Local Wisconsin guides share strategies for beating the heat and catching more Driftless trout during high summer.
It’s been a peculiarly mild summer here in the Driftless. The oppressively humid days that usually plague August have been mostly absent, the past few nights have had a cool bite reminiscent of early duck season, and the trout have been mostly happy. But there are still plenty of challenges facing Midwestern spring creek trout anglers in the height of summer.
The guys at Black Earth Angling Co. have a ridiculous amount of experience chasing trout in the spring creeks of southwestern Wisconsin and the Driftless, and I was very, very excited when they kindly agreed to share some of their strategies for summer trout. I’ve been drawn to their operation ever since I stumbled upon it on Facebook a while back, and for good reason. There’s an authenticity in their fly fishing that acutely represents the Driftless experience. They run sweet smallmouth float trips on the Lower Wisconsin River that perhaps epitomize good, honest Midwestern warmwater fly fishing. But most importantly, they seem to focus on the indelible memories and experiences fly fishing creates – the people, the incredible places, the journey, and all that makes fly fishing truly meaningful.
Without further rambling, here are a few honest and insightful tips for Midwestern spring creek trout fishing during the height of summer….
Five Tips for Summer Trout Fishing in the Midwest.
Why go trout fishing this time of year? Combine the claustrophobic height of the valley grasses with abundant mosquitoes, biting flies, thistle, the phototoxic wild parsnip and giant hogweed, as well as the solid risk of turning an ankle in an animal den or getting stuck in a mucky seepage just trying to reach some tiny stream, with the likelihood that it is almost entirely draped over with grasses and presently some of the most unpleasant casting you will ever experience and there you have high summer Midwestern spring creek trout fishing to me, and I avoid it.
Go bass fishing. The bass, especially the smallmouth, are slamming the fly just as the creek-side herbage is getting almost head high, and are twice the fun of trout anyway. Strong fish, wet wading, big flies, river floats – that is summer fly fishing at its best. Also, bass bugging for largemouth during a Dog-day twilight on a local pond is the kind of good honest fun that everyone who has ever been 10 will recognize.
2. Go when and where you are comfortable.
If you do insist on trout fishing this time of year, do your best to be comfortable. Ditch the gear and waders for a small pack, extra water, and quick dry pants. Fish early and late because it is cooler and more comfortable – not just better fishing. Ditto overcast days. Cool mornings mean slower mosquitoes too, so be extra motivated to get an early start and optimize those ideal mornings when they do occur. Also, target some areas with tree cover, or in the shadow of a bluff or hill so as to stay cooler. Be willing to hop from one spot to another, or to switch streams to stay in or get to the shade (but clean your feet!) Find those streams or stream sections that are more freestone-like or more open and wadeable and target them. Summer is a time of focused trouting sessions. And, if legitimately hot weather occurs, and has for days, do seriously just stay off the water. If water temps are high, catching cold water species puts them at an even greater undue risk than normal. Good conservation and ethics demand you know when to cut them a break. (Editor’s Note: Most agree that water temps around 68-70 F are the upper fishing limits for browns and rainbows, and a bit lower for brookies. Seriously, just go bass fishing. If you want more info, here’s a good piece from Hatch Magazine on summer trout temps).
3. Follow the cows.
Grazing cows are great for midwestern trout and trout fishing. There is an emerging body of science supporting this out there and the key is portable electric fencing and what is known as ‘rotational grazing.’ If managed well, these are win-win situations for farms, streams, fishers, and even cows. Check it out, and buy meat and milk from people who use it.
I do agree however that crushed stream banks and doleful Holsteins watching you watch them dump pounds and pounds of feces into pretty little creeks is NOT ok. Nonetheless, grazed streams are going to be much, much more approachable this time of year because the grass will be of negotiable heights and many of the nasties like parsnip will be non-present.
4. Take a novice.
The first time I fished the renowned Mt. Vernon Creek I was ignorant of its reputation as a place where the trout can smell you coming. Good thing. I did pretty well catching a bunch of little browns and brookies on small hopper patterns. Which goes to show one of the joys of summer trout fishing: active fish looking up and non-selectively slapping at highly visible flies that land with a splat. This strips trout fishing of much of its bravado and makes it more approachable and fun again. So take a novice whose cast into and then off of the bushes and into the stream is in fact the perfect presentation. They may be rewarded with bites from more than just the ‘skeets.
5. My favorite summer fly – the Poodle.
Just an ingenious fly from Japan that makes a killer ant imitation. Note the Klinkhammer or emerger style hook that puts the abdomen below the water while the parachute hackle rides in the film. Dress only the hackle and post when fishing.
Black Earth Angling Co. runs guide trips for trout, smallmouth, and other warmwater species in southwestern Wisconsin. Also, be sure to check out their Facebook page for recent fishing reports and Driftless fly fishing.