Hitting the river to chase trout on a bluebird sunny day is almost too good to resist. But just because the weather is perfect doesn’t mean catching fish will be easy — in most cases, the exact opposite is true.
After spring runoff subsides and rainfall decreases, stream flows taper off until they reach their lowest and clearest in the summer months. And as sunlight intensifies, water temperatures rise. Since trout are inherently wary creatures who rely on cold water to survive, streams that are low, clear, and warm spell disaster for the fish as well as the anglers trying to catch them.
Despite unfavorable water conditions, it’s possible to catch trout in the summertime as long as you’re strategic and willing to put in extra work. If you’re up for the challenge, these tactics and tips will help you find and catch more fish this summer.
I. Seek Cold Water — Focus on Spring Creeks and Tailwaters
Freestone streams can offer great trout fishing in the fall and spring, but when summertime rolls around, the action tends to slow way down. So instead of fighting against the conditions, why not focus your fishing efforts on watersheds that are trout-friendly year-round?
Spring creeks, which are fed by groundwater as opposed to snowmelt and rainfall, maintain consistent water levels and temperatures perennially. That means that even when summer heat kicks in, the water stays cool enough to support populations of trout and the aquatic insects that keep them fat and happy.
Do some research and find a spring creek in your area to fish during the summer. Spring creeks tend to run very clear and glassy, so come prepared with extra long leaders, fine tippets, fine-tuned casting techniques, and an extra dose of stealth. There will be fish for the catching, but be ready to put your technical presentation skills to the test.
Tailwaters are streams that flow out of dammed reservoirs. Since the water flows out of the bottom of the dam where the water is deepest and coldest, tailwater streams maintain consistently cool temperatures year-round, just like spring creeks. However, tailwaters tend to be more forgiving than spring creeks and the same techniques you use during the fall and spring can be used without worry.
The main thing to watch out for when fishing a tailwater is stream flow. When dam engineers release water, water levels can suddenly rise, changing the entire riverscape. Fortunately, the fish don’t seem to mind fluctuations in water level. Be sure to contact the proper authorities to find out the release schedule for the tailwater you want to fish for safety’s sake.
II. Stock Up on Terrestrial Flies and Attractors — Ants, Hoppers, Worms, Stimulators, etc.
Insect hatches — mayflies, caddis, midges, etc. — tend to become very infrequent in the summer months. But trout still need to eat, so they simply shift their focus to a more readily available food source — terrestrials.
On your way to the river, stop by your local fly shop and load up on terrestrial patterns. Pick out several varieties and sizes of ants, a bunch of hopper patterns, and don’t forget to throw in the ever-faithful San Juan Worm. If you’re not sure what kind of terrestrials you’ll encounter, bring along a handful of general attractor patterns such as Stimulators or Humpies. If you know the stream will be especially low and clear, keep your fly selections on the smaller side, say, size 18 to 26.
Fishing terrestrial flies can be very productive anytime of the day — and a ton of fun — if you know what kind of stream structure to look for. Cut banks and shorelines with lots of overhanging foliage should be your first target. Brushy trees often hold a smorgasbord of insects that can fall in the water. The trout know this and hang out along the shady banks waiting to sip in every little snack that hits the water — make sure your offering is on the menu.
III. Fish Long Leaders, Light Tippets & Tiny Flies
All of your summertime trout tactics should be based on making stealthy presentations. A trout in low, clear water that’s warmer than usual will be exponentially more skittish than usual. Count on them bolting at the first site of a thick fly line.
To give yourself every advantage, it’s wise to move to a lighter, longer leader. If you normally fish a 9-foot leader, move up to a 12 or 15-footer. The extra length will put more space between your fly line and the fly, reducing the risk of spooking the trout. A longer leader can also help reduce line drag on your fly for a more natural presentation.
If you generally fish 5X tippets, size down to 6X, and be sure to carry extra spools of 7X or even 8X tippet material just in case. A trout’s eyesight is very acute and by using a thinner tippet you minimize the chance of them seeing it in clear water. Nylon monofilament leaders and tippet will work well in most cases, but if you want an extra edge, upgrade to fluorocarbon which is significantly less visible in the water.
While you can’t rely on substantial insect hatches during the summer, you can almost always count on midges being in or on the water in some form — especially if you’re fishing tailwaters. These tiny little critters can be imitated with a wide range of nymphs like the Zebra Midge, emergers such as CDC Transitional Midge, or dry flies like the all-time classic Griffith’s Gnat.
Regardless of the specific fly pattern you’re using, go small in the summer months — size 20 or smaller.
IV. Embrace the Challenge of Summertime Fly Fishing
If you put these tactics to work this summer, your catch rates will go up, even if all the elements are stacked against you. And even if you get skunked, at least you’re getting outside to enjoy that sweet summertime sun.