Can you Fly Fish in Lakes

Can You Only Fly Fish in Rivers? (Get a PDF Guide For Lakes)

If you have perfected your fly fishing skills in a river or always fly fished in rivers, the chances are that you may be wondering if you can only do fly fishing in rivers. And if folks can fly fish in the lakes or even the ocean. If you’re thinking about tossing a fly in Stillwater’s, you might be wondering if you’ll be using the same skills/techniques as on a river. Your alone, and the fact that rivers are easy to find and fish has forced most folks to believe you can only do fly fishing in rivers.

Provided it’s legal, you can fly fish in a wide range of water bodies, including lakes and oceans. But you may have to tweak your fly fishing technique a bit when fishing in lakes to get your fly to where the fish are. With deeper water, heavier flies and sinking fly lines are required, but the pay-off of bigger fish can result.

Generally, you can fly fish anywhere on the planet, provided it’s legal, but just like reading the water for a river, you need to understand where the fish are in the water column. This article will show you the changes you may have to make when fishing in ponds, lakes and oceans. We’ll also show you the difference between fishing in rivers and other water bodies. 

Is Fly Fishing Only For Rivers?

You can fly fish in any of the world’s water bodies, including rivers, lakes, seas, and oceans. But most folks who believe that you can only fly fish in rivers alone have never tried fly fishing in even bigger water bodies.

Generally, rivers are more common than the ocean, sea, and lakes; after all, they serve as the branches/tributaries of the more extensive water sources. Rivers are naturally flowing watercourses, usually freshwater, that flow toward lakes, the sea, and the ocean. (source)

There are over 250,000 rivers and about 102,500 lakes in the US alone. Therefore, you are more likely to find a river in your hometown than a lake. Fortunately, most of us learn from our dads and granddads to fly fish in rivers. And with the many challenges offered by rivers, most anglers find themselves fly fishing in the many freshwater rivers all over the world, where catching something can be a bit easier.

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Why Do People Believe That You Can Only Fly Fish in The River?

Since river fly fishing is quite common, most folks assume that we can only fly fish in the river, which is not the case. Yes, we have perfected river and stream fly fishing, and if you have ever tried using the same technique in lakes, sea and ocean, you may be disappointed, which has forced most fly anglers to stick to river fly fishing.

Therefore, you can fly fish in any of the world’s water bodies, but did you know that you will have to change your fly fishing techniques and even gear when fly fishing in the ocean, lakes, and seas? (source)

After all, the weather and fishing conditions are different; plus, the saltwater fish tend to be bigger and will require even more powerful gear.

Fly Fishing in Rivers vs. Lakes, Seas, and Ocean

Fly Fishing in Rivers vs Lakes
Fly Fishing in Rivers vs Lakes

Generally, fly fishing in the lake and oceans is the same as fishing in rivers, but you may need to tweak your technique and fishing gear a bit to catch some fish. These water bodies offer challenges that make this sport fun, especially for experienced anglers. Some of the critical differences between rivers and lakes in terms of fishing include:

Water Movement

Most rivers that drain into lakes and seas are constantly in motion as they’re moving from one lake to the other. Fortunately, the water in most lakes moves in a very slow motion, which means that fly fishing in lakes can be less chaotic than in rivers, especially for folks using boats or kayaks. Fly fishing in the lake is more peaceful thanks to the little-to-no movement of the water in lakes.

Therefore, you can cast your fly, sit down, and wait for the fish to catch your dry fly. On the other hand, river fly fishing can be dangerous since the water moves fast. The water movement means that you will need a heavier fly or a strong fly and a different strategy for spotting the school of fishes. Plus, if you’re fishing on a kayak in fast-moving water, you need an anchor to hold your vessel.

Dealing With Rivers

You will need more weight and a longer leader with a fast-moving river. Instead of your typical dry fly, you may need to use a subsurface nymph or streamer pattern. Most anglers fish bigger, heavier, and more flashy flies in lakes. You only need a dry fly or streamer with lakes that can quickly sink to the lower water column after being cast.

