Stillwater fishing is just one part of fly fishing that truly fascinates me, and every year I seem to devote more and more of my water time to the lakes, ponds, and reservoirs.    And, like most things that I become interested in, I collect literature on the subject.  I love to read and study different theories and approaches to things like fly fishing.  By reading well written works by other experienced anglers, I feel that I am able to gain experiences that I might not otherwise have the opportunity to have myself.  I guess the hope is that one day, should I be confronted with a unique situation in my own angling, that I might be able to recall an obscure passage in an angling text and apply it with glorious, fishy results.  But I also think that I enjoy just reading different perspectives, opinions, and approaches to similar situations, and trying to sort out the biases, while throwing it all into my own melting pot for forming my own (admittedly biased) perspectives, opinions, and approaches.

But I digress.

For a long time, “literature” essentially meant books, magazine articles, and maybe some VHS tapes.  Now, as more and more information becomes available through electronic means, it also includes things like DVDs, blog posts, podcasts, e-books, You-tube channels, and now, smartphone apps.  I’m able to find new material to study everywhere I turn, making the long Montana winter a bit easier to pass.

I’m a little old school, and I still like books the best, but it is difficult to argue with the power of a well-organized and presented video as a teaching an learning tool.  Not long ago I came across Phil Rowley and Brian Chan’s Stillwater Fly Fishing App.  As I understand it, this App is the first of its kind in many ways.  What makes this information source fairly unique is that it is video based, but organized similar to a cookbook of recipes or fishing tidbits that are hopefully easy to find at a moment’s notice. 

From Phil and Brian:

“Phil and Brian have combined their 75 years of experience fly fishing for trout and char in lakes to develop this valuable educational tool. This App will become an essential tool in the toolbox for anglers of all skill levels.

The app is broken down into chapters covering such topics as entomology, leaders and knots, techniques and tactics, equipment and favourite stillwater flies. Each topic is presented in video format that can be easily downloaded and saved to your mobile device.

Once downloaded, the video tips can be watched anywhere. No Wi-Fi connection is required to view the tips once they have been downloaded.”

MK’s Breakdown

I personally have found the Stillwater Fly Fishing App to be a welcome addition to my collection of stillwater angling “literature”.  I’ve learned plenty of new things, particularly about entomology and rigging for stillwaters.  I’ll go into the 2019 open water season with plenty of new ideas to try out.  But what makes the App better, or at least different than a book written by Phil or Brian?  The App format allows for continuous additions, updates, and modifications as the authors develop and test new theories and methods.  In theory, this can reduce the built in obsolescence found in some printed media. 

When I downloaded and subscribed to the App in early October 2018, I think there were about 105 +/- videos available among these 5 chapters. 

Entomology

Leaders & Knots

Techniques & Tactics

Equipment, and

Stillwater Flies

Now, just before the start of the New Year, there are 126 videos.  At this point, I’ve probably watched 90% of them.  Of course, I watched the Entomology and Tactics videos first!  I’ve been messing around with the App enough that I feel like I can offer up a list of what I’d call PROs and CONs, for lack of a better terminology.  Remember, you can download the App for free and check out all the free content, along with listings of all the content that comes with a paid subscription.  So, what have you got to lose?

MK’s PROs

Content, Content, Content!  I feel very confident saying that, regardless of your experience level with stillwater fly fishing, you will learn some really interesting new things from the App.  There are some videos about really clever and sneaky stuff on there!!!

For the newcomer to stillwater fly fishing, dive into videos like “Essential Tackle”, “Choosing a Fly Rod”, “Choosing Leech Patterns”,  “Retrieve Essentials”, and “Simple Chironomid Techniques”  (all available free without subscription).  The basics are all there for you to build on.  Get yourself an intermediate sinking line to go with the floating line you already have, and go strip some leeches or hang some chironomids!

If you end up hooked on stillwater fly fishing like me, you’ll find that every outing will generate more questions in your mind.  When that feeding binge happens that you can’t seem to figure out, you can dive deeper into the App and watch videos like entomology presentations on “Zooplankton”, “Dragonflies (Crawlers)”, “Dragonflies (Darners)”, or “Scuds”.  When you are ready to experiment with new ways to move your fly, check out clips like “Strip Retrieve”, “Hand Twist Retrieve”, “Pinch Strip Retrieve”, “Rolly Polly Retrieve”, and “Indicator Retrieves”.  When you finally buy that new boat, check out the two videos on boat setup with stillwater angling in mind.

Fishing tricks.  I mean simple tricks that solve annoying everyday problems in the fishing life that you wish you’d thought of yourself.  Phil and Brian offer up more than a few of these that they have figured out over their years of fishing.  Some are explicit, with their own videos, and others are nested within other topics.  It pays to watch with an open mind.  Using electrical tape to fix a worn out slip float, and incorporating barrel swivels into rigging are two of my favorites.

Fly Tying Tutorials.  Step-by-step video instruction for piles of proven stillwater patterns.  At least two dozen are available for free without a subscription to the App! It’s winter in Montana.  Get in there and tie some new stillwater flies!

Regular Updates.  When I spoke with Phil about his plans for the App, he mentioned that their goal was to add 4 or 5 new videos to the App each month.  And, last month they did just that!  Compare that to your average print mag subscription, factor in how rarely print mags cover detailed stillwater topics, and the $3.99/month (or less if you sign up for a season or a full year) subscription suddenly seems like a bargain.

Offline Capability.   Once you have downloaded video content to your smartphone, the App no longer needs any Wi-Fi or other wireless cell coverage for you to watch the videos.  So, you can download all the videos you’d like at your house on a fast Wi-Fi signal and then get on the bus to work, or on the airplane to West Yellowstone or Jurassic Lake, and you’ll be ready with something to do.  You can even download all the videos about fishing Callibaetis and then watch them in the boat while you wait for the hatch to start out on Hebgen Lake without dealing with spotty 3G coverage that will gobble up your data allowance.

MK’s CONs

Broad Topic Organization With No Search Function.  You have to organize things somehow. The format of the App, while very clean and based on relatively short, individual video tips sorted into the categories/chapters listed above, may not be the ideal format for covering a complex, detailed topic in an orderly, step-by-step manner.  Of course, this is an opinion based on how my own brain organizes things.  For example, if you are interested specifically in learning about the ins and outs of, say, Chironomid fishing, you will need to skip around within the App chapters and watch three Entomology videos, multiple Leader & Knot rigging videos, and two or three Technique & Tactics videos, before diving down the rabbit hole of fly pattern selection and tying tutorials.   Perhaps in the future, the App could be updated to include a search function so that a user could search for, say, “chironomids”, and then be presented with a list of all the relevant videos from among the five organizational chapters.

Quirky Updating.  I’m running a Samsung Galaxy S9 and the Android version of the App.  That said, last time Phil and Brian announced a new set of video uploads, I had a hard time finding them on the App.  I ended up uninstalling the App and reinstalling it, and the problem was solved.  No biggie, but I’m glad that I follow the guys on social media for the announcements for new updates.

In Conclusion

I actually reached out to Phil and Brian about these CONs after writing this.  They were very receptive and responsive to a little bit of constructive criticism and it sounds like they will be looking into some improvements that will enhance searching and trouble shooting in the very near future.  In the end, I think that’s a very good sign to see that they are interested in and committed to not only adding new content but improving the functionality of the App over time.  As far as I’m concerned, I think I’ll be renewing my subscription when it comes up later in January.  There’s still a lot more winter left!