By Michael D. Faw
When temperatures rise, state fish departments take quick action to protect trout. If you're planning a fishing trip to a western watershed during the heat of the summer, come with a backup plan.
There are several ways to beat the heat when pursuing summer trout. Try heading upstream to higher altitudes and you'll find cooler waters. Fish during the early morning hours while avoiding the midday. If you're flexible with your plans, you could try heading to another watershed. Yes, you can still fly fish in many areas on hot summer days. The fish are there, and they've adapted. So must you.
Moving On Up
When temperatures rise, state fish departments take quick action to protect the trout, an important economic asset for many leading vacation destinations in the West. In addition to requiring the release of chilling, deep-bottom lake water to cool river temperatures, states also restrict angler actions that could cause undue stress on trout. Stream closures have become a given in recent years, and Montana -- one of the nation's most popular fly fishing destinations -- seems to lead the way in restricting or stopping angler action when temperatures soar.
Montana and other popular fishing destination states have often closed major, well-known rivers during the hot summer days -- and at the peak of the vacationing angler period. Outfitters, guides and fishing clients made plans months ago, but now the rules have changed. And while widely recognized rivers like the Firehole, Madison, Gallatin, Yellowstone, Big Hole and others were closed to anglers this summer, many other waters were open at higher altitudes. Among them were the headwaters in Yellowstone Park and on the Gallatin River.
Higher elevations mean smaller streams and cooler water temperatures. Mountain springs near headwaters usually equate to ideal conditions for trout.
As a general rule, higher elevations mean smaller streams and cooler water temperatures. Exposure to warm air and sunlight heats water, and high water temperatures stress trout. Mountain springs near the headwaters seep or pour forth very cold water, which means ideal conditions for fish. The ideal trout temperatures are from 50 to 65-degrees Fahrenheit. Anything much warmer -- and for extended periods -- often means floating fish that will never bite again or sluggish, barely-surviving fish that will not bite anything anytime soon. And if your pocket thermometer indicates the water has reached 70F, do everyone a favor and leave the fish alone.
Water temperatures, however, also play an important role in helping you discover where trout might be lurking. If temperatures become too warm, fish migrate or head to the bottom of the deepest pools. Take the temperature reading in several areas to get an understanding of the BIG picture.
Go Early, Go Late
For the rivers that are open during summer months, some have restrictions on available angling hours. For example, allowing angling from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. seems to be the norm. (Ok, so you wanted to sleep in late on your vacation. You also wanted to catch trout, didn't you?) Rise early and fish furiously.
The break of dawn is also the feeding hour for many trout on summer days. Spent Tricos falling back to the water surface cause fish in much of North America to start feeding. Blue-wing olives can also be spotted with other mayflies on a local basis.
Lower temperatures, as well as shade or subdued lighting, can also mean that big browns are still on the prowl -- and catchable. Bright, overhead sunlight can make trout easier noticed by predators like ospreys and eagles, so the fish head into cover. Go to the waters early, and walk about 30 minutes along the river to scout for food sources and feeding fish before you start casting.
Remember also that after the morning's chill is chased and replaced by rapidly warming air, grasshoppers become active. One thing that can make any hot summer day in the West more bearable is the hopper season -- or what the local's call "hoppertunity." When clouds of hoppers flutter up from the grasses along a body of water, skip lunch and start fishing. You have limited time and lots of water to cover after tying on a hopper pattern.
Consider wet wading and let the cool water work for you. Don shorts and your regular wading boots worn over thick socks.
Dress for the Temps
In addition to searching for colder water to find active trout, you owe it to yourself to stay cool. Remember the well-known angler tenet: the more comfortable you are, the longer you're likely to be active and casting.
Another important rule in the West is to stay well hydrated. Start this by consciously increasing your water consumption as you begin the day. A cooler with ice and bottled water or sports drinks can be the best solution. Alcohol or coffee can work against your hydration efforts.
For personal comfort, apply sunblocker to exposed skin and lips. Nothing is quite as painful as sunburned lips. Also, cover your head with a hat that has a complete brim. It'll keep the scorching sun off your neck and ears as well as out of your eyes.
In your efforts to remain cool, consider wet wading. Don short pants and your regular wading boots worn over thick socks. Let the cooler water work for you. And if you absolutely must have something between you and the water, wear lightweight, breathable waders.
Another fashion tactic to help your body release or repel heat is to wear a mesh fly vest. Even better would be donning a chest pack. Bass Pro carries various models them from Simms, White River and other manufacturers.
Under your chest pack or vest, wear a very breathable shirt, possibly with a vented back. I like the new Flats Guide long-sleeve shirt offered by Under Armour. It kept me cool on 90-degree days in the Madison Valley.
Remember; the trout exist, but the rules have changed when summer temperatures soar. You must adapt if you want to hook and land a trout. Good luck!