Three Stillwater Fishing Tactics during Spring Runoff

3 Stillwater Tactics during Spring runoff

While the rivers on both sides of the Sierras continue to pump out a seemingly endless amount of water, there are late spring storms still adding to the record snow totals. Often anglers can lose their drive, retreating into their caves and completely forget about fly fishing altogether. While many sit on the sidelines waiting for a good report, late spring is ripe with opportunity on local lakes and reservoirs.

Within fifty miles of the shop here in downtown Reno, we have many lakes and reservoirs filled with fish ranging from ten inch brook trout to fifteen pound brown trout. In this article, these are the methods we us on some of our local lakes including Frenchman’s, Davis, Boca, Stampede, Prosser, Marlette, and Indian Creek.  I have compiled a list of helpful hints anglers should consider before hitting the water. While I am by no means a Stillwater pro, here are a few tips that often turn a good day into a great one.


While this may seem obvious, I think this may be one of the most important components of a successful day on the water. When fishing reservoirs, trout will often stack up in specific spots. (90% of the fish hold in 10% of the water is a maxim often shared). I will start by searching for drop-offs or rock structure that allow fish to cruise and ambush prey. The same thing can be said for weed beds in shallower water near shorelines. One of the most important pieces of gear can be an electronic fish finder. More importantly than seeing actual fish on the monitor, fish finders allow you to read structure on or near the bottom of the reservoir. If your fish finder is capable of mapping locations, even better. This takes the guess work and blind casting out of the equation and keeps your flies in high percentage zones of finding fish.


Choosing the right fly line to present a fly at an effective depth and speed is the most crucial key to success in lakes. Over and over again you will hear successful pro anglers stress this point. Listen to the Reno Fly Shop Podcast with Phil Rowley.

If possible, bring rods fully loaded and rigged with a few different density fly lines to achieve different depths. Often, a customer buys multiple spools and then loads the spools with varying fly lines. While this achieves the same goal, you spend more time fiddling around instead of fishing. It’s easier to have multiple full setups ready to go. On each reel it is best to have, at a minimum, the following lines:


A floating fly line is a great start and allows you to vary your presentation in many ways. Indicator rigs, dries, dry/dropper, and sinking leaders can all be fished on ONE fly line. As much as we’d all love to fish big foamy dry flies all the time, the reality is that most fish feed subsurface. When using a floating line, an indicator rig with multiple flies allows an angler to fish multiple depths at a slow speed retrieve. I prefer the Mastery Anadro/Nymph from Scientific Anglers or the Xtreme Indicator from Rio. Let the waves do the work. Sit back enjoy the view, maybe take a nap.


Moving on, an intermediate line is another versatile stillwater fly line. These fly lines often sink at an inch to two inches per second, and is designed to present the flies just below the surface (where a majority of feeding activity occurs). The main advantage with an intermediate line is that your fly line penetrates the water surface, eliminating the hinge created by a sinking leader on the end of a floating line. Damselflies and other nymphs such as callibaetis are typically fished on this line. I’m currently fishing the Sonar Stillwater Camo Intermediate from Scientific Anglers (Camolux Intermediate from Rio works as well). In the end, you stay tighter to your flies and can feel even the softest grabs.


Last but not least, dense sinking lines play a major role in targeting trout on lakes. Whether it’s a hot summer day or a brutally cold morning just after ice-off, sinking lines usually put your fly in front of the big boys. A fly line with a three to seven inch/second sink rate has numerous applications. I prefer the Sonar Seamless Density S1/S3 from Scientific Anglers (comparable to the Intouch Deep 3 from Rio) in these scenarios. In the early months of Spring, this line can be utilized to fish chironomids near the bottom of a reservoir where trout move methodically as they await warmer days. On the flip side, this line can be used to fish aggressive streamer patterns in the heat of the summer where fish concentrate to escape the heat.

Allowing yourself to adapt quickly and easily is key. Having a few full rod/reel setups that effectively fish different depths will help you keep flies in the zone longer. Don’t get caught swapping out a spool as the fish follow chironomids to the surface.


In my experience, fish in stillwater pay more attention to the presentation of a fly rather than the properties of the fly itself. When presented effectively, one fly may represent multiple invertebrates or fish. Depending on the forage in a given lake, you only need a few flies. More often than not the flies used on an indicator will bring fish to the net while stripping in when presented correctly at the right depth. For our local waters, a balanced leech is a confidence fly regardless of the fly line or leader length. This fly represents forage in lakes and reservoirs including damselflies, leeches, and the vast array of baitfish species here in Northern Nevada & Northern California.

Peacock Balanced Leech


High water on our local rivers is downright draining (pun intended). Even the most dedicated river anglers find themselves worn out this time of year. Personally, transitioning towards stillwater this spring has been a welcomed challenge. The fish have quite a bit more room to move around, forcing the angler to evolve and deploy different methods to catch fish. If you feel like you’re in a lull, stop by the shop, let us share our recent experience then break out the float tube and get out there.

We are ramping up our stillwater section here at the shop. We hand select gear to improve your stillwater experience. If you don’t find everything you were looking for, let a shop staff member know and we’d be more than happy to order anything you couldn’t find.

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Aden Breckner is a staff member at the Reno Fly Shop. Having grown up here in the Truckee Meadows he has spent more time becoming familiar with our local trout than many people twice his age. He is creative and innovative in his pursuit of trout and steelhead all over the western United States. If you haven’t met Aden yet reach out on social media @beadsnworms_ or swing by the shop. Aden is always more than willing to share his recent trip report and a new fly he is working on.

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