Fly fishing is the #1 method of catching fish at East Lake.
East Lake is a perfect lake for fly fishing. It has a weed bed that more or less circles the lake and has an abundant fish population that love to eat the bugs in these weed beds. If you know the basics of fly fishing, you can have a blast at East Lake.
Fly fishing from the shore or wading in, in all honesty, is not the most productive way to fly fish the lake. You really need to be in a float tube or boat to reach the back side (lake side) of the weed bed: this is where the fish are located and are feeding.
An average fly fisherman with average skills can catch dozens of fish a day from a float tube or boat. A person that has never even seen a fly rod will more than likely catch several his first day out.
Even if you don’t own a fly rod you can use a regular spin casting rod/reel and have almost the same results as the fly fisherman. Ask the staff inside the East Lake Resort store how to do it and they will let you in on the secrets!
What flies work best at East Lake? Several flies do especially well, but without question, East Lake is all about Callibaetis. Day in and day out, different versions of the Callibaetis haul in more fish than any other fly.
East Lake is known for an almost constant hatch of Callibaetis from dawn to dark. A natural colored, or soft tan, seems to work well, and adding a bead head to it will ensure you are going to have supper tonight. Other forms of Callibaetis you need to have in your fly box should include a Cripple, Spinner and emergers in tan and darker brown colors. Size 14 is perfect for most flies.
Other flies that are known to haul them in:
Stalcup’s caddisfly larva (tan and brown colored)
Gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear
Bead Head Pheasant Tail
Wooly Buggers (Black and Dark Green…sometimes with a little red mixed in)
Green Carey Specials
Blue-winged Olive Dun
Why Callibaetis? Callibaetis are the most important Western stillwater mayfly of all. There is no insect more important to the Western stillwater angler than the Callibaetis. None.
In some waters, damselflies provide explosive angling for unusually large trout, and on other waters fish wouldn’t survive but for the presence of midges; but taken as a whole, no bug dominates more waters than the Callibaetis mayfly.
Callibaetis (pronounced cal-uh-BAIT-is) are highly tolerant of ecological extremes and will be found in alkaline desert ponds, roadside ditches, sewage treatment plants, and even tidal marshes. It seems however, that the Callibaetis is best suited for those waters that nurture trout, and every Western weedy lake that holds trout will have its population of Callibaetis. East Lake is one of the best.
The Callibaetis nymph is available 365 days of the year and it predictably hatches throughout the entire fishing season. The Callibaetis is a fly fisher’s dream, it acts in predictable ways and trout key in on that predictability. The angler who takes the time to understand the ways of the Callibaetis will cross rods with far more trout than he imagined possible.
Okay, a bit of a science lesson is in store. The Callibaetis belongs to the Baetidae family of mayflies. The Baetidae are extremely important to the fly fisher because many of its members are multi brooded. That is, the nymphs mature exceedingly fast and several generations will emerge within a single season. Compare this to the average mayfly which hatches only once in a brief annual flurry.
The Callibaetis is the most perfectly proportioned of all the mayfly nymphs. The head is slightly narrower than its shoulders and the slender body tapers to three equal length tails that are about as long as the body. Seven pair of heart shaped gills fringe each flank of the abdomen. The sweeping antennae are over twice as long as the head is wide.
The coloration of the Callibaetis is as variable as the waters in which it dwells and the nymphs can change color quickly to match their environment. Because of the tremendous variation in the color of Callibaetis nymphs, I’ve never known trout to be too picky when it came to the coloration of the artificial. The earth tone hues of the nymph seem to be universally accepted by even the most finicky fish.
The nymphs have neither skin nor bones, but instead, a semi-rigid exoskeleton that must be periodically molted. The typical Callibaetis might undergo a twenty or more such molts throughout the winter.
Early in spring, gasses begin filling the void between the exoskeleton and the body within As the pressure builds, the exoskeleton starts to swell and the nymph becomes unnaturally buoyant. The exoskeleton stretches thin and radiates a shimmering glow as light reflects from the taught skin and interior gasses. Perhaps to lessen the uncomfortable pressure, the nymph starts crawling upwards. This isn’t happening to a lone individual, but to hundreds, or perhaps thousands of nymphs at the same time. Up the weeds, up the rocks, up the stumps, and even up the legs of wading anglers these nymphs migrate toward the sun.
