Missouri Trout Hunter

Blog for sharing thoughts, beliefs and opinions on issues affecting the world of trout fishing in the Ozarks.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Summertime Trout Tactics

This time of year, it's common that I start getting a flurry of emails from folks asking me to diagnose what they're doing wrong. They're just not catching fish like they were in June and July. They're seeing plenty of fish, but they're struggling to hook them. Streamers, rooster tails, crankbaits, and rubber worms were tearing them up just a few weeks ago, and now the trout are just ignoring me. What do I do?

It's not so bad, really. The sad truth is that these are the dog days of summer, and cold water fishing just gets tougher this time of the year. If you close your eyes and try to put yourself into the mind of the trout, it will make sense. Follow me on this.

Picture yourself living in the wilderness. The weather and temperature are perfect -- let's say 72 degrees, partly cloudy, light breeze. You're dressed appropriately for this weather, perhaps some jeans and a T-shirt. You're feeling good about life. Your appetite is good. You start eye-balling the local family of squirrels and begin to plot their demise, fantasizing about making a pot pie out of them. Suddenly, the temperatures begin to climb. Within a couple of weeks, daily highs are ranging from mid-90's to mid-100's, and you're downright miserable. What do you do? How do you respond?

Your first thought may be to run inside where the air conditioner has it cooled down, but you can't do that. You live in the wilderness. The best thing you can do is look for some shade, a spot with a cooler breeze, and maybe even a cave. It doesn't fix everything, but it helps. This is what trout do, of course. They find shade under overhanging trees, downed trees, along bluffs, and so on. They move into cooler breezes by settling into the very bottom of the deepest holes, where the water is a bit cooler. And if they can get under a cut bank or a big boulder, they will. Another thing to consider: if there are other people around, they're going to congregate around the coolest spots, right? If there's a shady cave with a nice cool breeze blowing through it, you'll probably have some company, don't you think? How would the crowding affect you? It affects trout by making them edgy and nervous. Especially when the water levels drop and they cooler spots get even smaller.

How will this hot temperature effect your appetite? The last time you were mowing the lawn in the summer sun all afternoon, did you run inside and wolf down a deep dish pizza with all the toppings? How about a slab of BBQ'd ribs or a big thick cheeseburger? Nope. You ran inside and had an ice-cold drink, maybe two. Food was simply not important to you, because you were so uncomfortable. Of course, you'll eventually get hungry, but if you're forced to eat when you're this overheated, what would your diet consist of? First off, you'd eat light. You'd only eat enough to stop your stomach from grumbling. Secondly, you'd only eat the stuff that's easy to get, wouldn't you? Nuts & berries, for example? If one of those squirrels fell out of a tree and hit his head, you'd probably pick him up. Then again, maybe you wouldn't. Who wants to build a campfire in this heat?

These parallels are fairly simplistic, I'll admit. The advice is sound, though, so here's a quick summary. (1) When I'm mowing the lawn and it's 102, don't expect me eat anything at all. Translation, avoid fishing when the water is at it's warmest: 2pm to 6pm or so. You'll often be wasting your time. (2) When it's 92 degrees out, don't expect me to eat pizza or cheeseburgers, and don't expect me to chase a squirrel. If I'm going to eat, it's going to be nuts, berries, or other small items that I can get easily. Translation, fish small baits and work extra hard to drift it right to their nose. Pursuit baits like spinners, streamers, crankbaits, etc. will often get skunked. And don't expect to find a fly that is the "it" bait of the day. Instead, plan on having to change flies frequently to appeal to the rapidly changing tastes of the different trout you're casting to. They're not actively feeding, so matching the hatch may make you lose your religion. (3) If I'm hunkered down in my nice cool cave with the big tree shading the entrance and that amazing cool breeze blowing through, I am not going to leave it to chase a squirrel, even if he's carrying a big cheeseburger. In fact, I'm not moving from this spot, if I can help it. Translation, excessively warm water shuts off pursuit feeding almost entirely. If you fish a trout stream that usually has good streamer or spinner fishing, you'll probably still have good results at sunrise, when the water is coolest. As soon as the sun hits the water, though, put them away and forget about them. Instead, focus on nut & berry fishing with extra focus on getting the baits to fish's hideout, in the cave, in the shade and in the breeze. This means fish DEEEEEEEEP, along bluffs, around boulders, and around downed trees.

Seems easy, right? Nope. It's still the dog days, and trout are still cold water fish. A trout fisherman that uses the proper summertime tactics will catch fish, and he'll certainly outfish those around him, but he's going to have to work for every fish he hooks. And the edgy nervousness I mentioned before? Well, you're going to have to deal with that as well by making longer more delicate casts and/or dropping your bait a good long distance upstream of the trout -- anything to avoid spooking the exceptionally spooky dog days trout.

Good luck, guys.

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