For many anglers, the summer heat, or the summer doldrums, often means few hatches and small fish. The prolific springtime hatches have come and gone. The rivers have become creeks, the water is crystal clear, the fish are spooky, and the most accessible runs have been fished over hard. By late summer, trout have seen it all, and running a big bright indicator through the run that produced in the middle of the day in the spring rarely produces. Summer flows might make fishing accessible and fun, but the catching can be downright challenging and technical.
Over the years we have discovered some strategies for approaching freestone rivers in the summer that helps to keep fishing fun, improves our success rates, and doesn’t require that we purchase new, expensive equipment or develop completely new skill sets. Quite the opposite in fact, most of these techniques return our fishing to the simple approach we loved as a kids.
Fish Fast Water
Fish suffering from the higher water temps of summer will seek out cool oxygenated water. This most often means the heads of runs and fast moving riffles and pocket water will produce much better than the heart of the run that offered us so much action in spring. Deep water can also provide thermal relief so nymphing or running streamers through these water types is most often productive when fish are not showing on the surface.
Take a Nap
Taking a nap during the least productive middle part of a long summer day not only adds to your enjoyment but leaves you fresh and rested for early morning starts and allows you to save a few casts until the very last light in the evening, when hatches are best and the fishing turns magical.
Take a Hike
Finding fish that have not been heavily pressured on public water is not as hard as you might imagine if you are willing to walk for them. A half hour walk from access points is good, an hour or more is better. We usually fish our way back to access points in the evening and make our way further from access points in the morning to save the longest part of hikes for the middle of the day. Unpressured fish will be more willing to forgive small errors in presentation and imitation and are a joy to catch particularly on dry flies. Summer is the ideal time to hike to out of the way spots on well known rivers or even better yet search out small creeks and wet wade while you cast small dries to eager trout.
Be Extra Stealthy
Frightened fish do not feed. When the water is low and clear and the fish have seen it all it is critical that we avoid spooking them prior to getting a fly in their feeding zone. Try to avoid wearing bright colors, wade cautiously and fish turbulent, oxygenated or deep water to mask your presence. This is a great time of year to take the indicator off and high stick your nymphs in the whitewater heads of runs, pocket water and deep pools. In less turbulent water try presenting nymphs as droppers off a dry with a “Hopper, Copper, Dropper” rig.
While it can be incredibly satisfying to get trout to grab your big Hopper dry, many more fish in summer are caught with small or tiny flies tied to light tippet. If you prefer to fish a large dry, try adding nymph droppers on 5X and 6X tippet and you can still enjoy a few fish on the “Hopper” while your nymphs do the busy work.
For a more complete treatise on summer strategies, check out our article “Fishing Freestones to Beat the Heat” available on our website and first published in California Fly Fisher Magazine in August of 2006.