When it comes to summertime trout-fishing tactics, I’m usually preaching stealth and finesse. Under typical summer water conditions, successful trout anglers are those who can cope with low water and ultra-spooky fish by carefully sneaking into casting range while keeping a low profile and then making deliberate, precise casts with as little disturbance as possible.
And even then, those best efforts can go unrewarded. It’s often a game for those who love the tactical side of trout fishing and have the skill to do it with a great measure of finesse. But this summer, and most certainly last summer, have been anything but typical.
The incredible rains of last summer rendered most streams virtually unfishable, sometimes even flood stage, for most of July and August. That infusion of water has kept most waterways at above-normal levels well into this year, and any significant rainfall continues to keep plenty of water in our trout streams this summer, so while water conditions this summer have been somewhat better than those we endured last year, trout fishing will be a decidedly different game.
When it comes to summertime trout strategy, water temperature is always a key concern, and that prevails even with higher than normal flows. Many stocked streams that provided wonderful sport during April and May can become marginal or simply too warm to support trout during the summer.
Get a stream thermometer and use it. If you are encountering sustained water temperatures in the mid-70s or higher, think about fishing elsewhere. Limestone streams that are fed by underground springs and freestone streams that flow through heavily forested areas are the types of waterways that generally remain cool enough to support trout year-round.
During a “typical” summer, I would be suggesting dry-fly fishing with imitations of so-called terrestrial insects — ants, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers and other such bugs — as the preferred method to catch trout.
That’s because aquatic insect activity on most streams has diminished, and plenty of land-based insects find their way into the water throughout the summer. The trout, of course, are more than willing to take advantage of this seasonal food source, and it is still a valid strategy when the water conditions are low and clear enough to warrant it.
Another good tactic in high but clearer flows is to try fishing dry flies in deep riffles and pocket water. Trout often prefer such spots in the summer, and the broken surface area can make them slightly less spooky. Use a large, bushy dry fly that floats well and is easy to see, like a Humpy, Elk-Hair Caddis or a Stimulator. You’ll be amazed at how many trout you can rise doing so.
When faced with higher or off-colored water, going subsurface with nymphs and wet flies can be tremendously productive. In my personal experience this summer, dry-fly fishing has been spotty at best, but nymphs and wet flies have been quite effective.
No need to get fancy about it this time of year. Use standard buggy patterns like Pheasant Tails and Hare’s Ears with enough weight to get them down and present your flies to good holding lies, especially boulder-studded pocket water.
Walt Young is an outdoors writer for the Altoona Mirror.