Late summer is always bittersweet for me. The days are still plenty long enough for fishing, but most trout have seen a few thousands fake flies by now and aren’t as reckless as they were back in June. The hatches are great, but not quite as jaw-dropping as the frenzy spurred by salmon flies. That all combines to make late-summer fishing a bit more difficult than it feels it ought to be.
Often, though, I’ve found that half the reason fishing slows up for me this time of year is due to my own laziness more than the trout’s. I’m known for always have a rod or two strung up with essentially the same flies – a dry and two droppers. On a late summer evening, I’ll grab a rod without thinking, head to the nearest river, and hope the flies tied on already will get the job done.
Usually, they do. When they don’t, though, I find myself tying on a few different flies pretty consistently. These flies have become my go-to patterns for late-summer trout fishing, and even though I live here in the Rockies, they should work well for trout across the country.
Parachute Adams, size 14
I know, I know – the Parachute Adams is a boring fly. You probably have a dozen in your box right now. And so does everyone else on the river.
The Adams works, though, and the parachute is the best version of this fly. It floats well, is easily visible in all sorts of different lighting situations, and just flat-out catches fish. Whether you’re in the middle of hatching PMDs or caddis, the Adams will entice all but the pickiest of trout.
Even with the picky trout, I’ve noticed that sometimes a bland, do-it-all imitation like the Adams works better than trying to match the hatch exactly. I’ve pulled more than a few big trout from tailwaters on an Adams this time of year, only to hear other anglers swear the fish wouldn’t take anything except some river-side variation of a crippled emerging something or other.
I go with a size 14 here because late-summer bugs are bigger. And, I fish droppers off my dry flies unless there’s a serious hatch going on. The size 14 holds my nymphs up well, and moves sharply when trout take a whack at the droppers.
Griffiths Gnat, size 20
Whatever happened to the Griffiths gnat? I feel like I used to see this fly in a lot more fly shops – and in fly boxes – than I do these days. It’s arguably the best midge imitation ever tied, and it’s another fly that I’ve used in the midst of thick hatches to pick off trout that were supposedly only eating emerging mayflies.
I fish a lot of small water, and catch a lot of smaller fish. While they’ll usually hit a size 14 without reservation, sometimes it’s nice to hook these fish on smaller flies. Getting the hook out is quicker, and every so often I run into fish that are picky about the size of the fly, if not the pattern itself.
Regardless of how you use it, the Griffiths gnat needs to be in your box this time of year. It’s like secret sauce on the long, muggy nights when you can’t quite decode what the fish are eating on top.
Hood Rat, size 8
Yep. A mouse fly is a must.
Just a few days ago, I was out on a little stream that’s no more than 3 feet across at its widest. This creek is full to bursting with cutthroat, and they’re all-too-eager to eat any dry on a decent drift.
They’ll also eat mice. In broad daylight. I know, because I caught a 15-inch cutthroat on a size 8 Hood Rat just the other night.
Now, not all fish are that brazen, but this is the time of year when the mice are active pretty frequently throughout the day. While we most often associate “mousing” with nighttime, there’s no reason not to try them in broad daylight. Throwing them against cut banks, or deep holes with plenty of logjams and other hidey-holes for trout, is a great way to entice big fish to strike.
Chubby Chernobyl, size 10
This is the time of year when hopper patterns really start to produce, and I’ve yet to find one as reliably productive as the Chubby Chernobyl. These things are easy to tie on your own, and they’re cheap at the fly shop, too. They float forever, and unless a fish tears it up, they last forever, too.
Again, I tend to go with larger flies so I can float nymphs below them, and few flies do as great a job at that as the Chubby.
And, I think this fly entices so many fish to eat off the top for the same reason the mouse does – it’s a high-calorie meal, it’s easy to eat, and it’s the right time of year for food items of that size to show up.
Frenchie, size 16
I’ve mentioned fishing nymphs a lot, but I’m only including this one on the list because it’s the fly I catch most fish on. The Frenchie is a spectacular little pattern that looks enough like most of the caddis in trout rivers, that fish just can’t say no to it.
I like to use a Frenchie as my first nymph, and drop something smaller, like an RS2 or zebra midge, off it as well. It provides plenty of weight to get the smaller flies down quickly, and Frenchies are fairly durable, too.
Late-summer fishing doesn’t have to be a slog, and with these flies in your box, you should find something that most trout will eat. My biggest piece of advice here would be to not get into too deep a rut – like I tend to do. Switch up your flies, try out new patterns, and really dial in your approach based on what the trout in your local waters are looking for.
Words and photos by Spencer Durrant
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, guide, and bamboo rod builder from Utah. He’s the News Editor for MidCurrent, and a regular contributor for Hatch Magazine. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.