Trout fishing in the summer months can be a hit or miss affair, at times the trout will eat anything that appeals to them, sometimes chasing it across the stream to intercept it. Other times they will refuse everything you throw at them, only to take some miniscule morsel off the surface right next to your fly.
Even though trout stocking ended in May there are still quite a few trout in the rivers and many opportunities for the angler in search of wild and holdover trout. Headwaters of larger rivers, small brook trout streams, remote sections of streams, and tail waters below dams are all good places to find trout in the summer months. They may be spooky and difficult to approach but trout fishing through the summer is a nice way to beat the heat on a cool mountain stream.
As summer warms the water, the trout's metabolism goes into high gear and they must eat often to keep their energy up, the problem is that as the water temperature increases the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water decreases making it difficult for the fish to breath. The ideal water temperature for trout fishing is somewhere in the low to mid sixties, the fish's metabolism makes it an eating machine and there is enough oxygen in the water to sustain such high activity.
However, when the temperature reaches the mid to upper seventies, there is not enough oxygen in the water to support the higher metabolism and the fish will perish. The key to locating trout in our rivers and streams in the summer is finding cool, well-oxygenated water. Fortunately, many streams that hold trout also have many features that help cool the water and create enough turbulence to provide oxygen for the trout.
Pools are obvious places to find trout in the summer, the depth provides cool water and protection from predators but not a lot of food and most trout I encounter in pools in the summer are tough to catch. They tend to be just relaxing on the bottom, occasionally they will take a lure or fly but the low clear water common in the summer gives them plenty of time to inspect your offering and if they don't like it they will just let it pass.
Feeder creeks and streams are another great place to find trout in the summer, they provide cool water and usually there is a pocket or small pool where the creek enters the main river. Even if there is not much of a flow from the creek, there may be a few native brook trout around the mouth of such streams escaping the danger of low water in their home water. These are excellent places to fish after a rain when cool water and food wash into the main stream.
One of my favorite places to fish in the summer is swift boulder strewn runs and riffles, the turbulent water provides oxygen and the rocky environment contains plenty of insects providing plenty of food as well. Pockets, eddies, and small depressions in the streambed hold fish and right at the base of these turbulent runs where the water dumps into a pool can be the best and an excellent place for trout.
There is a good level of oxygen from the turbid water and they get first shot at any prey dislodged in the swift water above and washed into the pool, often the largest fish choose this spot for that reason.
My overall favorite place to find trout in summer is just downstream of underwater springs, not very easy to find but many local streams contain numerous springs. These spots can be magnets for trout in summer, most of the ones I have found have been while wet wading and entering a part of the stream that is noticeably colder than the surrounding water and I almost always catch a fish or two there.
One such place I found on the Elk River one day has a strong spring entering right in the middle of the river. I found it after a fruitless day of fishing when I thought I would try a small hole on my way back to the truck and first cast brought out a nice brown trout, then a brook and then two small rainbows. I looked at the small piece of stream and wondered why there were so many trout in such a small area. I was looking at the stream and noticed something odd in the calm water of the pool, there was a slight bulge barely visible rippling the surface of the low water. Upon further investigation, I found a nice flow of water 10-15 degrees cooler seeping out of the rocks right where I had caught those fish. That was many years ago and I have caught many fish there in both summer and winter since.
Morning is probably the best time to be on the water in the summer after the water has cooled through the night when trout will be feeding on any insects that expired or fell into the water during the night and trapped in the current. Small patterns usually work best in the summer; most aquatic insects available to the trout are in the 16-24 hook range and include a couple species of mayflies and caddis flies as well as midges, and a small parachute Adams works well when the trout are feeding on these small flies.
Terrestrial insects such as ants, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets and others also find there way onto the water and quite often into the belly of a hungry trout. Grasshoppers and crickets are some of the best flies in the summer since they tend to be large, float well in swift water, and will bring some very big fish to the surface for a meal.
I remember fishing in August one year with small ant and beetle imitations casting along an undercut bank in a meadow stretch near the headwaters of a creek. I was sure there was a fish in there but it would not take the small terrestrials and nymphs I tried, so I tied on a large grasshopper pattern. I cast it hard letting it hit the water as a real hopper would, as soon as that fly hit the water a huge fish exploded on it and I hooked into a beautifully colored wild 21-inch brown trout.
It fought hard in the low water jumping and bulldogging for the cut bank but I managed to turn it and quickly landed it, revived it in the riffles at the bottom of the hole, and watched as he disappeared back into the shadows along that cut bank.
It was the only fish I caught, but it was worth it; the lush vegetation and colorful wildflowers provided a beautiful setting as the sun dropped behind the mountains and I watched several spotted fawns playing in the meadow while their mothers fed as I headed for home.