Summer Doldrums

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article by Gordon Honey

Summer doldrums usually occur in late July and early August and signal a slowdown in good fishing. Although we may like the hot summer weather, and the resulting warm water for swimming, the trout don't.

Trout move down the water column to a layer of cool water called the thermocline. The water temps in this layer remain around 50 to 60 degrees and provide a comfort zone for trout. Unfortunately this thermocline is found at approximately 20 to 30 feet of depth and therefore difficult for the fly angler to fish.

The trout are very happy in the depths. There's cool water, lots of food (Shrimp, Dragonflies etc.) and no predators. So, the question is, what tactics or options are available to flyfishers during the summer?

Option #1: Dredging
I'm not really suggesting dredging, in reality I'm simply referring to utilizing fast sinking lines to present flies deeper in the water column.

Remember that trout will move down to a cool layer of water called the thermocline, when surface temperatures become too warm. This is a constant each summer, and if you wish to fish during the heat of the day you will have to go deeper. The thermocline is usually found at around 20 to 30 feet. An easy way to find the appropriate depth is by lowering a thermometer and look for water temperatures of between 50 and 60 degrees.

Fish with full sink 3 or 4 lines and give them the old standbys: shrimp, dragons and leeches. And, there you are dredging. OOPS, I mean fishing deep.

Option #2: Seek Higher Ground
Lock the truck in 4 wheel drive and head for the hills! Higher elevation lakes have cooler waters and therefore happy fish that may be ready to feed during the day.

The high elevation lakes are typically Tannic water lakes (coffee or Tea colored) surrounded by lily-pads and are usually home to abundant populations of smaller trout. The lily pads create not only good cover for both food sources and trout but give relief from the direct rays of the sun. The smaller trout of the mountain lakes love to eat dry flies. Casting small Tom Thumbs or Adams to pockets in the lilies provides great action. I personally don't care if a trout is 10 inches or 10 pounds if they will eat my dry fly.

Not all lakes in the higher elevations (above 4800 feet) have only small fish. Taking my own advice this past summer I took a client to that good old lake X that just happens to be above the 5,000 foot mark. Guess what -- chironomids in 13 feet of water! Not quite as productive as April or May chironomid fishing but pretty darn good, . . . some very nice fish to 5 lbs.

Option #2 seemed to be working pretty darn good so I decided to test the elevation theory one more time. So, off we went the following day to lake Y at around 4800 ft. Bingo! Excellent fishing on sedge pupa and adults, with fish to 3 lbs.

Feeling pretty cocky I pushed the limits and went back to lake Y one more time and was given a little reality check. Hardly any fish. But, there was a storm, the barometer plummeted, an east wind blew, then it got flat calm. All classic excuses. Oh well, I still believe the elevation theory is a solid one.

Option #3 Night Fishing
Not one of my favorites but this option can be very productive for those who persist.

Night angling can be pursued in two different time frames. The first, my favorite, is to begin fishing at 6pm and fish until last light. The second, again starting at 6pm, is to continue fishing until the wee hours! I'm much too old and blind for this. Tying a fly on in bright sunlight is difficult enough.

Why night fishing? Remember that during the bright daylight hours of the summer the trout have moved down to a cool layer of water at approximately 20 to 30 feet. This depth is reachable for a flyfisher but only with sink four or five lines and there is no joy in flailing away with these heavy lines. Trout will however move to the shallower water of the shoals when the direct rays of the sun leave the water and will feed quite freely as darkness approaches.

Not only are the trout more active but many of their food sources are as well. Sedge flies or caddis (especially the large traveler sedges) hatch during the twilight and evening hours to avoid predators, such as swallows, who would feed on them during daylight hours. The takes, especially on the travelers, can be very savage, so up your leader strength or be prepared to lose flies.

Leeches can also become more active in the evenings so your strategy should include larger flies that will create a more prominent profile in low light and because the big bugs are on the prowl.

This past July my friend Phil Rowley persuaded me to venture out on my home waters (Lac Le Jeune) at night. We departed from my dock with about an hour's worth of day light remaining. We leisurely cruised out checking Big Bay as we passed, but there were no riseforms. Next we opted to check out Skip's shoal in the back bay. A few small fish succumbed to our nymphs but nothing to write home about, so off we went again to check the Marpole just as the last bit of light faded. Noses, little noses and big noses creating riseforms everywhere! We looked as female caddis skittered about attempting in vain to lay their eggs. Needless to say the action was superb. Phil, all pumped for action, went out on his own the next evening, . . . and nothing. But, that's why we call it fishing not catching.

Option # 4 Yard Work
I'll let you think about that one.

Gordon Honey

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Summer Doldrums