June 22, 2023
Rounding the corner in a little lake, I was shocked at the level of recreational activity. Kids frolicked in various crafts, enjoying themselves in the afternoon heat, smack in my favorite stretch of trolling water.
Moving into a secluded arm, I found trout holding where I’d never caught them before. The weeds growing from the bottom were sparse—about 5 feet tall—and the trout were tucked into the middle, seeking cover and cooler conditions. Rather than troll, my buddy and I switched to floating bait. The bites were subtle but plentiful, and soon we were cleaning our limits.
SUMMER HEAT CHALLENGES
As summer temperatures escalate and people seek relief in rivers and lakes, the human activity forces trout to move—often to deeper, more hidden places in lakes and into totally different areas in rivers.
Rising temperatures also increase the growth of weeds, grass, moss and algae, all of which not only impact where fish hold, but dictate where and how anglers can fish. Some places can be difficult to fish if overrun by any of this vegetation. Because recreational activity, low water and increased temperatures often force fish to congregate in small areas, fishing pressure in these places can be high. Predator pressure also increases in such areas, as ospreys and cormorants dial in on their prey. But there are ways to overcome the obstacles.
While fishing a lake one June, I was catching trout near the surface by flatline-trolling 3.0 Mag Lips tipped with half a nightcrawler. When the sun hit the water, the bite turned off. I was marking lots of trout in the narrow channel, but they’d quit biting and dropped deeper. Between the sunlight hitting the water and the number of cormorants that showed up to eat, the trout went deep near some weeds. There was no way to troll through the weeds, and they were too tall to run a floating bait, so I rigged a sliding bobber to fish at 13 feet where the trout were holding atop the thick cover. It worked.
Diversifying your approach can result in consistent success when water temperatures warm and trout are pressured. If trolling a flasher setup with an ounce or two of weight is your go-to approach, realize that could be limiting.
Flatline trolling, casting spinners, floating bait off the bottom and suspending bait from a bobber are all very effective approaches. The key is locating the fish and figuring out what works.
An overlooked trout approach is trolling with side planers or planer boards. These take your terminal gear away from the boat, which does two things. First, it allows you to cover more water. Second, edgy trout often spook to either side of a boat that’s trolling through holding water, and this approach swings wide to pick up fish as they spread out. Gear can also be run farther back on planer boards, allowing you to target water well behind the boat to catch fish moving back into their holding zone after the boat has passed.
When trout are located, note their depth and figure out the most effective way to get an offering in front of them. Simple bait changes can make a world of difference. If a worm isn’t working, try dyed corn with scent or a little shrimp. Often, it’s the smell of a bait that triggers a trout bite.
As summer days heat up, fish lakes and ponds early in the morning and in the evening when temperatures are cool and sunlight is not hitting the water. Move to find fish and don’t hesitate to change offerings if something’s not producing.
One day while fishing a river, I had three teenagers in my drift boat. We’d fished all afternoon without a bite. At the bottom end of the last hole, I dropped anchor and ran divers and bait because the youth struggled with casting. In less than 20 minutes, we had three limits in the boat. The kids were elated and so was I, but what really surprised me was how low in the river the trout had moved, likely forced there due to low, clear conditions, lots of ospreys on the prowl and heavy river activity.
After removing the hooks from a 2.5 Mag Lip, I ran a 24-inch leader off the back and baited a hook with half a nightcrawler and a chunk of bay shrimp (the small ones you put on salad). This has been my go-to approach when the fishing is tough in rivers that allow fishing with bait, as back-trolling bait is a very effective way to cover water and locate fish.
Back-trolling plugs alone is also a great way to catch trout in rivers, especially after the sun hits the water and forces them into faster moving water and deeper holes with a current where they feel safe. A 50-series Hot Shot is effective, as are small Flatfish and 2.5 and 2.0 Mag Lips. Frog patterns are hard to beat when targeting trout, followed by pink- and silver-colored plugs.
If looking to target trout all day on a river—which is easier to do than on a lake—start early with flies. Before the sun hits the water, work dry flies that match the hatch in the water you’re fishing. A two-fly setup (caddis imitations both) can also be effective.
“This is a popular setup among clients,” said Chris Wright, a well-known trout guide in western Oregon, as we fished together one day. “I like the top fly to be an extra-bushy Orange Stimulator tied on a size-10 hook. The trailing fly is an emerging caddis—a Screaming Banshee to be exact—tied on a size-12 hook.”
Both flies produced on the river we fished that day, as well as on other rivers where I’ve tried them since.
As sunlight hit the river, we switched the two-fly presentation to a size-8 dry Chubby Chernobyl on top, followed by a size-12 bead-head nymph below. The subsurface presentation was the winner.
When working deeper holes and slack water with rocky structure and fallen trees, lures can be the ticket. After the sun beats down directly on the river and the trout move into deeper water, it often takes a flashy, aggressive presentation to pull them out of their comfort zones, and this is where spinners and lures come in.
For decades, a top-producing trout spinner has been the Rooster Tail, and it still works impressively well. Not only will a Rooster Tail attract strikes in deep water, but also in shallow riffles where trout often hold. Thomas Buoyant spoons are also a tackle box must-have, and both the brass and the bronze with a red back will pull trout from the depths.
Soft beads are another great artificial bait option. It’s a setup I like using for steelhead and silver salmon, though I downsize it for trout. First, thread on a bobber stop, followed by a 3mm bead, a size-small Beau Mac Bobber Doggin’ float and another 3mm bead. Tie the mainline to a barrel swivel, and to the other end of the swivel, tie a 2-foot leader and an 8mm or 10mm BnR Soft Bead. The soft bead is held in place with a T-Stop that comes with the beads. This specialized setup allows a great deal of water to be covered without hang-ups, whether drifted from shore or an anchored boat or bobber-dogged.
When fished from a moving drift boat in a river, the Bobber Doggin’ float is key to achieving a perfect drift. The bottom of this float is flat, so when the current pushes it, it keeps moving at the same rate as the river. It works great in slower water, too, resulting in a natural presentation.
This summer, diversify your approach to overcome the challenges of catching pressured trout. Pay attention to where and when fish move and offer multiple presentations. Though it can be simple, catching edgy trout isn’t always easy.
- Few lures gain the attention of trout like the versatile Mag Lip.
Few plugs have had an impact on trout fishing like the Mag Lip. The fact that it can be trolled multiple ways in lakes, and back-trolled as well as cast in rivers, speaks to its diversity.
For trout, the top three Mag Lip sizes are 2.0, 2.5 and 3.0. It’s the skip-beat action of these plugs that really captures the attention of trout.
If wanting to cast a Mag Lip, go with light line and a long, limber rod. An 8-foot rod and 6-pound monofilament or a thin braid are a great combination. Mag Lips float, so if casting from shore, slow the retrieve so it doesn’t dig into the bottom. If fishing from a boat, you can reel faster to gain more depth. The faster you reel, the deeper Mag Lips dive.