Late summer is a confounding time for most fly fishermen who chase trout in lakes and rivers. The water tends to be low, clear and warmer, which doesn’t make for the best fishing or catching conditions. On top of this, the poor fish have be pounded on all summer by us as we flog the water from dawn to dusk with the hope of hooking one more Rainbow or Brown. By this point in the season most of the fish are sulking on the bottom wishing they had sunglasses, air conditioning and some privacy. The average trout has such a case of lock jaw that Mikey is more likely to chomp on your #16 Mahogany Dun than that brooding Brookie you have been casting to for hours.
Fishing can be so frustrating this time of year that many anglers will bang their frustrations out on a little white ball or watch pre-season football. To prevent this tragedy from befalling you we have some hints for you in your time of need. Without further digression here are a few tricks that some of us at Stillwater use to entice sulking fish into eating our flies during the dog days of summer.
Go deep, all the way to the bottom deep. If I am fishing stillwater 14ft and under in depth with a soft, clear bottom I will usually go to a full sinking line or one with an extremely long sink tip. I want my line and fly on the bottom of the lake or stream fast for a couple of reasons. The first is obvious, this is where the trout are glued to the bottom. The second is that insect larvae tend to linger in the depths in their rocky or muddy homes during these times of sun and heat also.
If you are nymphing on a stream or river you probably already have been doubling up the lead and losing your rigs in three casts or less. Fun times. Remember that fluorocarbon tippets and leaders sink well enough that you can get away using less weight most of the time. The added bonus of fluoro is that it has no stretch. This will let you hook more trout when you have half of your Wulff Triangle Taper Nymphing laying on the water for those extra long drifts.
Long And Light
You are probably thinking; “No duh,” right about now after seeing the previous subheading. Fluorocarbon leaders and tippet are a necessity this time of year when you are fishing subsurface.
Lengthening your leaders by a third of what you normally fish and going down one diameter size is a good way to start i.e. go from 10’ to 13’ and 4x to 5x. The difference in light refraction and sink rate between fluoro and monofilament also makes a huge difference. This is evident when using an intermediate line like the Rio InTouch Hover Line because of the shadows cast by both leader and fly line on sunny days. The longer and lighter the leader the thinner the shadows and the less the refraction from the “glowing leader of death”. These will make a huge difference for your success.
A good example of this was when I was fishing chironomid flies recently. There were three of us in the boat using the same bugs, two fishing 5x fluoro and the guy hooking fish 3-to-1 fishing 6x. Just going down one diameter size made a huge difference. It didn’t take too long for us to change out to 6x.
Fishing a dry fly? The same rule for lengthening your leader by a third is true for faster moving water, but for lakes and spring creeks I go up by half and I drop two line diameter sizes. Remember that fluorocarbon will sink your dry fly. But if the fish are uber spooky, a foot of fluoro that will sit just under the surface works exceptionally well if your fly will support it. This little hint has bailed me out a lot with clients who want to catch finicky trout on the surface.
I also prefer to use a long tapered line for super-soft fly presentation. The art of casting the double tapered line has been lost because of the movement towards super fast fly rods. If you learn to cast a mid to slow action rod your dry fly presentations will improve and you are more likely not to break light tippet on your hook set. I am done preaching. I use an old Sage 490-LL with a Scientific Anglers Mastery Double Taper because it works well and I have a weird crush on Mastery lines that goes way back.
Need Your Reading Glasses To Tie On Your Fly
Go small with your fly patterns. This time of year there is a lot of food in and on the water. This fun fact means you have to match the hatch even better than you did early in the season. For instance in lakes, I use #18 Callibaetis Emergers when the ones in the water look to be #14. This works probably because most fly bodies aren’t tied sparsely enough, so the silhouette of a smaller fly is much closer to what is actually in the water.
The same goes for dry flies. Remember that the two most important elements of any fly are silhouette and color. If your dry pattern looks like it has been eating at In-And-Out regularly it probably won’t work very well. Think skinny and small and you will catch more trout for sure.
Shade, Clouds and Chop
Find it. Bask in it. Hope for random clouds.
Pray for overcast. We all know this because it helps dramatically. I have waited for an hour for one lone, tiny cloud to pass in front of the sun before casting to a fish.
Your line and leader shadows disappear. There is no glow from your leader. The fish feel safer from overhead predators. They aren’t slowly cooking to death in the sun’s rays. The fish aren’t burning their retinas when they look up. There is a plethora of other negative factors caused by the sun that I haven’t even named that are subtracted from your fishing equation when there is shade or overcast.
Every fly fisherman I know hates the wind. However, a slight breeze can be your best friend on a lake. A little bit of chop on the water breaks up the light patterns cast by your line and leader. Fish also tend to be less picky about sampling the fly you are using because the movement disguises its inadequacies quite well. Hate the wind but pray for a breeze.
Think out of the box when trying to find shade. A suspended log, the edge of a bunch of cattails, the side of a big rock away from the sun or even under your boat. A tiny sliver of it will definitely help you out.
Sounds sexy huh? It isn’t and it takes patience. The fish are moving slower and so should your flies. Cut your stripping speed in half to start and see what happens. There is one lake that we fish that we will strip so slowly that it takes more than 5 minutes for the retrieval of one cast. But it works. Fish in warm water like slow, easy retrieves because they expend less energy to find and eat your fly.
We all know this. August reinforces the riffle rule. Fish love them and so should you. Fish love to breathe as much as we do and in a riffle all the white bubbles are O2. Food and air are delivered rapidly to fish under the safety of the broken cover of the riffle. Fish them first and often!
These are just a few of the things we do or look for when it is hot and bright out. Most of what I have written is common sense and not really a secret. But it is good to remember these things when you are throwing your flies around in August.
About the Author-Sean Johnson