Summer can be a frustrating time for trout fishers, no matter their skill level or level of dedication. High temperatures, low water and an absence of major insect hatches do not make for ideal trout fishing conditions. But with a slight change of tactics, selective stream choices and a tad more patience, summer trout fishing can be as rewarding as it is any other time of the year.
One big plus for fishing this summer is that streams in North Carolina, South Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are in excellent condition due to spring rains, especially deluges resulting from Tropical Storm Alberto in late May. Streams were so high that the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission had to delay stockings for the opening of the catch-and-keep season on delayed-harvest waters.
Marc Hipp, a lifelong trout fisher, and guide who is manager of Brookings Anglers in Cashiers, N.C., offered these ideas for summer trout fishing.
Avoid valley streams that tend to warm up faster and stay warm on hot summer days. If the water feels like bath water, it’s too warm for a trout. Carry a thermometer and check the water temperature frequently. If it is in the high 60s, move until you find a spot that reads in the mid- or low-60s. High-elevation streams and mid-level streams — if they have sufficient cover — generally stay cool no matter what the temperature is. The trout may be smaller on these streams, but they are always feisty.
The best high-gradient and mid-level streams are in the Nantahala, Pisgah and Sumter national forests, and in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Other ideal streams are in the Jocassee Gorges and Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, both in upstate South Carolina.
Fewer hatches mean fewer choices. For best results, carry dry flies, nymphs and terrestrials. A few of each kind will serve you well.
Dry flies: Yellow Sally (Nos. 16-12), Yellow Stimulator (Nos. 14-12), Parachute Adams (Nos. 18-12), and a parachute black or cinnamon ant (Nos. 18-14).
Nymphs: Greenie Weenie (Nos. 16-12), Pheasant Tail (Nos. 18-14), Hare’s Ear (Nos. 18-14), and a partridge or yellow Soft Hackle (Nos. 18-14).
Terrestrials: ants, oak grubs, beetles and inchworms. Their size should approximate the real insect. The sizes of dry flies and nymphs will depend on water levels and conditions.
Hipp uses either a 7½- or 9-foot fly rod (No. 3 or No. 5 weight) no matter the size of the stream.
“Longer rods cast a lot better and more precisely than shorter rods,” he said, recommending a 7-foot, 5X tippet. “I use fluorocarbon line because it’s less reflective than nylon line, and I often carry two rods: one rigged for nymph fishing, the other one rigged for dry flies.”
For best results, fish upstream.
“Work pocket water, because nine times out of 10, that’s where trout will be feeding,” Hipp said. “Fish the tail-outs that have enough current to carry food to a trout. Fish shaded undercuts along stream banks. That’s where bigger fish often hide.
“Make every cast count. Wild trout are easily spooked, so if you make a sloppy cast and disturb the water, move to another spot.
“If you see a trout approach your fly and not take it, scale down to a smaller fly or change patterns.
“Fish with a dropper to give the fish an option and improve your chances of catching a fish.”
Ideal dropper length is about 14 inches for most water conditions. Use a shorter dropper for shallow water. The dropper nymph should be light enough that it doesn’t pull the dry fly down.
“Don’t be hesitate to experiment with different flies,” Hipp said. “I sometimes tie on two dry flies of different patterns to see what the fish are hitting.”
Summer weather conditions can change quickly and dramatically in the mountains. Carry a rain jacket, dry socks and extra clothing, if you have the space. If a thunderstorm comes up, get off the water and find shelter.
Carry a bottle of water or a water filter and stay hydrated. Also carry some snacks — fruit, trail mix, energy bars — to keep your energy up. Fishing, especially in the high country, can be physically challenging. A small first-aid kit also should be included in your gear.
Keep an eye out for snakes and hornets nests, often building their nests in overhanging bushes and trees.
If you get tired, find a big tree, sit down, lean back and take a nap. The fish will still be in the same places when you’re rested.