Summer is here and that means eager anglers are hitting the water. After the cold days of winter and high waters of spring, the golden months have arrived. Insects are hatching, fish are feeding, and the weather is great.
While summer is most people’s favorite season to fish, it does require changing up your techniques from previous seasons. Before you hit the water in the summer sun, make sure you brush up on your summer fly fishing techniques!
1. Avoid the heat of the day
There’s more than one reason it’s a good idea to avoid the hottest parts of the day.
First of all, the fishing will probably be a little slower than in the morning and evening. In the morning, temperatures are cool, fish are active, and insects will start emerging. In the evening, big hatches can happen. Clouds of caddises can be seen in the evenings of hot summer days, and mayfly spinner falls will be causing fish to go nuts.
While there are definitely still insects that’ll come off in the middle of the day, the early afternoon when temperatures are highest will probably be a little slower fishing than early or late. Fish will often take a little siesta and hold off if it’s really hot, and although you may still catch some, evenings and mornings will produce better results.
In addition to the actual fishing, the wellbeing of the fish is also an issue in summer. Once water temperatures get too warm, fish start to struggle. They get less oxygen and need to take it easy until the water cools down. If you catch a fish in warm water, there’s a decent chance it won’t make it after being released, especially if it took a while to land.
Fishing late in the evenings once the water has cooled a little is better, and the best option is to fish in the morning after a long, cool night. These fish have a much better chance of surviving than those caught in the summer heat.
2. Progress the life cycle of your fly
While there are hatches that happen year-round, winter and spring are generally subsurface seasons. Throwing nymphs, and maybe the occasional dry if you see rises, is the standard practice.
Summer, on the other hand, brings bountiful hatches. That doesn’t just mean switching straight over to dries, though. Mornings are usually still nymphing hours, as the bugs take a little warming up before becoming airborne.
The key to cashing in on this is to progress the life cycle of your fly as the day goes on. Early in the morning, when it’s still chilly, nymphs are probably the way to go. As late morning comes along and you see fish sipping near, but not on, the surface, it’s time to switch to an emerger. These bugs are moving upward through the water column as it warms up.
In the afternoon and evening, many insects will start to actually come off the water. This is when you’ll want to switch to a true dry fly, mimicking insects sitting on the surface. In the late evening, dry flies are still on the menu in the form of spinners. These imitate insects that are falling back to the water at the end of the day.
Organizing your fly box to match this progression will make things easy and keep you dialed in as the day progresses.
3. Be careful of your shadow
One of the best parts of summer, the sun, can also be your enemy while fishing. Not only is it harsh and hot on the fish, but it also casts your shadow. This is a dead giveaway of your presence if the fish spot it.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t fish when the sun is out. That’d ruin a lot of summer days.
Instead, it just means you need to be cognizant of your shadow and aim it appropriately. In the morning and evening, the sun is low and shadows are long. At high noon, you may not have much of a shadow at all.
Simply keeping an eye on your shadow and making sure you aren’t casting it over the fish you’re targeting can be a game changer in the summer.
One of the most famous, and most fun, parts of summer fly fishing is terrestrials. Although Tom Rosenbauer argues that terrestrials are actually on the menu during other months as well, there’s no denying that the summer is when they’re at their peak.
Beetles, ants, and grasshoppers are some of the most popular, and they come in a wide variety of sizes and colors.
In addition to being deadly during the hottest times, like August, terrestrials are a blast to fish. Something about a hopper makes even the smallest fish bold, and getting to see the aggressive strikes on the surface is well worth forgoing the traditional delicate dry flies that crush it early in the summer.
If you consider a mouse a terrestrial (it is from land, after all), you can try throwing that as well during the summer. In meadow streams at night, big browns are lurking for a meaty meal.
5. Wet wade
Possibly my favorite thing about warm weather fishing is being able to ditch the waders. Chest waders have become almost a uniform for fly fishing. So much so, that people still wear them when they have no reason to.
Don’t get me wrong, waders are an extremely useful tool much of the time. However, 80-degree summer days aren’t that time.
While wet wading isn’t necessarily a tip to get you to catch more fish, I do think it’s a good choice when possible. First of all, there’s no denying that there’s just something deeper to fishing when you can be directly connected to the water and the ground. Any time I can, I’d rather be directly in the river I’m fishing.
In terms of practical aspects, though, there’s still an argument for wet wading. It’s often easier to wade when you don’t have extra material weighing you down and enlarging your profile underwater. This means you’re probably less likely to fall. And, if you do fall, there’s another benefit: no flooded waders. Flooded waders are never fun, regardless of the water temperature. You can avoid the problem altogether by just avoiding waders in the first place.
6. Be conscientious of fish handling
If you’re fishing to take a limit home, handling fish with care in the net isn’t of super high importance.
On the other hand, if you’re practicing catch-and-release (or catch a non-legal fish), you’ll want to make sure the fish has the best chance at survival upon being released. This means handling fish with care.
Treating fish well should be a staple of any fishing trip, regardless of season. In the summer, though, the stakes are much higher. As air and water temperatures increase, fish have a harder time recovering. This was also an argument for avoiding the heat of midday.
Apart from fishing during the morning and evening, proper handling is vital to the survival of released fish. This includes getting the fish in as quickly as possible, keeping it in the water or at least dripping wet, removing the hook quickly, and allowing it to recover in calm but moving water until it’s strong enough to swim off on its own.
7. Hit less-pressured areas
The beautiful summer weather brings anglers out in flocks to fish popular spots. While in the winter some spots, like spring creeks or tailwaters, might be the only places available to fish, in the summer there are way more options.
This means if you want the best chance at actually catching, you should try to head off the beaten path and get away from the crowds.
This could take quite a bit of effort, especially if you live in a heavily-populated area. But, once you put in the work getting away from people, the rewards are almost always worth it. Particularly if you head into the backcountry, the views and solitude alone will be worth it, and the fishing likely won’t be much worse.
8. Hit the faster water
In the heart of winter, targeting fish in deep, slow runs is the way to go. They’re lethargic, and unable to compete with fast currents.
In the summer, the opposite is true. The super slow, deep pools are probably warmer and less oxygen-rich than the fish prefer, and they’ll also have the energy needed to sit in faster water picking off prey.
This doesn’t mean you can only fish the fastest runs you see, but definitely give some time to the water you wouldn’t have looked twice at only a few months before. Shallow riffles, tail-outs, and seams can all be great places to scoop out a fish in the heat.