít forget the old standbys either.  They donít earn the title standby for nothing.


The early season stillwater fly fisher needs a varied selection of leech patterns.  Have a complimentary selection of both somber and garish designs such as Brian Chanís Sparkle Leech.  Although ice-free the water temperature is still low and fish often need to be coaxed into striking.  Bright patterns take advantage of the troutís aggressive nature eliciting an instinctive conditioned response.  If a dead slow or inactive presentation is necessary, chironomid patterns, either larva or pupa, will be the order of the day.  Black and copper or black and red such as my Black Sally are great springboards.  Be observant, as other colors such as olive, brown and various shades of green are important too.  Have a mixed size range from #10 down through #16 and expect to fish the smaller patterns.  Bloodworm or larval imitations should range from size 12 through 16 in red, maroon, green and a unique barber pole combination of red and green.  Bead headed leech and chironomid patterns should also figure prominently.


Other flies to consider include scuds, dragon fly nymphs, damsel fly nymphs, caddis larva and water boatman.  Owing to their productive and active life styles scuds, as most fly fishers are aware are a year round food source.  Early in the season photosynthesis has had limited effect so the weed growth is low.  Large food sources such as caddis larva, with and without cases, and prowling dragon fly nymphs stand out against the stark pre season landscape.  This visibility does not go unnoticed by trout.  Besides scuds other food sources active and apt to be tracked down in open water are water boatman, their backswimmers cousins and damsel fly nymphs.  As aeropneustic or air breathing insects boatman and backswimmers must make constant trips to and from the surface to replenish their air supply.  With each trip they expose themselves to constant danger.  Choose patterns utilizing bright materials such as Crystal Chenille or Mylar.  Successful patterns incorporate distinct mobile legs fashioned out of rubber hackle, Super Floss or Silicone rubber.  Like leeches boatman and backswimmers patterns are a great method of covering water and coaxing dour or sulking trout into an aggressive response.  Damsels are mobile predators always in search of a new ambush position.  Slender mobile patterns made of marabou, aftershaft feathers or rabbit are perfect for exploring weed pockets, tulle beds and sunken debris.  Sizes 8 through 12 in shades of olive, green, and brown should cover the bases.


With the fly box up to strength there are other tackle considerations.  Early season stillwater fly-fishing is a pre turnover affair and successful fly fishers understand this condition and its effect on trout.  For the unfamiliar books such as Brian Chanís, Fly Fishing Strategies for Stillwaters is a valuable reference.  Still under the effect of winter stratification trout are trapped in the shallows so floating and intermediate lines bear the brunt of the work.  Make sure they are clean and ready for action.  Check the backing knots for signs of deterioration and retie or replace as necessary.  At the same time make sure fly reels are lubed and in good working order.  Intermediate lines allow for long distance casts and horizontal retrieves.  This line pays big dividends when covering water with a leech, boatman or damsel pattern.  Often a steady strip retrieve is needed to get fickle trout to chase and follow the fly.  Be prepared for the take at the end of the retrieve just prior to roll casting the line up for the re-cast. 


Sift though last yearís leader and tippet supply, anything that snaps like thread dispose of.  Typical leader lengths fall into the 12 to 18 foot range depending upon the fly line and presentation technique.  A relative newcomer to North American stillwaters is Airfloís Poly Leaders.  Poly Leaders are available in 5 or 10-foot lengths and densities ranging from floating to sinks like a rock, personal favorites include; floating, hover, intermediate and slow sink.  Connected to the main line via loop-to-loop connections Poly Leaders provide fly fishers with increased versatility and the change of retrieve angle these leaders offer can provide the winning ticket under many situations.


Depending upon the lake early season stillwater fly-fishing can be a location specific event.  Some days it pays to be on the water early to be assured of a good seat.  Keep in mind that early on few lakes are open to fishing so crowded conditions can exist.  Proper manners and educate go a long way towards ensuring a pleasant experience for all.  Trout are often concentrated in specific locales, such as sun warmed dark bottomed areas, close to tulles, deadfall and other structure, almost like bass.  Watch for rolling fish to identify these key hotspots.  If the trout are rolling and active chances are they can be caught.  Cast need to be accurate and depths have to be precise and often the only method to work a fly under these surgical presentation requirements is through the use of a strike indicator.  There are many styles on the market including traditional corkies and newer yarn types.  Be sure to have a healthy collection.  Bi-colored corkies make perfect snarl alarms, knowing what color should be facing the angler warns of potential tangles should the other color suddenly stare back.  Left unchecked and recast a few dozen times this easy to fix tangle can evolve into one ugly birds nest. 


Make sure your pontoon boat is in good working order prior to the start of the season.
As the days lengthen and winters grip begins to relax the weather outside allows for other preparations.  Dust of the boat, float tube or kick boat and give it a thorough check.  Are there any rivets or seams in need of attention?  Are the air bladders in safe shape?  Howís the anchor rope?  Does it need to be replaced or retied? There is never a good time to loose an anchor.  Check the anchor cleats are they in good working order?  Are the pulley wheels intact or do they need replacement?  Boat bound fly fishers should check the condition of their carpet for signs of wear and tear.  A trip down to Home Depot might be in order, disguise this visit as an errand for something around the house.  Deposits need to be made in the home account to counter balance the upcoming excursions once the lakes open.  After a number of seasons wooden oars begin to show their age.  Perhaps they can be salvaged with some sand paper and urethane.  There is always something to do.


Donít forget the motor, make sure it is in good working order, take it in for service or if mechanically inclined change the leg oil and check the plugs.  Fill up a garbage can full of water and give it a test run.  Lakeside is no place to find motor problems.  Electric motors while not as high maintenance as their gas driven counterparts need attention too.  How is the battery?  Is the prop good and secure?  Does the darn thing still work?  Donít forget to change that switch that broke and had to be jury-rigged just to get through the balance of last season.


With cabin fever all but eliminated through proper preparation it is time to focus upon the most likely venues for opening season.  Lakes become ice free in popcorn fashion.  Lower elevation lakes are naturally the first to open, regulations permitting.  Use resources such as the BC Freshwater Fishing Directory or web sites such as B.C. Adventures ( to identify promising candidates.  Visit the local fly shops to find out what lakes are open.  Friends who live nearby favorite haunts provide perhaps the most reliable information, not to mention a place to stay.  Review last seasonís diary entries.  Try to compare last yearís conditions and ice off times to this seasonís.  Is it late or will it be early?  What flies worked?  Where did you find the fish and what where they feeding upon?  Pre season powers of observation pay handsome rewards.


Armed with a stocked arsenal of flies and functioning and well-conditioned equipment the first stillwater trip of the season should prove memorable.  Potential target lakes have been identified and the trip planning is complete.  Informed and prepared fly fishers know what food sources to expect and how to present them.  They have researched pre turnover conditions and know where to find the fish and where to search if they are not where they should be.  The negative effects of cabin fever have been reversed.  It is part of the allure that makes fly fishing a year round pursuit.

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