When these swelling nymphs lose their footing or try to swim, the buoyancy in the trapped gasses lifts them away from familiar surroundings and they desperately swim back down to the protective cover. Soon they will lose footing again and once more be buoyed towards the surface and once again the nymph will struggle back down to cover. To the scuba diver this looks like a beautiful dance as showers of glistening nymphs bob up and down over the weed beds. To the trout it looks like breakfast
Every morning, all season long this dance is taking place. The trout grow attuned to the daily rhythm and come to expect the meal that is rightfully theirs. The knowing angler will oblige them.
Get out on the water in either a float tube or boat and travel through the weed bed to the back side, or lake side, of the weed bed. It is easy to see because the water is incredibly clear. Rig up an intermediate sinking line, or a sinking tip, with a standard nine foot leader then guestimate the depth of the water you are about to fish. To the end of the leader tie on a 5X tippet one and a half times the depth of the water. In eight feet of water you’ll use a twelve foot tippet.
Tie on a Callibaetis nymph (bead heads seem to work best) of the appropriate size (#14 seems to work best). With a series of roll casts work out the line, leader and that hellacious tippet. You will be pleasantly surprised that the tippet isn’t as ghastly as you might have imagined. Lay the line out over the water and be happy as the tippet piles into a big heap.
The nymph will immediately begin to sink, pulling the skinny tippet down with it. Start counting, “one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand,” etc. As the tippet dives through the film it will create a vee shaped wake with the point of the vee facing the angler. When the vee turns into a circle or dimple, it means the nymph has landed in the weeds or bottom and is no longer pulling the leader downward. At this point stop counting and remember the number. For the sake of this article lets pretend that number was eight.
Retrieve the nymph and pull all the weeds off the hook. Cast it out again, watch that vee and start counting. At seven, draw in line with the stripping hand and make one very slow, very long strip until the stripping arm and hand are extended behind you. Trap the line against the cork with rod hand and let the nymph fall. Watch that vee!
By retrieving at seven you stopped the nymph just short of the weeds or bottom. The long slow strip does a good job imitating the nymph being buoyed to the surface and the subsequent fall of your pheasant tail mimics the real nymph’s frantic return to cover This is what the trout expect. When the fish inhales the bead head, the nymph will of course stop sinking and the leader will no longer be making a vee. It will come to a standstill and the water’s surface will simply dimple around the leader. If the fish starts to swim with the nymph (usually they never stop swimming, they just intercept the nymph and keep on cruising) the vee will reappear with the point of the vee pointing the direction of the trout’s travel Tighten up.
The 5X tippet might seem like a terribly fine connection between you and those lake hogs, but not to worry! Because the tippet is so long it harbors tremendous stretch and will easily control most trout. The skinny tippet is necessary to cut through the water with a minimum of resistance as the nymph falls.
As the morning progresses and the gas continues to build within their exoskeletons, the nymphs acquiesce to nature’s demands and rise to the surface to hatch. At the surface they hold just beneath the film with only the hump of the thorax breaking the meniscus. Within moments the thorax splits and the adult emerges. The mayfly pulls its head and then its legs out of the husk of the exoskeleton. It sprawls the legs out across the water and, levering down against the surface tension, draws the wings and abdomen out of the shuck. Only the tail remains in the husk and then it too pulls free leaving the mayfly to drift across the surface of the lake as it hardens its wings.
In the spring the insect is dark sooty gray so that it will quickly absorb the sun’s warmth. As the hatches progress through the season, the Callibaetis are born with increasingly lighter hues to reflect the hot summer sun. In the fall, as temperatures drop, the mayflies once again emerge in the darker colors. The bellies of a Callibaetis are always lighter than the dorsum. No matter the season, all the Callibaetis will have distinctively light colored veins that contrast with the relatively dark wings giving them a speckled effect, hence the common name the speckled dun.
As the majority of the nymphs drift up from the weeds and converge on the surface, so do the trout Here the feeding is easy, and at times gluttonous. The fish often disregard the nymphs and duns to feast on the hapless emergers. The emergers can neither swim or fly away and the trout feed at their leisure.
A nice thing about fishing emergers is that size isn’t too important. The nymph might be a size twelve and the dun a size fourteen (remember the dun had to fit inside that nymph), but the emerger can be fished all the way to a size ten because it is imitating a part of the nymph as well as part of the dun.
