Understanding Stillwater Trout – Part 9: Adapting to Conditions

This is the last article in the “Understanding Stillwater Trout” series.  We’ve covered general fish behavior, lake structure, how lakes change with the seasons and broke down how to fish each season – spring, summer, fall and .

This article covers how to adapt that general information to a specific lake and weather conditions.

Many people do the same thing when they go out fishing, without regards to conditions.  As a result their results seem almost random to them.  By be aware and adapting to different conditions we can achieve more consistent results and may be the only people on the water catching fish.

Lake Conditions

First lets talk about lake conditions.  The most obvious is water clarity.  Less obvious is the primary food source in the lake.

Murky Water

If the water is murky, then it is hard for the fish to see your tackle and therefore bite it.   Using bigger lures is one way to counter this.  UV colors is another.  In these conditions I also like using lures which will generate some noise, such as spinner blades or plugs with a rattle in it.  Something that will allow trout farther away to notice your gear and come and investigate.

Especially if it a big lake I’ll also add a dodger or pop gear for long range attraction.

Clear Water

Omak Lake Cutthroat caught in very clear water
Omak Lake Cutthroat caught in very clear water

Really clear water, on the other hard, makes it really easy for the fish to see your gear.  It also makes the fish more easily spooked.

In these conditions you’ll want to use longer leaders, smaller lures and darker colors.  Stillwater flies work great in this scenario.

Primary Food Source

The next lake condition to consider is what is the primary food source.  Do the trout in that lake mostly eat small bait fish?  Aquatic insects?  Crawfish?  Something else?

While “matching the hatch” isn’t necessary, it often helps.  For example if the trout are feeding on salmon smolt, then small silver rapala lures can be deadly.

If aquatic insects is their focus, then stillwater flies might do better.

Being aware of the likely food source (and it can change through the year) and then trying to match it can often yield better success.


Weather has a huge impact on trout behavior and how we should target them.


Even though I’ve heard stories about good fishing right before storms, in general I try to avoid stormy weather fishing.  There is enough good fishing other days to not have to worry about being out in a storm, especially if there is lightning.

Also avoid fishing for a couple days after a storm to let the fish stabilize.  This is especially true during the times of year when the water temperature is below the trout’s preferred range, or in other words below 54 degrees.


Some mild wind during spring, when fish are near the surface, can be a good thing.  The broken surface makes the fish feel safe because of the limited visibility.  Which makes that a great time to be targeting them.

Rufus Woods trout caught on a windy day
Rufus Woods trout caught on a windy day

If the fish are more than 5 feet down, then the wind doesn’t really affect them and it doesn’t really matter – that is unless the wind is strong enough to make fishing difficult or uncomfortable.


Like wind, some rain makes the fish feel safe, and therefore they are more likely to actively feed.  This can make for some good feeding.

Nice view of a lake
Rainy day at the lake

However I’ve found that the fish seem to have a harder time finding your lure with all that disturbance on the water.  So adding spinner blades or pop gear can help generate some noise and flash to help your offering stand out.

I also found that speeding up can help helpful, as the faster lure will be more likely to cause a reaction strike as it quickly moves by the fish.


Trout don’t like sunny days.  Some people think it is because they feel visible and exposed, others think it is because they don’t have sunglasses.

Whatever the reason bright sun can really slow down the bite.  Fortunately there are a few things you can do to help get back on fish.

First, change spots.  If an area of the lake is shady, then focus your efforts there.

Next, fish a bit deeper.  The sun will drive the fish a few feet deeper, which makes sense as the deeper you go the more light is absorbed.

Lastly downsize your lure.  Remove spinner blades and other such things which make cause bright flashes that will spook the fish in these conditions.

Hot/Cold Days

Each season has it’s average day, but occasionally we get a day that is significantly hotter or colder than what is typical.

The rule of thumb I use is does that day push the water temperature closer or farther from the trout’s ideal temperature range.

If the water is hot, then a cold day will often trigger better fish action as the water temp will move towards it’s ideal.

If the water is cold, then a hot day will trigger better fish action for the same reasons.

And the reverse is true too.  For example an extra cold day in winter will likely kill what little bite there was.

This can help us choose what are the best days to focus our fishing.  We can also us our knowledge of fish behavior and seasons to know where to fish.

For example a hot winter day will likely trigger fish action near the surface as the food chain gets stimulated by the warmer temperatures.

Lake Washington Cutthroat caught on a warm winter day
Lake Washington Cutthroat caught on a warm winter day

On the other hand a hot summer day means we’ll have the best fishing in early morning before the day gets hot.

Fishing Pressure

The last condition we’ll cover is fishing pressure – that is how crowded is water.   Trout do get tired of boats and different gear going by them.  This can both turn off the bite, and cause the fish to move to get away from it.

This pressure will sometimes cause fish to move away from their perfected locations.  So a good strategy is to move to those “second choices” for the fish.  Another good strategy is to fish along the edges of the group of fishermen.

Trout caught away from the crowds on a busy day
Trout caught away from the crowds on a busy day


We’ve now covered a ton of information.  Even though we talked about some specific scenarios, we also covered enough theory about trout behavior, lake structure, and seasonal changes that we can build a mental model of how to be effective fishermen.  This mental model will help us be in that top 10% of anglers that catch 90% of the fish, because we will know how to adapt to the almost endless combinations of conditions that will occur.

I hope you enjoyed this series and learned alot from it.  Please visit the trout page for more information about fishing for trout.

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