Finding Summer Trout
By: Don MacLean
“The black rock juts on the hidden pool, and the waters are dim and deep, oh lightly tread, tis a
royal bed, and a king lies there asleep.”
When Albert Bigelow Paine penned these words in his classic 1908 tale of trout fishing in Nova Scotia, The Tent Dwellers, he obviously knew trout and trout fishing. While the Tent Dwellers was published 110 years ago this year, his advice is still sound. Paine knew that trout have certain areas they like, and behind big rocks in streams is one of their favourites.
Trout fishing in the summertime can often be challenging for the angler. Warm air and water temperatures combined with low water conditions can often make for tough fishing. An understanding of where trout are likely to be found in these conditions can help increase your angling success. Generally speaking, trout have two criteria when they pick an area to lie in – food and safety. Some lies will provide one or the other and, in a few fortunate situations, some will provide both.
Areas which provide shelter and protection from predators are important to trout. These areas are popular with anglers because they almost always hold a trout or two. Undercut banks are one of the best sheltering lies for trout. The bank protects them from attack overhead and they can save energy by staying out of the main flow in the channel. In high water conditions trout will often hold in backwaters and side channels or under banks to get out of the main flow of the river.
Flies, bait or lures which resemble food items will often entice a strike when drifted into these areas. Dead trees and snags along the sides of streams offer trout excellent protection and are also popular lies. Water rushing over and around large rocks in streams will often scour out a pool behind them and offers trout some quiet water to lie in. Don’t forget to fish in front of large rocks as well. Running water will often dig out a holding area in front of large rocks which will hold fish.
Areas that provide feed for trout are often located in areas that funnel food, such as drifting insects, into a small area where trout can easily feed on them. These areas include the tail of pools, the side water of channels and so on. Here the fish can lie in calm water and wait for food to come to them. One of the most common examples of this type of lie is where foam gathers in the eddy of a stream. Trout will often lie under the foam picking away at insects trapped in it.
The foam serves two purposes; not only does it concentrate insects, but it also provides fish protection from winged predators such as ospreys and kingfishers.
Albert Bigelow Paine wrote that trout could be found where “the waters are dim and deep,” and he was right. Trout generally avoid shallow water, especially if it is clear. They need protection from predators such as birds.
During the summer, trout in lakes will often be found in areas where they can find food and cool temperatures. Generally speaking, in my experience food will be concentrated in two areas of lakes – where brooks flow into lakes and in the transition area between deep and shallow water near shore.
Fishing the mouths of brooks running into lakes is always a safe bet, especially during low light periods in the morning and evening. Small fish such as minnows will gather to eat any insects
washed into the lake and, in turn, these will attract trout.
If the lake you fish has a spring on the shoreline feeding colder water into it, this will often attract trout to both feed and take advantage of cooler water. Lakes naturally tend to separate into layers during the summer with warm water on the surface and cooler water at deeper depths. The line separating these two layers is known as the thermocline and knowledge of where this occurs in the lakes you fish can be critical to angling success. Fishing you flies, lures or bait in the cooler water can improve angling success.
In my experience, summer trout fishing requires more finesse than earlier in the season when trout are hungry after the winter. Finer gear and more care on your approach are the order of the day.
“Fine and far off” is the term often used for fishing long cast using small flies and light tippets. The same thinking applies to fishing bait and lures. Using finer line and smaller lures can often be the ticket to success. Trout are very opportunistic feeders and will usually take advantage of whichever food item is available to them. During the warmer months of the summer, many of the more popular insect hatches have slowed down for the season, but there is another group of insects now on the trout’s menu. Summer is when terrestrial insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, ants and beetles begin to make up a big part of the trout diet.
While it may seem unusual that these land-based insects should play such an important role in streams and lakes, the fact is that these insects enter the water by the thousands every day. They arrive in a variety of ways that range from falling, jumping, flying, washed in by rain or blown in by gusts of wind. Once in the water they are held captive in the surface and few escape. Their struggles attract hungry trout which soon key in on this land-based bonanza. By imitating our more common land-based insects, you are guaranteed to have some exciting fishing. As a bonus, unlike mayfly and caddis hatches which only occur at certain times, most terrestrial insects are most active during the hottest part of the day.
While there are thousands of different species of terrestrial insects, anglers only have to worry about matching a few. In eastern Canada, the main ones are ants, grasshoppers and crickets, beetles, inchworms, wasps, bees and spiders.
If you are putting together a basic selection of flies to match the land-based insects you will encounter, then your first choice, in my opinion, should be some ants. They are one of the most numerous and widespread summer insects and are found in a wide variety of habitats. Ants have been a particular favourite of mine since the summer evening I was fishing a small lake when a hatch of flying ants came on the water. The sight of big brown trout rising for any ant luckless enough to land in the water remains vivid in my memory. Of course, I didn’t have any ant patterns in my fly box that evening, but I make sure I have a good selection now.
Most of my ant flies are some shade of black or brown and any ant pattern from #10-14 will cover most situations. Fur ants tied with a two clumps of fur dubbed on fore and aft with a hackle wrapped in the middle for legs makes for a simple pattern. To make a flying ant imitation, just add two grizzly hackle points or some poly yarn as a wing.
Grasshoppers and crickets are a big meal for a trout and any stream running through meadows or hay field is bound to have a good population of both these insects. Many grasshoppers land in the water, especially on windy days when they are blown off their perch into the water below. Trout waiting under the bank will line up for this buffet.
One of the most effective ways to fish an artificial is to cast onto the grass on the bank and pull it into the water much like the natural. Crickets are found in the same habitats as grasshoppers and make up an important part of the summer diet of trout. If I hear crickets singing when I am heading to the water, I’ll tie on a cricket imitation. Since grasshoppers and crickets are big chunky insects, a selection of flies in sizes 6, 8 and 10 should do the trick.
Beetles are the most common insect in the world and they are among the easiest to imitate. They are found in both aquatic and land-based forms, so trout are very familiar with eating them. One simple imitation, which is also effective, is the deer hair beetle. Simple to tie, it consists of a peacock herl body covered with a clump of black deer hair that is pulled forward and tied off. Beetles are best fished where trees or shrubs overhang the water. Since beetles are fairly chunky, let them land with a splat.
While terrestrial insects are often found in fields and more open areas, they may also be found in the deep woods. This is especially true for inchworms – bright green worms you see dangling off tree branches and bushes. They often fall and end up in the water below. A simple pattern of lime green chenille wrapped on a size 12-16 hook will imitate this insect.
While wasps and bees are not often thought of as trout feed, they occasionally fly or fall in streams. A bumblebee makes a tasty morsel for a trout and they soon pounce on them.
One pattern that does a great job of imitating these groups of insects is the time-honoured McGinty trout fly. I can remember as a young boy buying packages of cheap snelled flies and every package contained a McGinty trout fly. I make a simple bug with alternating bands of black and yellow deer hair that does a fair job of imitating most bees and wasps I encounter.
Delivery of the fly depends both on patterns and location. Many of the land-based insects you will encounter, such as grasshoppers and crickets or bees and beetles, are fairly large insects which make a disturbance when they end up in the water. They are not good swimmers and will struggle on the surface for a short period of time before sinking. To imitate this behaviour, I often pair up a floating fly to imitate the insect when it first enters the water, with a wet fly or nymph pattern to imitate the sunken insect. I use a short piece of leader to tie the dropper fly to the bend of the floater. The floating fly serves double duty as a great strike indicator as I present the fly.
So, while summer conditions may often prove challenging to trout anglers, a basic knowledge of where to find trout and what they may be feeding on can certainly improve your success on the water.