By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist

A local angler who fishes more than 200 days a year told me the other day that he was struggling to catch fish as easily as he did earlier in the summer. My response, albeit a tad adolescent, was, “Well, duh—it’s late August.”
The next few weeks serve up some of the year’s most challenging fishing. Low and clear water, a lack of abundant hatches, water temps climbing in the afternoon causing fish to feed less, and fish that have seen a good amount of angling pressure for several months combine to make for tricky fishing conditions. With that comes the need to tighten up your angling game. Here’s some help.

Early on and early off. If people call these days the “dog days of summer,” imagine how a river-dwelling trout feels late in the afternoons. Low and clear water mean that trout are more sensitive to light refracting into the water than they are earlier in the season. Counter this by fishing during the hours of the day when light and water temperatures are more conducive to active trout.

Slow down. With the early wake times required for angling success, stretching the last bit of sleep out of your night will be challenging. But the slow down begins the night before—get to bed early so you can wake up early and be ready to hit the water fresh and focused. Once you’re on the water, take your time. Fish feed more cautiously in late summer, so stalk a stream slowly, eyeing every possible feeding location. Be meticulous with your rig, as minor adjustments make a big difference.

Sweat the small stuff. In my younger angling days I scoffed at micro-split shot, the advantage of fluorocarbon, the various types of floatants, and other tackle adjustments. However, as fish become more selective, how your fly is presented is more crucial. Micro-split shot allows for minor changes in a deep nymph rig. For example, a feeding trout may not be willing to move to a different depth to eat your fly, so you have to adjust to get to the right depth.

When fishing dry flies, understand which floatants work the best. Visit my Aug. 4 column for the breakdown on floatants. For sub-surface fishing, such as deep nymphs or emergers below a larger dry fly, fish fluorocarbon tippet. Fluorocarbon is thinner and stronger than mono-filament and less visible in water.

Fish more thoroughly. As trout become more concentrated due to low water, fish deeper runs with conviction as trout will hold in deeper, cooler water. Like above, slow down and spend time fishing all depths. Play around with micro split-shot and fluorocarbon. The sweet spot where trout feed and your fly drifts does exist…you just have to be patient and fish thoroughly to find it.

Think outside of the box. As a self-proclaimed dry fly snob, my late summer angling used to consist of fishing grasshopper and ant patterns on blind faith. I still do that and it often works well for me, but occasionally I have to get creative.

I’ll fish very long droppers off my dry fly when fishing a dry-dropper rig. A 4-to-6 foot dropper is not uncommon for me. Other longtime anglers I know will drag, rather than strip, streamers through deeper runs, thinking lethargic late summer fish are less likely to chase a stripped streamer. Consider taking colored markers to make the body of a tan fly black, so it looks more like an ant than a stonefly. The possibilities are endless—you just have to take the time to be different.

Maintain perspective. Trout are animals and react to their environment. Sometimes they feed and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, no matter how good an angler is or how perfect the rig and drift are, trout just don’t eat. These instances occur more frequently in late summer than other times of the year. If you find yourself in this scenario, take a break and enjoy the surroundings. If you must have instant gratification, somewhere nearby there is a Taco Bell open 24 hours.

I used to disdain the next few weeks of the angling calendar. With more than 20 years of local angling experience, I’ve grown to really enjoy the last two weeks of August. The masses of tourists are gone and the fair weather anglers are back to reading online blogs. For those like myself willing to fish on a little less sleep and try something different, the dog days might as well be called the trout days.

Pat Straub is the author of six books, including “The Frugal Fly Fisher,” “Montana On The Fly,” and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing.” He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky. He also co-owns Montana Fishing Outfitters and the Montana Fishing Guide School.