Fly Fishing in Lakes – How to Fly Fish for Trout in a Lake

by | Published on: Jun 5, 2023 | Fly Fishing, Lake Fishing, Trout

What challenges do still waters pose to fly fishermen targeting trout? Arriving at an unknown, immense body of water is a daunting experience for any new or experienced fly fisherman.

Every fisherman will face three main challenges when angling on a new still water venue—locating the trout, understanding the water conditions, and presenting the fly correctly.

In this article, you will learn how to fly fish for trout in a lake. We’ll be discussing how to correctly retrieve your fly and select the correct fly in the first place, and we’ll look at the conditions that impact still water fishing.

How to Fly Fish in Still Water

When selecting a post to fish from, you should find an area where trout are likely. As mentioned our Lake Trout Fishing Guide, it can be tough to locate trout in still water spots. Although, some common indicators can suggest where trout are hiding.

Trout tend to lie in areas where insect hatches occur. If there are large swarms of insects above the water, which is a primary food source for trout, it’s advisable to cast over them. Similarly, casting to the side of weed beds can also be an effective strategy.

Weed beds provide protection for trout against predators like pike and are great spots to target. Pike are highly aggressive predators, even more so in still water. From personal experience, I have caught not only trout but also pike while fly fishing near weed beds, so expect the unexpected.

A still water trout lake pictured in Ireland

After selecting a desirable post, fish it for five to fifteen minutes before moving around the lake to a new position. Trout will lie in groups as they are shoaling fish. Continually fishing different spots increases the odds of casting into a shoal. This is the most effective fly fishing method if you cannot spot rising fish.

When fly fishing in still water locations, I continually change the fly I am fishing with. Trout have selective diets and tend not to strike a fly they have seen and passed up multiple times. This is why changing your fly pattern every twenty minutes or so will significantly increase your chances of receiving a strike.

Unsure of which fly to use? Check out our guide to the best 11 trout flies when lake fishing.

Still Water Retrieves

Presenting your fly correctly is extremely important when fishing in still water lakes and even more so when fishing streamers. Retrieving a fly involves pulling it back through the water towards you. This is done to increase the chance of a strike by drawing attention to the fly and mimicking its natural behaviour. The presentation of your fly will be affected by various factors, including retrieval speed, depth, and the retrieval pattern/technique used.

Retrieval speed refers to how fast the fly is pulled through the lake. I recommend continually adjusting your retrieval speed until you find what works best for you.

A large rainbow trout caught using a basic retrieval pattern

Trout will lie at various points within the water column. Retrieval depth is the depth at which the fly is allowed to drop to before being retrieved. Targeting different depths is always advised when fishing still water lakes as it ensures you cover more area.

A reactionary strike is likely

Retrieval patterns are a sequence of pulls, stops and speeds to entice a fish into striking your fly. Trout will follow a fly’s retrieval pattern, and when the movement of the fly is abruptly paused, known as a stop, a reactionary strike is likely.

I practised my patterned retrieve vigorously before finding success with it. To create an effective retrieval pattern, you must invest time into perfecting it, whether that be by mimicking a natural fly or making the fly as appealing as possible to the fish.

You are unlikely to have immediate success the first time you give it a go, so it’s best to view a retrieval pattern as a long-term fishing investment.

Fly Selection

When fly fishing for trout in still water, it’s essential to bring a selection of flies to address the various challenges you may face. It is advised to take a mixture of wet and dry flies.

Wet flies are suitable for stormy conditions and are fished below the water’s surface. Dry flies are best suited when the weather is dry and warm, particularly on nights when fly hatches have occurred on the lake’s surface. During this time, trout will rise to the surface to consume these flies, making them a prime target for anglers. Fishing with dry flies can be one of the most rewarding methods of fly fishing. Watching a stunning rise as a trout engulfs your fly is a beautiful experience for any angler.

For more information on the different trout fly types, take a look at our guide.

Conditions for Still Water Fly Fishing

A solid understanding of your lake’s water conditions is vital to ensure success. Fish will feed differently depending on pressure, weather conditions and temperature. Many anglers keep fish logs detailing these types of statistics and their catch rate. All lakes are different, and the fish that inhabit them will respond differently to the same external conditions. The ultimate goal of a fish log is to discover the best feeding times for your local lake and target them during these prime periods.

The silhouette of a dark fly will cut through the cloudy water

Following heavy rainfall, water runs off the land and into lakes and rivers, which reduces the water clarity by introducing soil and other debris. Flies with dull/black colours are great in low water clarity; the silhouette of a dark fly will cut through the cloudy water.

Comparatively, trout can see much better in clear, transparent water. Under these conditions, it’s best to use a selection of flies with natural patterns and colours. Try to represent insects native to your local area.

When water temperatures are high, trout tend to be less active and unlikely to feed. I avoid fly fishing on lakes in the hot summer months for this reason.

A rainbow trout caught on a Black Mamba fly following heavy rainfall

Top 3 Flies for Still Water

There are countless combinations of fly patterns available for still water trout fishing. I’ve listed three of my favourites below:

  • What it imitates: Large black spider
  • When to use it: When fishing stagnant lake water, avoid using these in shallow water
  • How to fish it: It can be retrieved or fished under a bung
  • What retrieve to use: I recommend using an extremely slow and gentle retrieve
  • Hook: All-purpose light size 8
  • Typical target species: Rainbow trout
  • Rough price guide: £0.80
  • Fly type: Wet fly
  • What it imitates: Mayfly
  • When to use it: On dry days and during mayfly hatches
  • How to fish it: Above the water using a lubricant
  • What retrieve to use: Do not retrieve this fly
  • Hook size: 10-12
  • Typical target species: Brown and rainbow trout
  • Rough price guide: £0.80
  • Fly type: Dry fly
  • What it imitates: Mosquito
  • When to use it: In dry conditions or during a mosquito hatch
  • How to fish it: Above the water with a lubricant
  • What retrieve to use: Do not retrieve this fly
  • Hook size: 12
  • Typical target species: Brown and rainbow trout
  • Rough price guide: £0.90
  • Fly type: Dry fly

Top Tips for Fly Fishing on Lakes

  • If the lake has prominent features, such as an island, it’s best to cast towards these areas. Trout generally lie close to deep water structures, increasing the chance of a strike.
  • During spring, trout will erratically leap from the water, which is a sign that the spawning period has begun and they are laying their eggs. Capitalise on this period by using a fly that mimics a trout egg, such as an Eggstacy Blob. Trout don’t strike these flies aggressively, so I recommend fishing them under a bung, which allows for easier detection of milder takes.
  • Make sure you’re using the right type of line for your fly. Floating line will float on top of the water and is, therefore better suited for dry flies. In contrast, sinking line will sink beneath the water’s surface and is best suited for wet flies and streamers.

An orange blob with purple tinsel protruding from the base of the hook


Overall, there are many variables to consider before fly fishing at your local lake. To reiterate the key points:

  • Practice your retrieval pattern and give it time
  • Continually move positions to cover as much area as possible
  • Carry a selection of both wet and dry flies at all times
  • Give my favourite still water trout flies a go, especially if you’re a beginner

Good luck and tight lines!