Pro Tips: How and When to Use a Ladder for Stillwater Fishing

Written By: Jim Litchfield, Reno Fly Shop

Hefty Pyramid Lake cutthroat like this are the reason anglers persevered and developed a creative solution for challenging conditions.
All photos by Reno Fly Shop

I believe using ladders is a fun and unique aspect of our fishery here at Pyramid Lake. It all started 40 years ago, when anglers used submerged milk crates marked by floating duck decoys to give them a boost in deeper water, and eventually evolved into a full-blown luxury item with padded seats, extra rod racks, and even cupholders. Although ladders are indeed helpful for certain tasks, like any tool, they also may end up being a hindrance in some situations. I hope to break down the reasons for using ladders, and to give some advice about when not to use them.  

Standing several feet above the lake bottom can be a huge advantage under the right circumstances.

The Lahontan cutthroat trout that inhabit the lake tend to feed close to shore in shallow water, often following along the edges of sharp drop-offs to deeper, darker water below. These drop-offs occur at differing distances from shore. While beaches on the southern part of the lake might have drop-offs that are only a few feet from shore, in the middle part of the lake, the drop-offs can be 100 yards from shore, in water that’s 5 feet deep or more.

This deeper water is where ladders are truly useful. Winter water temps can quickly steal your heat if you’re wading, and wind-driven waves can pop up quickly, potentially filling your waders and knocking you off your feet. Ladders can help keep you warm and dry, safely above these challenging conditions. But their most important benefit is arguably helping to increase your casting distance (compared to wading up to your armpits), allowing you to more consistently reach the drop-offs where hungry trout are likely to be cruising.

Shallow beaches are not usually well-suited to ladder fishing.

Beaches where drop-offs are close to shore are areas where ladders should be used sparingly, if at all. Being high up on a ladder in shallow water can make it more likely that the fish see you before you see them, pushing the fish away from feeding areas or even spooking them altogether. I have seen many instances where ladders have decreased fishing success, not just for an individual, but for an entire section of beach. If mobility issues or strong winds make it necessary to set up a ladder in the shallows, try moving it as far away from the drop-off as possible to minimize your visibility.

Jim Litchfield is owner of Reno Fly Shop in Reno, NV.

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