Great Lake Early Season Fly Fishing

Craig Rist
By the time July and August comes around, the browns in Great Lake are back in feeding mode, after spending the last couple of months spawning. Stick caddis, the Great Lake Shrimp and native galaxia and paragalaxias are highly sort after by these fish at this time. The galaxia and paragalaxias are small native fish that inhabit Great Lake. The majority of these inhabit the shallower margins of the lake; making shore based wet fly fishing a productive option. The colourations of these small native fish range from golden brown through to dark grey or black and are generally around 40 to 50 mm in length. Many trout, early in the season, find it hard to refuse a well-presented fly that even remotely resembles one of these fish.

Pre Season Fix
Come July, most die-hard trout bums are itching to get back into there favourite past time. New lines and leaders are purchased; more of those ever-reliable patterns are tied, along with some new variations tied from a new fly tying material that had suddenly inspired some creativity while loitering around your local fishing shop.
With three weeks to go before the much-anticipated opening of the brown trout season, I was that person. A quick trip to Great Lake, which is open all year round, had to happen. My irrational thought process went a bit like this. Must have pre-season fix. Will be fishing from the shore so the weather conditions will not be a showstopper. Have warm dry clothes can fish in anything.
The next morning the alarm woke me at 4:30 a.m. There was no hitting the snooze button today. I was up and gone by 5 a.m. fully kitted out with waders, thermal gear and a new fly already tied on ready to go. There was very little wind and the fog was thick up on the plateau. It was still dark when I turned down the track to Swan Bay below the Great Lake Pub. With the water level still low at Great Lake this section of Swan Bay has a shallow rocky shore with nearby weed beds out in the lake making it a perfect place to fish a wet fly in the early ours of the morning. With a headlamp I walked down to the water's edge. The water was flat calm and covered with a thick fog. I could now just see without needing the light on. It was dead quiet with no signs of fish anywhere. I put out a cast, close in along the shore and began a slow foot long strip with a two second pause. With each new cast I put the fly out a couple of metres further out from the bank until I had fished the fly from the shallow margins out to the deeper water. I took three or four steps along the shore and repeated the process. The anticipation on each cast was intense, just waiting for the line to draw tight. Suddenly my concentration was broken as I instinctively struck on the feeling of some resistance through the line. Only to come up tight on a submerged stick that did kick and fight for a milli-second as I pulled it off the bottom. A few more casts and again the line pulled tight, but this time the same feeling of hooking up to a stick kicked into life as a fish tore line from my hand as the rod lunged and buckled under the power and weight of a good fish. The fish leapt clear of the water into the fog breaking the silence of the morning as it splashed back into the water. Line peeled off the reel stopping just short of the backing. The fish slogged it out in the shallows for a while until it had run out of fight. It was a great looking brown trout with it's blue gill plates, dark spots and buttery yellow fins. I removed the olive fur fly from the corner of his mouth and watched him kick back into the lake. By 9 a.m. I had managed to pick up two more fish of the same quality and fight. With my quick fix out of the way I was back home by eleven, attempting to finish those never ending jobs around the house, before the trout season really takes off.
Flies such as the Yeti or Cat Fly and Woolly Buggers in sizes 10 to 6 are good imitations of these small fish. The rabbit fur on Yeti and the marabou on the Woolly Buggers give these flies a lifelike swimming action as they are retrieved. Many unweighted fur and marabou flies can have a tendency to float after being dried out on the false cast. I like to use these flies with a few turns of lead or copper wire tied in near the hook eye. This helps the fly sink as soon as it hits the water and makes the fly sink head first, keeping the fur and marabou moving in the same direction, mimicking a wounded or sick bait fish.
Yetis or Cat flies that have worked well for me have been all black, brown rabbit with a "Golden Stone" Diamond Brite Body, and an olive rabbit with claret seals fur body. For woolly buggers you cant go wrong with black, black marabou, black hackle and black chenille body. Black and olive is also a good combination.

Having a few different retrieves at your disposal can make all the difference. Here are a few that are worth a try.
Standard Strip Retrieve
By far the most wildly used method of fishing a wet fly. This is basically pulling in line at different lengths and speeds using your line hand and one or two fingers of your rod hand to guide and hold the line as it is stripped in. This basic line management is one of the first things you learn in fly fishing.  If possible I try and use  a strip strike to set the hook when a fish takes the fly. A strip strike will keep the fly in the water if the fish is missed on the first attempt. Giving that same fish another chance to take the fly. There are many different combinations you can use with this basic retrieve, and mixing them up until you trigger a response is the way to go.
Strip Tease Retrieve
The first time I saw this retrieve was on one of Gary Borgers instructional flyfishing videos many years ago when I was first starting out. He was using this retrieve to imitate the swimming action of a damsel fly nymph to his fly. Since then I have used it on a regular basis over the years to impart a wriggling action to all kinds of flies. The retrieve consists of a 300mm long, slow strip, while shaking the rod ever so slightly to impart a wriggling action to the fly. A three second pause follows before starting the strip again.  A fish can take the fly at any time, so be ready.
Figure eight Retrieve
This one does take a little practise but is well worth the effort. When mastered it can be fished very slow or quite fast. The figure eight retrieve is done by gathering small figure of eight loops of line into the palm of your hand using only your fingers and thumb.  This line gathering action gives the fly a continuous pulsing swimming action that is very close to the action given to the fly when the line is wound back onto the reel at the end of a session. This action can often trigger a take after having persisted with the normal strip and pause retrieve. When retrieving a long cast the amount of line in your hand can become hard to manage using the figure eight retrieve. You can solve this by simply letting go of the loops as they are made or at any stage of the retrieve before they get too hard to manage.
Overhand Retrieve
Another constant retrieve is the overhand retrieve. The rod is held under your arm and both hands are used to pull in the line with or without a pause imparted into the retrieve. High speed retrieves can be achieved using this method, leaving the fish with a quick decision to make as the fly is swept past. This can often result in a compulsive hook up. Line management needs to be considered using this method, as the line is not contained in your hand. Stripping line directly into the water, a cleared deck space or into a stripping basket are the best ways to manage line during casting and fighting a fish.
Where to go
There are so many potentially good shores to fish on Great Lake depending on the Lake's water level and wind direction. I like to seek out shores that are relatively shallow with some sort of structure, be it rocks, trees, weeds or depressions in the Lakebed and drop offs. Other considerations would be wind direction. Quite often, fishing a shore where the wind has been blowing into for some time can be very productive with the accumulation of stick caddis attracting fish, in from the deeper water.
Places to try would be Little Lake Bay, Reynolds Neck, and the entire southern shore from the Bee Hives to Todds Corner.

Great Lake continues to be one of the most consistent lakes throughout the season. Despite its barren looking shores it is definitely worth throwing a fly along one of its shores.

Craig Rist

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