Chasing Summer Trout
As I set foot from my car onto the gravel road I had driven in, the humid air hit me like a tidal wave. It was barely 8:00am on an early July morning and the temperatures had already begun to creep above 80 degrees. The shade of the thick forest that surrounded me provided a much needed protective barrier from the bright sun, but still, it wasn't minutes before a bead of sweat started rolling down my forehead. I lifted my shirt and wiped it away.
As another drop of sweat began to work its way down my face, I opened my bag and reached deep into its depths. Finally, I felt what I was looking for and fished out the stream thermometer I carry with me, but rarely use. It would be absolutely critical today, so I placed it in my front pocket.
Typically, hot summer days are a good time to store away the trout fly box and turn your attention to warm-water species like bass, panfish, and carp. However, thanks to recent rains, most of the warm-water rivers and streams were too high to safely fish. Knowing I didn't want to miss my opportunity for a free day to fish, I picked a trout stream that I know runs cold most of the year and hit the road.
My worries were growing, however, as I peered over a few rocks and fallen trees to get my first look at the stream. It was low - very low. I quickly climbed over two trees and slid down a moss covered boulder, which delivered me to the stream's edge. I uncovered my stream thermometer - which currently read 82 degrees - and dipped it into the shallow stream below. Much to my surprise - and my delight - the thermometer's dial instantly began plummeting, settling out at 63 degrees. I was in the clear.
Water temperature is the biggest factor influencing summer trout fishing. Not only are fish less active in higher water temperatures, but hooking and fighting a trout in warm waters is often a death sentence for the fish (even if it is properly released). Even worse, the combination of low water levels and high water temperatures is certainly a no-no for catch and release fisherman.
Generally, my all-around number for a maximum trout fishing temperature is 70 degrees. "All-around" meaning that there is no stream, trout species, or specific situation in which I think targeting trout in water higher than 70 degrees would be a good idea. To add another layer to the equation, in combination with low water, it is probably safe to adjust that all-around number to 68 degrees.
For these reasons, I recommend focusing your summer trout fishing efforts on the early morning hours and avoiding streams that receive a lot of direct sunlight. This often means being on the water in the early morning and switching your efforts to bass or panfish as your phone's clock approaches noon. It is also imperative to carry a stream thermometer when targeting trout in the summer. Check the water temperature when you arrive, anytime you change locations, and every hour or so as the air temperatures rise. And, if there is a heat wave or drought in progress, consider postponing your outing altogether, regardless of water temperatures.
However, don't let all of this temperature talk scare you away from trout fishing in the summer. Yes, it is very important to consider the health of the fish and fisheries prior to setting out on a summer trout trip, but trout fishing in the the summer can be very productive and rewarding if the temperatures and weather patterns align. Bug activity is very good in the summer, and the overgrown brush along your favorite stream provides a great diving board for terrestrials (ants, beetles, grasshoppers, etc) that dangle above the trout populated waters below.
Afternoon thunderstorms also provide a great opportunity to find active trout. Following thunderstorms, streams usually get flushed with a lot of fast flowing, cooler water. This flush of water brings with it a reprieve from higher water temperatures, an increase in oxygen levels, and a happy hour menu of disoriented bugs, terrestrials, and baitfish for trout to quickly feed on. If you can time your outing just right, those moments on the water after a storm can feel magical.
For me, summer is usually all about smallmouth bass, but I don't complain when I find myself dipping my thermometer into a refreshing mountain stream. So, this summer you may consider fishing for trout a few more times than you planned. If you do, make sure you pack a thermometer and have a back up plan if the trout fishing doesn't pan out. See you on the water!
If you enjoyed this post, please check out our other blog posts below!