It has been an epic season of fly fishing in the Vail Valley area this summer.
The Eagle River had a nice, long float season and excellent dry fly-fishing. On the Colorado, trout numbers seem to be up and, despite higher than average flows, the fishing was great. The same scenario played out on the Roaring Fork as well with thick hatches and fat trout.
Although the fishing remains very good and we are in the thick of hopper season, as we move through August, however, the summer’s easiest fishing days are behind us. Hatches are sparse and the insects are tiny. To fool consistently trout that have seen a lot of flies and even been caught a time or two, anglers need to adjust their tactics. The trout are in prime shape and won’t eat just any fly that floats by.
Here are a few tips for catching more trout in the low, clear water of late summer:
Match the hatch
The same flies that worked a month ago when thick hatches of caddis, stoneflies and mayflies had the fish feeding aggressively will generally not work as well now. In late summer, the hatches consist of much smaller bugs. Midges, blue-winged olives and microscopic tricos are the main hatches now. To imitate these bugs, downsize your flies to the Nos. 18-24 range. This is what the trout expect to be eating. Dry flies may not be as effective as subsurface nymph and emerger patterns. Some good late summer fly choices include the Barr’s BWO Emerger, Black Beauty, Sparkle RS-2 and Olive Micromayfly. For dry flies try a Renegade, Foam Parachute Adams or Griffith’s Gnat. Trout will usually eat whatever they are seeing the most of so when the bugs are small follow suit with your fly choice.
Fish the Right Water
When the water was higher and cooler earlier in the summer, trout could be found almost everywhere in the river. As water levels have receded and temperatures warmed, the trout have migrated into specific water types. Fewer trout will be found in very shallow riffles or still backwaters. The fish do not like being exposed in these areas. Deeper runs and pools hold the majority of the fish on rivers such as the Eagle and Roaring Fork. The trout will remain here until next spring. It is cool and offers refuge from predators. Grassy banks with some depth and current will attract larger trout on the Colorado looking to ambush a sculpin or grasshopper. Until fall weather sets in and water temperatures drop significantly, faster water also holds fish looking for increased oxygen levels and a respite from the heat. Try not to waste time fishing areas that do not hold many trout. Focus instead on spots that are concentrated fish.
Adjust Your Terminal Tackle
Low, clear streams demand a different approach than fast, high water. This is the season of “technical fishing.” Drag free drifts are crucial to successfully fooling wary trout that have seen it all. When using the smaller flies mentioned above it is important to also downsize your tippet material to 5X, 6X or even 7X for educated fish such as those found in the Frying Pan or Yampa Rivers. As trout move into deeper water and eat more small insects it also important to get your flies down to where the fish are feeding. They are less willing to move any distance to eat so adding weight to your nymphing setup is the easiest way to get your flies in the zone. Keep adding split shot until you are consistently bouncing off the bottom.
When the water was high, approaching closely to fish was not a problem with heavy currents masking your presence. With low, slow water, trout are on full alert and spook easily. A slow, stealthy approach and precise casts will up your odds for success while noisy, aggressive wading and poor, splashy casting will lead you to believe there are no fish in the area.
Enjoy the rest of our summer fly-fishing season! Soon we’ll be experiencing frosty nights and the fishing tactics will change once again. For the latest information on the best fishing and hot flies, check in at the Vail Valley Anglers fly shop in Edwards. We are open every day year-round.
Brody Henderson is a senior guide at Vail Valley Anglers and can be reached at 970-926-0900.