How to Catch Late Summer Trout

How to Catch Late Summer Trout

Neither trout nor trout anglers are big fans of heat. When water temperatures rise during the summer, trout become sluggish and very hesitant to rise or to react at all to a lure, bait, or fly. So, during the dog days of summer, most trout anglers scratch their fishy itch by chasing trout at night when water temps are cool and the fish are more active.

Some simply have to concentrate their fishing efforts on warm water species like bass or panfish, waiting for the first frosts of autumn to coat the river banks before getting back to the trout game. Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way because if you’re a true trout bum, there are a lot of ways to get on top of and stay on top of late summer trout.

Don’t Release Fish When It’s Too Hot

Now if you’re planning on bringing home a few trout for the frying pan, you can catch trout at any water temperature you like. However, if you’re a catch and release angler there is a limit to how high a water temp you can fish. As a cold water species, trout begin to get stressed when water temperatures reach the mid to upper 60s. These warmer water temps have low amounts of dissolved oxygen, which is why trout become so lethargic during the late summer. For the fish, the warm water is like trying to go for a hike at high elevation—sure, you can breathe, but it’s a lot harder to catch your breath and if you work too hard, you may just pass out.

Once water temperatures reach the 70s and higher, trout begin to slowly suffocate and any undo-stress, such as being hooked by an angler, can and will kill them. There’s nothing sadder than trying to revive a trout in such warm temperatures and watching it struggle and eventually die right in your hands. So, if you’re fishing for trout in warm temperatures, it’s almost better to dispatch the fish quickly and bring them home with you for the smoker or the fryer.

Go High

One of your best options for late-summer trout fishing is fishing at high elevations. Whether you’re talking about a small, clear mountain stream or a section of a large river descending from the mountains, high-elevation spots tend to hold a lot of trout and are usually much cooler than rivers at lower elevations. This is due to adiabatic heating, a phenomenon that occurs when air moves from a low elevation to a high elevation. As it comes up a mountain, air expands because it is under less pressure from the air above it and as the air expands, the temperature drops. Since water temperatures are usually raised by warm air temperatures, high mountain streams generally remain colder than rivers at lower elevations.

Many high-elevation fishing spots will actually have more trout in them than rivers at low elevations as fish will often follow the cooler water upstream. In large rivers, trout push up as high as they can go and many will even swim up small estuaries to escape the warmer water. This can offer you an opportunity to find some stacked up late-summer trout, and you can really get into them so long as you know where and how to fish for them.

Go Deep

Deep holes are always a good bet when hunting late-summer trout. The deeper, darker, slow-flowing water allows fish to hold close to bottom where the water is cooler and where they have a higher amount of oxygen. This is especially true in any deep, slow holes just downstream of rapids or waterfalls where the water is churned up and highly oxygenated.

Fish deep holes in the same manner you’d fish for trout in winter—go low and go slow. You’ve got to remember that late-summer trout are going to be sluggish no matter what the water temp is, so doing things like stripping streamers or ripping spoons through the hole at 100 mph isn’t going to produce a lot of strikes. Instead, try drifting bait like worms, minnows, or even small crayfish through the guts of the pool, either under a bobber or by bouncing them lightly along the bottom. Measure the depth before you drift the hole to ensure that your baits are only a couple inches above the bottom. Add a couple of small split shot to the rig about 4 to 6 inches above the bait so that it will be drifting right off that sluggish trout’s nose.

Fly anglers can have luck in deep holes on small dry flies, especially with terrestrials like ants, by drifting the flies right through the center of the pool or along the edges where trout will stage and wait for food to drift overhead. However, your best bet for success in deep holes is by nymphing under an indicator. Attach your strike indicator half-again as deep as the water you are fishing. So, if the hole is an estimated 6 feet deep, set your indicator at 9 feet above your furthest fly. If you’re fishing 8 feet, set your indicator at 12 feet etc. Rigging this way allows you to adjust your indicator up and down as needed if you’re getting snagged too often or aren’t getting your nymphs down to the fish.

As far as flies go, it’s best to use a pair of nymphs that are of two different sizes. A large pheasant tail or San Juan worm, paired with a small midge or hares ear as a dropper should cover the entire spectrum of a summer trout’s diet.

Fish in Fast Water

The key to trout fishing in late summer is finding highly oxygenated water and that often means fishing in the fast stuff. Rapids, waterfalls, and quick-moving riffles, all have a lot of air in and around them as the moving water mixes oxygen into the water. These become prime places for big, heavy-breathing trout to lie in wait for passing food. Fast water can be intimidating for a lot of trout anglers but with the right techniques, fishing in rapids and other white water can be some of your best late-summer producers.

