Fly Fishing Island Lakes for Summer Trout Island Angler July 2016, page 5

The belief is that stillwater fishing slows in the summer because spring hatches are over and the water is too warm. And in some cases, especially shallow, low elevation lakes, this is true. However, on Vancouver Island, there are thousands of lakes in 123 watersheds, and summer hatches of damselflies, caddisflies and dragonflies that make successful summer stillwater fishing opportunities abundant. With an understanding of the lake’s ecology, summer, although one of the more challenging times to fish, can be one of the most rewarding.

During hot summer months, high elevation, deep lakes offer the most consistent fishing. Before fishing a new lake, I start by finding out the elevation and depth, in addition to looking at the bathymetric chart and identifying the 5m contour line. Learn the fish species present (for recent stocking info, see https://www.gofishbc.com/Stock ed-Fish.aspx), unique features of the lake, feeder streams, how to access and any specific regulations or restrictions.

The heat of the summer sun causes the lake water to stratify into 3 layers: the warm, highly oxygenated surface water, the epilimnion; the deep, less oxygen concentrated colder water of the hypolimnion; and at about 5-6m, the mid-layer of cool, well oxygenated water known as the thermocline. In the heat of summer, fish tend to travel deeper, along the thermocline, which allows them cold water with the opportunity to detour into the shallows to feed. This is relevant to the fly fishermen because it provides a prime lie to target – an optimal balance of food, oxygen and cool. The colder water below the thermocline, is actually quite low in oxygen and is essentially a dead zone. Because little sunlight reaches the hypolimnion, photosynthetic oxygen production is negligible and decomposition of dead plant and animal matter on the lake floor consumes what little oxygen is present as summer progresses.

The total depth of water that the sun’s light can penetrate is called the littoral zone, and this is the shallow area where aquatic plants can grow (and you will therefore find higher levels of insect activity).

Trout are most active at temperatures of 55-60°F so the crisp temperatures at dawn and dusk can entice the trout into the shallows to feed. This, in combination with the stealth the low light provides, can lead to very productive shoal fishing. Likewise, on the southern Island lakes, when it is too hot for trout catching, the bass provide sport when they begin aggressively protecting their spawning beds.

In a lake, fish could be expected near drop offs, reefs and other structure, sunken islands, shoals, inlet streams and springs. Edge cover such as logs and overhanging trees as well as lily pads and weed beds all provide shelter to the fish. Of course, when you see surface activity, fishing the surface or just below to the rising fish is unrivalled.

With July comes the conclusion of the mayfly hatch and the start of the damselflies, caddisflies, dragonflies and some terrestrials such as ants. The transition from nymph to adult and figuring out what insect at what stage the trout seek is one of the most compelling parts of fly fishing.

There are also year round staple foods such as bait fish and leeches, and large lakers can be enticed by muddler minnows, bead head nymphs, scuds, leeches and woolly buggers.

For myself, the lakes I find myself at most often are Elk and Durrance lakes. I prefer to fish by either pontoon boat or kayak, as both lakes see a lot of shore pressure due to the close proximity to Victoria. Durrance lake is an 8.4ha lake, elevation 134m, maximum depth of 17m and has 2km of trails around it’s perimeter. One fascinating thing about this lake is the abundance of submerged logs on its bottom, which provides hidden habitat to this lake. There is a fishing pier near the parking lot and the north side trail has multiple shoreline fishing access points. My best fish have been landed on leeches and damselfly nymphs; however the fishing does slow here on hot days. Elk lake has 10km of trails around its shoreline and a fishing pier, is 247ha, elevation 220m with a maximum depth of 19m. It has an artificial reef about 20m from shore which is debris that was sunk years ago to create shelter for the fish. It also has one of the most diverse fish populations, with stocked rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, large and smallmouth bass, bullheads/catfish, pumpkinseed fish, carp and yellow perch. I’ve caught consistently fishing with muddler minnows, leeches and chironomids from my boat either on the east shore, or on the northwest corner.

When stillwater fishing, a heavy sink tip is crucial to getting your fly to where the fish are and is more commonly used than floating line. The heavier tip is a bit more challenging to cast, however a very slightly quicker stroke and slightly shorter pause while maintaining proper technique seem to help. Although there are days when the dry fly fishing is highly productive (and in that case, fish the floating line!), the majority of the dog days of summer will require your fly to be deep to catch.

When stationary casting and retrieving, the most effective method I’ve found for getting your fly down and gauging your depth is simple counting. To do this, present your fly progressively deeper by casting, then starting to count slowly, to 5, then retrieve. Again cast, count to 10, then retrieve. Continue until you feel the fly on the bottom or it comes up with lake bottom debris on it (or you find trout). Most of the time (not all however), you will find fish near the bottom around the thermocline or near the surface.

When trolling, make sure to use a heavy sink tip, move slowly to allow the line time to get down and check the fly frequently for debris.

On a calm day on still water, proceed with stealth to avoid spooking the trout – approach quietly; minimize movement while fishing; use long, light leaders; and above all, present with the right combination of accuracy and a gentle, delicate landing.

On arrival to the lake, I take a few moments to observe. Look at the surroundings – the trees, the ground, bird activity, air temperature, cloud cover, wind, and other anglers. Look to the water – clarity, turbidity, surface disturbances, insects, water temperature. As you fish, be attentive and flexible to minute changes. Don’t hesitate to change flies or location, Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.

Lake fishing seems to come down to that certain combination of timing, location, presentation and the right amount of luck. Many days you can’t keep the fish off, but some days, every bite is a challenge.