Guide Pro Tip: Float tubes are perfect for fly fishing on a lake. Read a complete guide for finding a float tube you love in this article: Using Float Tubes for Fly Fishing (Complete Guide)


Rivers tend to be very shallow, so you will have to try subsurface fishing to catch something. After all, you can see most fish from the surface, and a heavy fly can sink to the bottom and get stuck to a rock or twig. Therefore, casting in rivers is relatively straightforward, and mastering it can be easy.

On the other hand, lakes tend to be quite deep; therefore, fishes will hide on the lower water columns where they can easily hide from their prey. Consequently, you’ll need a unique dry fly pattern with a faster sinking rate; this way, you can present the dry fly directly to the fish in the lower column of the lake. The dry fly has to be flashy enough to get the fish’s attention, especially considering the amount of food in the lake.


Most rivers are shallower than lakes, seas, and oceans; plus, the sea and oceans have massive creatures; therefore, you need different gear. When fly fishing in the ocean and sea, you will be looking for huge fishes will fewer bones, so you will need heavier fly rods and matching reels, lines, and bait. After all, you will be tackling some heavy and mighty creatures.

On the other hand, freshwater fishes tend to be slightly smaller, so an all-purpose fly rod like a 5wt can work. An all-purpose fly rod can tackle a wide range of river fishes and make sure that you have fun.

Ease Of Catching Fish

Fast-moving rivers tend to have a massive supply of fish food; therefore, you will likely catch a trout. The fish have no time to assess the bait since the water moves fast, and they’re trying to capture as much food as possible. Therefore, they can easily confuse your dry fly for their food and get caught, so most dry flies work in rivers.

On the other hand, most lakes and other massive water bodies move at a very slow pace since, in some cases, the water is stagnant. And with the fish being deep in the water column, presentation matters a lot. The fishes will have more than enough time to assess the bait before taking a bite. Therefore, your fly pattern should be a perfect imitation of the flies they are feeding on at that time. 

Fly Line Casting Techniques

Generally, the costing method will remain the same in most cases; after all, the main goal is to present the fly to the fish. But with the river, your approach will usually be from the banks full of trees. So when casting in an open place, you should try using backcasting, which is one of the most basic casting methods.

But when fishing in a tight spot surrounded by trees, backcasting can’t do the trick, so you should try roll cast. A primary casting method will leave your line stuck in the trees, especially if it has some overhanging branches. (source)

Casting On Larger Water Bodies

On the other hand, huge lakes, seas, and oceans are open, with no trees blocking you, so you can present the flies using basic casting methods.

You need some substantial dry flies if you’re going after some giant fish species in rivers or lakes. And one of the best casting techniques for huge flies is Spey casting. Spey casting is ideal for saltwater surf casting and in situations that require you to cast bigger dry flies over long distances. (source)

Final Thoughts

Can you only fly fish in rivers? The straight answer is no. you can fly fish in a wide range of water bodies on the planet, but you may have to tweak your casting skill and even get different dry flies. For lakes, you need a heavier fly with some fast-sinking capabilities; after all, you need to present your bait to the fish directly. You’ll be using subsurface baits that can float a bit on the rivers, especially in shallow waters.

Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:

Hi David Humphries Owner of Guide Recommended. I love everything to do with fly fishing. Casting, Tying, YouTube, writing about it and even teaching. I’ve got a FREE video workshop teaching how to dry fly fish at this link How to Fly Fish


  1. Wikipedia contributors, River, Accessed June 02, 2022
  2. Wikipedia contributor, Fly Fishing, Accessed June 02, 2022
  3. YouTube contributor, How to Roll Cast, Accessed June 02, 2022
  4. Wikipedia contributor, Spey Casting, Accessed June 02, 2022
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