Once the duns leave the water they’ll retire in the lakeside vegetation to hide from the desiccating rays of the sun. The following morning the duns will begin walking around in circles and shudder and shake and act like they ate something awful. The wings spread and quiver then magically the thorax bulges open and a new mayfly quickly and efficiently emerges from the body of its old self. This new incarnation has translucent wings with only a trace of splotching on the leading edge. Like the dun, the hind wings are shriveled useless stubs. The forelegs are spindly, the eyes unnaturally large, and the twin tails are beautifully long and graceful. This is the sexually mature spinner.
The spinner has no mouth parts and the digestive organs have been replaced by reproductive ones. These are winged sex machines that have but one goal in their short lived existence. Anytime after the sun rises and until almost sundown droves of males rise from the riparian growth and form clouds of insects that fly high into the air and flutter back towards earth. When they reach the level of the riparian canopy (often nothing more than clumps of sagebrush), they burst heavenward once again then repeat their fall.
During the fall the males are releasing pheromones that waft downwind and attract the goggle eyed females. Thus aroused, the females flutter into the bobbing frenzy of males. From your float tube it is easy to discern the males acting like crazed yo-yo’s while the females execute crisp horizontal patterns through the melee. The insects briefly copulate in flight and the males go off to die.
Just about the time the morning hatch is winding to a close, the spinners arrive to lay their eggs. These are the mayflies one most commonly finds crawling all over his body and car during lunch. The female Callibaetis whisk along the surface of the water and dap their abdomens into the film to release showers of fertile eggs. The eggs hatch almost immediately and the cycle begins anew.
Callibaetis spinners can cause tremendous frustration. The angler is doing great during emergence but suddenly the fish no longer want his fly. The trout are still rising, but the pattern that was so successful twenty minutes earlier is ignored. Anticipate the spinner fall. The burnt out females (spent spinners) have no strength left after laying their eggs and wind up on the water with wings flush to the surface. They can be tough for the angler to see, but to trout they are very visible indeed.
As soon as spinners start landing on your arm or the trout begin to refuse your fly, tie on a spinner imitation, but not just any spinner. Most spinner patterns are junk.
Remember our science lesson earlier? The wings of the spinner had to fit inside the exoskeleton of the dun. To fit, they were folded up nice and neat like Geisha fans. When the wings unfolded, they didn’t unfold all the way, but retained their pleats When the crystal clear, corrugated wings of the spinner lay flush on the water, they trap air in the folds and bends light rays every which way.
From an underwater vantage below and a few degrees to the side of the spinner, the wings are like windows. Through them the sky, the clouds, and the seagulls are clearly seen. This is in sharp contrast to the water on which the spinner is bound which is reflecting the dark bottom of the lake. From directly beneath the spinner, and those pleated wings now glitter like diamonds and spew rainbows like the micro prisms that they are. Compare that to the artificial burnt chicken wing pattern that looked so cool in the fly shop.
The best spinner patterns are barely there; a little fuzz on the hook and a wispy loop of Zelon to suggest the possibility of wings. Add a couple of strands of sparkle organza to add flash and a prism. Not perfect, but usually good enough. The CDC biot spinner also works well because it too has sparkle organza and the fluted CDC feathers trap air like the real spinner wings.
As mentioned earlier, the Callibaetis is multi brooded. It emerges in the spring as a size twelve. About six weeks later, the progeny from the first hatch will emerge but they will be a size fourteen. Six weeks later the next brood will hatch and be a size sixteen and so on until the end of the season when Callibaetis in October are popping off in a minute size twenty.
Every six weeks or so will be a major emergence period, but enough bugs are out of synch that Callibaetis hatches can be counted on virtually every day, and all day, of the season.
The nymphs of the season’s last brood, having all winter to grow, will emerge the following spring in a succulent size twelve to start the cycle once again. You need to be there to meet them.
Wooly Buggers have landed some huge German Browns at East Lake, and it is common to see them up to eight pounds or so. Work the shoreline areas between the shore and the weed beds for your best results. Black or dark green, sometimes with a hint of red in them, seem to work best. Working them slowly, very slowly, almost in jellyfish-like fanning motion, has landed some very large fish lately.
