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How to Target River Trout in Transition

Water levels in many of the West's trout rivers drop from high to moderate through July. Here's how to capitalize on this change.

How to Target River Trout in Transition

During spring-to-summer transition periods, pay close attention to river conditions and let them be the deciding factors for where and how you fish. (Photo by Scott Haugen)

"Go ahead and land that fish. I'm gonna make a cast," said Chris Wright as he dropped the anchor of his drift boat. I'd just hooked a hatchery trout on a backtrolled 2.0 Mag Lip while Chris worked the oars.

My fish struck along the soft outside edge of a current seam, and I knew exactly what Wright was doing when he cast a gold Thomas Buoyant into the fastest section of the river.

"You're not going to find any hatchery trout there," I said. Wright shot me a wink, semi-hiding behind his worn brimmed hat and dark glasses.No sooner had I gotten my trout in the boat, Wright set the hook on a gorgeous wild rainbow, which was quickly released without it leaving the river.

Wright and I were fishing a blue-ribbon trout river near our Oregon homes, and while we targeted fish multiple ways, the trip had two objectives. First, I wanted a limit of five hatchery trout to take home and eat. Second, Wright wanted to try to catch a wild redside or two. Chris is a guide ( who doesn’t get a lot of time to himself to fish. By day's end we'd accomplish our objectives, thanks to knowing the river and where trout would be.


June and July mark a time of transition for trout rivers throughout the West. Water temps can be cold in June, meaning trout will hold in slower, less taxing water.

"Throughout much of June, we’re targeting trout in eddies and pockets, and along slow-moving current edges," says Wright. "But once the water temperature rises, the trout will spread out. Hatchery trout will mostly still hold in the softer water, but they’ll also move into shallow riffles."

There's another factor behind the transition. July sees an increase in hunting activity by ospreys, a primary predator of trout this time of year. Wherever you see ospreys, rest assured the trout see them, too. The presence of winged predators will also cause trout to move from slower, clearer holding places to riffles that break up the surface and offer the fish cover from above.

"If you want to target larger native trout in June, concentrate on deep holes," says Wright. "Due to the volume of water and boiling conditions, these can be challenging places to fish. Once the water warms up in early to mid July, focus on fishing the fast water. This is one of the things I can explain to people over and over—to fish the really fast water—but not until they see how fast the water truly is where we’re catching wild trout do they actually try fishing it."

Anglers should research the hatches on the rivers they're fishing, as that's the key to hooking trout.(Photo by Scott Haugen)

During our day on the river, Wright pulled two nice wild trout out of water so fast I'd have been hard pressed to run a steelhead presentation through it. In July, A lot of wild trout hold in fast-moving water anywhere from 3 to 8 feet deep. Of course, depth may vary depending on the river being fished. Search for the fastest moving riffles in the river you’re fishing, and that’s likely a good place to target wild trout in the summer heat.


Whether fishing from a boat or off the bank, casting lures and spinners is a very popular approach for trout anglers throughout the West. Hardware like Thomas Buoyant spoons, and Mepps and Rooster Tail spinners are traditional go-to lures, but Wright encourages anglers to change things up from time to time.

"Last season our hot spinner was a size-2 Blue Fox with an orange body and gold blade," he says. "I wouldn't have fished it in a million years, but a client who hadn’t fished much insisted on trying it because he thought it looked cool. What’s even crazier, the gold-and-red Thomas Buoyant was the hot lure the previous two years, but the trout shied away from it last spring. In fact, we were struggling to consistently catch trout on lures at all until the Blue Fox started producing. The rainbow pattern was the go-to choice."

I'm a fan of Rooster Tail spinners in a range of sizes and colors. I’ve also had good success on Rooster Tail Minnows in clear water. I think the detailed design, including its prominent eye, entice finicky trout into biting.


I also love backtrolling plugs for trout when fishing from a boat. This is a great way to cover water and search for fish. The past few summers, my go-to trout plug has been the Yakima Mag Lip in sizes 2.0 and 2.5. I’ll use a 3.0 Mag Lip as a diver, removing the hooks and running a 2-foot-long leader off the back. I'll thread a single egg, half a nightcrawler or a pinch of nightcrawler with a salad shrimp onto the bend of the hook. Trout have a powerful sense of smell, so targeting more than just their sight can pay off.


"Most of the trout anglers I take want to catch fish on flies, especially dry flies," says Wright. "In June it's hard to beat a Green Caddis on the rivers we fish. On cloudy days when there's a green caddis hatch, concentrate on fishing riffles that are moving at about walking speed, with a little bit of chop on the surface."

Anglers should research the hatches on the rivers they're fishing, as that's the key to consistently hooking trout.

"We have a lot of caddisflies in our rivers, and we'll switch between an orange Elk Hair Caddis and a green Elk Hair Caddis all summer long," Wright says.

He also runs a lot of two-fly setups. "The Parachute Adams, Chubby Chernobyl, Possie Bugger and a host of other beadhead nymphs are tough to beat this time of year," he says.

While these patterns can be fished on the swing, Wright has a fondness for drifting and mending these presentations.

Backtrolling plugs, like the Yakima Mag Lip, is a great way to locate trout when fishing from a boat. (Photo by Scott Haugen)


I'm often asked what my number-one trick is for catching trout, steelhead and salmon in rivers throughout the West and Alaska. My answer is always the same: access. While the majority of trout anglers fish from the river bank, a boat of some sort exponentially increases your ability to fish more water.

In the 1960s and 1970s, drift boats were the only real option anglers had for reaching prized water. Today, there are many watercraft options that allow you to access secluded, less pressured stretches. If you have the means, consider investing in a drift boat, pontoon boat, kayak or float tube. Not only will the seclusion be worth the investment, you’ll catch more fish, too.

During spring-to-summer transition periods, pay close attention to river conditions and let them be the deciding factors for where and how you fish. With all the excellent trout rivers we have access to throughout the West, as long as you’re prepared with a range of fishing techniques and offerings, all that’s left to do is hit the water and start making memories.

Editor’s Note: Scott Haugen is a full-time author specializing in fishing and hunting the West. For signed copies of his many best-selling books, visit

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