By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist
July is behind us, and gone are the salmon-fly hatches, golden stones, and wondering when we’ll get through runoff. For nearly two full months now we’ve had fishable waters; and more often than not, long days filled with intense sunshine. Visions of these days danced in our heads as we shoveled near-record snow this winter, but as this fishing guide rests his head on the pillow each night, he dreams of overcast and rainy days.
Sun, and the warmth it provides, has a time and a place to help our fishing. But by early August trout have grown tired, and sensitive, to the sun’s penetrating rays. However, it’s not just the trout that take cover in deeper water, undercut banks, or in the lowlight hours of the day, anglers also need to make several adjustments to enjoy successful fishing for the next few weeks. Here’s some advice.
Start early or late, and avoid the heat of the day. If you’re a trout in a local water there is always something larger than you that is looking for a meal, whether it’s a bigger trout or a river otter. Like us, trout want to continue living, so this time of year they are most active during lowlight conditions. Fish early in the day before the sun gets high, usually around noon, then again in the late afternoon or early evening.
Protect yourself so you can fish longer. The dangers of prolonged sun exposure are well documented. Clothing manufacturers have responded, and our local fly shops are well-stocked with protective items. Start your day by applying sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, immediately after bathing. A wide-brimmed hat is an important first layer of defense. Underneath the hat wear a facial sun-mask to protect your face and neck. The tops of your hands see substantial sun exposure as well, invest in sun gloves—a lightweight fingerless covering—to protect this exposed area.
Your eyes are a very important tool, so protect them. Polarized glasses are a must, but choose glasses that provide 100-percent UV protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Photochromatic lenses add another safeguard, as does choosing the largest lens possible. Style is one thing, but ensuring your eyes are healthy for the long haul is paramount. Choosing quality sunglasses is an investment in protecting our eyes now and in the future.
Learn proper fish handling techniques. As the sun gets high in the middle of the day, the water temperatures rise as well. For fish you plan to release, keep them in the water at all times while removing the hook. When taking a picture have the camera ready before the fish is raised into view. Shoot a few pictures and immediately return the fish to the water. If you still need more pictures let the fish recover, then do round two.
While releasing the fish, face it into the current so that water can flow through the gills, and release it into calm, yet flowing water. Gently cradle the fish and release it once it can swim off under its own power.Stay hydrated. Sunshine drains your energy, but you can combat that with drinking plenty of fluids. Steer away from sugary drinks, sodas and alcohol. Water is best and drink it before you feel thirsty, because if you feel thirsty, your body is trying to catch up.
Some of the year’s best fishing can happen in late summer—grasshoppers and nocturnal stoneflies will soon be found on our local waters—but understanding the sun’s role is often overlooked. Soaking up rays is good for the soul and vitamin D production is important. However, as much as we love the sun, we need to understand its impact.
The fish adjust their habits based on water temperature, available food, and protection from predators. Dealing with sunshine, abundance or lack thereof, is vital to a trout’s survival and your enjoyment as an angler.
Pat Straub is a 20-year veteran guide on Montana’s waters and has fished the world-over. The co-founder of the Montana Fishing Guide School, he’s 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.