Tips for fishing during late summer’s season
September 1, 2016
It has already been an incredible season of fly-fishing in the Vail Valley area this summer.
Despite some questions about our snowpack, the Eagle River had a nice, long float season and excellent dry fly-fishing. On the newly-appointed gold-medal waters of the Colorado, trout numbers seem to be way up and the average size is bigger as well. The Roaring Fork fished great in July, slowed down through August and is now picking up again in a big way.
Although the fishing remains very good and we are in the thick of hopper season, the summer's easiest fishing days are behind us. Hatches are sparse and the insects are tiny. To fool trout that have consistently seen a lot of flies and may have 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.
While we look forward to the excellent fly-fishing fall will bring a in few short weeks, here are a few tips for catching trout in the low, clear water of the last days of late summer.
Match the Hatch
The same flies that worked weeks 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.
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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 most often, 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 with 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 at least 5X and 6X, the better for educated fish such as those found in the Frying Pan or Blue Rivers. As trout move into deeper water and eat more small insects, it is 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.
Earlier this summer, approaching closely to fish was easy 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 alter every fish within casting range and beyond.
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 for Vail Valley Anglers in Edwards and can be reached at 970-926-0900.