August trout on the branches
For fly fishermen, the month of August is normally a pretty tough time to pursue trout. For those of us who simply can’t wait until the cooler weather returns, we’re lucky to have two top quality tailwater fisheries right in our backyard. Both the East and West branches of the Delaware offer perfect water conditions for chasing trout right through the hottest stretches of summer weather. These beautiful rivers offer steady cold water, which keeps the insects and trout active every day.
Fishing the late summer is pretty technical due to the low, steady river flows and crystal clear water. Just about every move you make is visible to the fish, and they are on high alert most of the time. These conditions make for the most challenging fishing of the year, and many consider dry-fly fishing at this time to be the ultimate challenge.
I am on the water guiding most every day and will share some of the techniques that keep my guests’ rods bent.
The most important thing to success is accepting the fact that you will have to become comfortable with very long leaders and tiny flies. This is applicable whether fishing dry flies or nymphs. Most all of the insects of summer are on the small side, so fishing something big stands out at a time where blending in is more important. I almost always rig my rods for daytime fishing with flies that are size #18 or smaller. This is especially important when the sun is high in the sky. These tiny flies are more difficult to scrutinize, so the fish will usually take them confidently.
Leader length and size are also key in getting strikes. For my dry fly fishing I am running about 15 to 18 feet of leader tapered to 5X or 6X depending on the water type. I will normally fish the heavier line in riffle water and go to the lighter line in the glassy pools. One thing I like to do is add two sections of tippet to my main leader rather than one. Each section is three to four feet in length. An example would be a 12-foot–4X leader with three feet of 5X and four feet of 6X. The two separate sections will soften the presentation and not react to micro currents as quickly as a single section of tippet.
I apply the same approach with my summertime nymph rigs. The only difference is that I like my main leader to be the exact length of the fly rod I am using and tapered to 5X. I always fish multiple fly rigs, and having the leader the same length of the rod will ensure good turnover of the flies. I normally add two additional flies to the rig: one on 5X, the other on 6X. I like the nymphs to be about 15 inches apart.
These rigs take time getting used to, but they will tilt the odds into your favor.
The flies are not as important as the setups, but they need to have some qualities that will trigger the feeding response. For surface fishing your dry flies should always convey a signal of vulnerability. If you fish flies that are crippled, trapped in the water’s surface, defective, or dead, you are on the right track. The only other consideration is to fish the smallest possible fly that you can see. A good starting point is #18. Currently Sulfur, Blue Wing Olives and Midges are great choices.
On the nymphs, tiny and heavy are the key. My normal rig is a tungsten bead #18 followed by a #20 and a #22 non-beaded nymph. The best patterns are Pheasant Tails, Copper Johns, Hares Ears, Zebra Midges, Caddis Larva and Soft Hackles.
If you are heading out to the tailwaters in the next month, you should expect to see the best surface activity both early and late in the day. The middle of the day is when I nymph and cover lots of water.
Wade safe and good luck.