As July ends we are experiencing fishing water conditions that would normally exist at the end of August. One key indicator of this fact is that brown trout are becoming more evident in their traditional spawning waters, indicating they are scouting the water to determine where they will prepare their spawning beds this fall. I have tracked this event, which usually occurs in mid-to-late August, for over 15 years on an excellent spawning stream feed by the Green River. The hot, dry weather that persisted the past few months has forced some ranchers to harvest the hay earlier this year to try and salvage as much of the nutrients as possible in the crop. Haying season is usually accompanied by a mild monsoon weather pattern that produces afternoon showers that cool the streams and improve late-summer fishing opportunities. Even though we have recently had good rain showers, I am afraid we are going to be stuck with skinny water and warmer-than-average surface temperatures for the rest of the season. How will this impact fishing? The fact that we are currently facing late August conditions means we will have to adjust our fishing techniques to cope with low, clear water, high water temperatures and wary fish.
Even under the best conditions fly fishing in our local streams is a challenge this time of year. The fish, for the most part, will be concentrated in deeper pools and runs or under good cover, such as cut banks, under water structure or overhanging bushes. Although these are good places to hunt for the trout do not overlook riffles at the head or the bottom of these prime holding areas. There are occasions when the fish will move to these riffles to feed, so make a search cast to these locations when fishing a target hole. We all have had the experience of walking up to a potential trout-holding hole and seeing a big shadow skitter off the riffle under our feet up into the area where we were going to make our first cast. I tell my students and clients, “Always cover the water with a cast at the head or tail of a good suspected fish holding area.”
There are some other things we should consider with regard to late-summer fishing conditions. The fish are going to be wary and spooky so visibility and disturbances on or in the water are key issues to consider. If you can see the fish, it can see you. If you jump into the water and proceed to crunch gravel on your way to the target or plop your first cast into a quite pool, the game is over. Creating these kinds of disturbances around good fishing areas will put the trout into their security mode or some call it putting them down. Stealth is always the best tactic to use when stalking the wily trout. Stay on the bank where ever possible but if you need to enter the water to get a better casting angle do so cautiously at the greatest distance from the target as possible. You may have to crouch, crawl, use bushes as cover or use a longer cast to decrease your visibility profile. Even though you do your best sneaking up on the fish and deliver your most delicate cast, once the fly and line land on the water the fish still may go into their security mode. This is when you should consider moving discreetly around the target area and perform a down stream drift to the trout.
You must have a good downstream delivery capability in your fly fishing repertoire to get the fly into those difficult fish-holding areas. Keep in mind, in this situation, the fish will hold up current and look right at you so you need to stand back some distance when working to the trout. Take your time and determine where the likely holding areas are located and then figure out how the current can assist you in getting the fly to these zones. Start your delivery preparation by piling a good amount of slack at your feet. Make a slack line cast into the current and immediately start to roll your slack line with your rod tip and line hand in the direction of where you want the fly to go. If you start rolling the slack early you will avoid jerking the fly back upstream as you are rolling slack, which will allow the fly to drift naturally into the feeding zone. Keep in mind you want the fish to see only the fly and leader so do not let the fly line get ahead of the fly. It is a good idea to let the fly drift into the feeding zone only a few feet on the first pass. Drifting the fly through the whole zone on the first try will line the fish and put them down. When the fly finishes its natural drift, bring it back slowly for the first few retrieves. You will be surprised how many takes you will get on the retrieve, particularly when working with a nymph trailer. On the next drift extend the fly into the hole another couple of feet further. Search the feeding zones in this manner until you are sure there are no fish feeding.
With regard to the visibility issue, consider using smaller diameter and longer leaders and tippets. Use hopper and hopper-like surface patterns with high visibility tuffs for down stream drifts so you can keep track of the fly and always put a small nymph behind them. On bright sunlight days the fish may avoid moving up in the water column to feed, so do not hesitate to tie on bugger patterns and drift them downstream into the depths of good holes. Be prepared to get strikes on the retrieve.
The techniques I have discussed above take time to execute so the pace of fish stalking is slow and requires a great deal of patience. You have to possess a modicum of patience to be a good fly fisher and if you can further develop this discipline you will reap great rewards, not only during low water conditions, but throughout all your fly fishing experiences.
REMEMBER THERE IS NO BAD “FISHIN”!!!