Midge pupae are very important food in lakes. They often hatch at dusk, and fish will begin to rise, taking the tiny midge pupae and ignoring your big dry fly or streamer. When this happens, keep a stiff upper lip and tie on a midge pupa. Use a floating line. Usually a Griffiths Knat works very well.
Ideally, your fly should break the lake’s surface film and hang vertically just below the surface. Dressing the leader with floatant to within a few inches of the fly can help prevent the fly from sinking too deep.
Cast the fly to an area of feeding trout. Then let it sit. And sit. And sit.
While you’re sitting waiting for something to happen, wisps of wind or current may create slack in your line. This isn’t good because when a trout takes your fly you will need to quickly tighten on it. So carefully manage your fly line to keep the slack out. Ideally your fly should not move when you take up slack.
On the other hand, wind and current may keep your line tight, but the fly may be dragging unnaturally This can be hard to detect, and there is no panacea for the problem or its detection Just be aware that it may be happening, and throw a little slack into the line if needed.
Trout usually take midge pupae with a leisurely sip or head-and-tail rise. This can be subtle and hard to detect –just a gradual tightening of the line or a swirl near your fly. If you think you have a bite, strike by pulling in line with your free hand; if you’ve managed your slack as described above, this should be easy. If you feel no resistance, relax and let the fly settle again. Don’t strike by raising the rod; it’s very common to have a fish rise to a natural insect near your fly. If you strike hard when no fish has ingested your fly, you’ll disturb the water and spook the fish.
If your fly has been sitting for a minute or two with no grabs, sloooowly retrieve a small amount of line so the fly rises. Then let it sit again.
Trout can be very selective on midge pupae, both as to size and to color. So you may need to experiment with different flies to find one that works. Some fly fishers do this by tying on up to three midge pupae at once. They let two hang from the leader (separated by blood knots) and tie the third at the end. With this technique you can experiment with different sizes or colors and see which works best. Or you can fish three identical flies to increase our odds. You may also increase your frustration. This rig is a bear to cast without tangling, and tangled leader in fading light with big fish rising all around you may not be your idea of a satisfying fishing experience.
During the heat of the day, say between 1:00-5:00 PM, something special happens at the cliffs on the North side of East Lake. When the bugs land on the hot cliffs the rocks burn them causing them to fall into the lake. This is where you come in. Tie on a Parachute Adams. Clip off most of the parachute leaving just a hint of white Throw your fly against the cliff and make it fall as close to the cliff as possible and into the lake. Ideally you want your fly to land within a few inches of the cliff, simulating a bug falling into the water.
The fish are waiting below the surface for the bug buffet and that is where they fall. Your fly should be with the buffet. And be ready to have some fun!
Wind drifting lets you cover an expanse of water, which is why it works well on East Lake. Done right, wind drifting feels like cheating.
Use a full-sinking line; an intermediate line is usually the right choice. Good flies for wind drifting include Woolly Buggers, damselfly nymphs, Flashback Callibaetis, or Flashback Pheasant Tails. Use a Green Carey Special with a Callibaetis emerger as a dropper and you will be amazed at the results, including some double hook-ups!
Cast into the wind at about a 45 degree angle to your direction of travel. Let out about 80-100 feet of line. Now don’t do anything. Just let the wind push you across the lake, dragging your fly behind you.
The reason for casting at a 45 degree angle is so your fly will be presented in water that your boat or float tube has not passed over, so the fish are less likely to be spooked. Keep your tip down, either at the waters edge or sometimes even a couple of inches below the surface.
After awhile the fly will be trolling through water that your boat has drifted through. Some anglers get spooked at this, but it is of no special concern. Remember, you have a lot of line out and fish are not that bright. Just sit back and enjoy your fishing trip and keep an eye on your line. Most takes feel like slight hesitations, like you just stuck a weed (often, of course, you have stuck a weed).
Sometimes the wind is blowing too strongly, and your fly will be moving unnaturally fast. If you’re in a boat, you can slow your drift by using a small drogue, or sea anchor. A five-gallon bucket works well, too. Just toss it over the side (after tying it to the boat!), and the extra drag will slow you down.
At the end of your day, take a trip to the store at East Lake Resort and let them know how your day went, what you used, how many you caught, etc. If you did not have much luck, look at the fly selection they have inside the store. These are made special for just East Lake and are known to work very well.
The knowledgeable staff will always help you select what will work best for you and share their knowledge about presentation, locations and how to make that happen for you.