Fly Fishing Essentials for Deep Summer Salmonids

Lake fishing for trout species can be dynamite almost any time of the year, but water temperature and heat can dictate when and how to fish for trout more than other species. When dry fly, or even nymph action slows during the dog days of summer, one fail-safe method is deep water streamer fishing. In my prior post, Flying Deep for Desert Cutthroat, I discuss deep water streamer tactics specifically for Lahontan cutthroat, but there are essential gear items every fly fisherman needs to beat the odds of a mid-summer salmonid shutdown.

The Line

I will admit, I over-prepare for everything. I carry three reels most all the time spooled with a floating line, an intermediate sinking line, and a heavy weight fast sinking line. Each line can be crucial to properly delivering the right fly and being prepared can prove the difference between epic action and epic failure.

It is certainly better to be over-prepared than under-prepared when you’re on the water.

Your Rods

Again, being over prepared, I always carry at least two rods. I like to keep an eleven-foot switch rod and a standard-length rod (eight and a half to nine foot), both in five or six-weight. You may not always be into fish large enough for heavier weight rods, but line management and casting ability is another critical consideration for covering water effectively.

Also, for those wondering just what the heck is a switch rod, it’s a rod built to effectively bridge single-hand and spey techniques. More to come on this in the future as we near steelhead season, but Google switch-rod and spey in the meantime for more information.

Fly Fishing Essentials

Your Flies

An assortment of streamers is handy, ranging from size six to twelve and colors white, brown, olive, black, and maybe something off the wall like chartreuse. Trout species can be quite picky about size. I have a few patterns that produce fish when nothing else will and usually start with a larger fly working down in size before changing pattern or color. Trout are famous for snubbing trusted flies, but presenting the same pattern in a smaller size can be the game changer.

Lots of trial and error can be the game changer when choosing and working with your flied.

Leaders and Tippet

A tapered leader is necessary for dry fly fishing. The diameter transition from fly line down to the fly is imperative for turning the fly over cleanly with a delicate presentation. This is not at all important for deep water streamer fishing. I recommend carrying a spool of five to eight-pound test fluorocarbon.

When switching from dry fly to streamer, remove your tapered leader and put on about seven feet of the fluorocarbon. It sinks better and keeps the fly line and fly fishing in more linear fashion, improving presentation. It’s also a smaller diameter line compared to mono-filament and is likely less visible as it drags by fish.

The Minimalist Approach

Okay, you have a solid gear list and game plan. Here’s the hitch. You are hiking into an alpine lake or packing your float tube in somewhere. Weight and space are critically limiting factors. You have a couple options to reduce the gear load, so consider the following.

  1. Ditch the second rod. A no-brainer, right? Sticking to the shorter rod will not hurt you one bit. I generally carry the switch rod when fishing from a boat, rarely taking it into the backcountry. I do recommend buying a pack rod for remote trips, simply for security against being hosed after breaking your sole rod fourteen miles into the backcountry.
  2. Ditch at least one extra reel. Intermediate sink, or even floating line can suffice with streamers with a few simple steps (see below). Keep in mind that this is somewhat dependent upon the fish’s target depth at the time.
  3. Do NOT skimp on the fluorocarbon, flies, or split-shot.

If you must cut gear, here is the critical list and how to fish it effectively. This will not produce as well as having a heavy sink line, but will do in a pinch.

  • Carry fly fishing-specific split shot.
  • If fishing floating on intermediate line, tie on a long fluorocarbon leader, ten to twelve, feet and tie up a beadless streamer.
  • Place a larger split shot about three feet below the fly line, then a slightly smaller split-shot about four feet below the larger one.
  • Strip out a lot of line, right down to the backing if fishing a floating line from a float tube, kayak, etc.
  • Cast it out or paddle it out and let it sink. And Sink. And sink. You can strip after a minute or so with intermediate line, but with floating line, wait until you think it may have reached the bottom, then wait a little longer before stripping.

Put it to Practice

Although I focused the deep streamer method on beating the summer heat when fishing lakes for trout, deep water streamer ripping will catch fish anytime. Period. (Maybe not so much when lakes are frozen over winter). Whether you are a diehard dry fly fisherman first and foremost or you want to skip the challenge of feeling out the action and jump right into ripping lips, every fly fisherman needs to have at least the basic deep-water options available at all times. So, take inventory, throw in one or two necessities or the bulk of your fly gear, and take to the lake with confidence this summer. Salmonids beware!

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