It’s important to remember that trout in fast water only have a limited time to strike. They don’t want to be out dealing with the chaotic currents any more than you do. Generally, the fish will hold along the slow-flowing edges of the water or in pockets of soft water behind rocks and logs where they can dash out to grab food that is rocketing by in the current, before returning to their lies. Accordingly, catching trout in fast water is all about getting your baits down fast so that they pass right by all the sweet spots. To do this well, you’ve got to use baits that make an impression.

Those tiny finesse baits and flies you use when fishing for trout in lazy pools and spring creeks should be left at home because you want to fish fast water with meat. Large baits like minnows and night crawlers cast into the fast water and drifted by possible holding spots are a great way to hook into a ton of fast-water trout. Rig the line with a simple bait hook and a couple of small split shot 4 to 6 inches above the hook to help get them into the strike zone. Cast the baits into the turbulent water upstream of likely holding spots and drift them on a tight line down past your targeted areas.

Lure and fly anglers can also do well in fast water by using brightly colored and or extremely flashy lures and streamers that simply give the impression of food rather than looking exactly like a prey item. For lure anglers, small to medium-sized jerk baits and spinners cast upstream into the fast water and retrieved downstream can draw a lot of strikes. Fly anglers using gaudy streamers like the Double Deceiver and the Sex Dungeon can have success much the same way. Additionally, anglers can use smaller lures and flies like the Phoebe and the Black Nose Dace when fish aren’t taking the flashy stuff.

If the fish are feeling especially sluggish, you can also dead drift soft plastic lures like a Snacky Swimmer or a Lightening Shad under a bobber so that the lures look like a stunned or dead baitfish drifting in the current. Fly anglers can do the same under a strike indicator with a weighted Wooly Bugger or Clouser Minnow or even a large stonefly pattern like the Girdle Bug or Atomic Stonefly.

It’s important to remember though that you’ve got to go right to the heart of the matter when fishing fast water this way. Don’t just drop your lures and flies around the fringes of the fast waters but cast directly into the center of the turbulent water at angles that will allow the lures and flies to drift along or directly into the soft edges. This will make the presentation look more natural and will trigger more strikes than dropping your bait right into the softer water where it may spook the trout.

Fish at Sunrise and Sunset

One of the other tricks to getting on top of late-summer trout is fishing during periods of low light. Light penetration raises water temperatures which often causes trout to become inactive. When this happens, fish will often feed voraciously during the last hours of sunset and the first hour after sunrise. Fishing at these times can be your best bet to land some trout, especially after those long, hot summer days when the fish have been holding undercover all day.

Lure anglers can have a lot of luck using fast baits that push a lot of water. Small spinners like the Roostertail and jerkbaits like the Crystal Minnow are great options during these times. These lures attract a lot of attention and offer great opportunities for aggressive trout that haven’t eaten all day or the ones that are looking for a final meal before the heat of the day drives them into cover. Fish your lures in shallow flats or along the edges of the deeper, slower pools where the fish spend their day. If you’re looking for a more thrilling experience, you can also try using small panfish poppers or even a mini-buzzbait to try and get some topwater action.

Fly anglers have a few more options when it comes to low-light fishing. Large streamers that move a lot of water, like the Drunk and Disorderly, will get you into a few bigger fish but if you’re looking for numbers, it’s hard to go wrong with dry fly fishing. Drifting large attractor patterns like Stimulators and the White or Royal Wulff are great options for both early rising and night owl trout as the flies imitate a number of different insects, from large mayflies to simple targets of opportunity. Ambitious fly anglers can also have a lot of luck with mouse patterns during this time. Stripping or swinging mice through slow pools or on stillwater lakes or ponds can produce some truly fantastic topwater strikes during low-light situations.

Get Trouty

Trout create their own special breed of anglers. The elusive nature of the fish, along with their picky eating habits, make them a challenge that inspires dedication. True trout anglers pursue the fish in the winter, spring, and fall, enduring the roughest of conditions, never letting the weather or the time of year stop them from catching the fish they love. So, during the late summer when temperatures are warm and sunny, don’t put your trout stuff away. Instead, go out and face the challenges of late-summer trout fishing and enjoy the good times and the good weather while they last.

Feature image via Tosh Brown.

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