Catch And Release Tips for Late Summer Trout
As we move into August on the rivers here in Colorado, the latter part of summer brings challenges to both angler and trout. Low, clear water can make catching trout that have seen an abundance of artificial flies more difficult while warmer water temperatures hampers a trout’s ability to recover quickly after being caught and released.
Warmer water, with temperatures in the mid to high 60’s carries less oxygen and trout tire easily under these conditions while water over 70 degrees can be fatal to a trout that has been played to exhaustion. Oxygen depletion and toxic lactic acid build up will cause trout to die when they are caught in warm water. Many of these fish may not die immediately but hours or even a day later, leading anglers to believe the fish was released unharmed.
There are several direct and indirect cause of unintentional fish mortality when anglers practice catch and release during the warmer water conditions of late summer. The first, and most obvious is, unfortunately, the grip and grin hero shot of your catch. Keeping trout out of the water for more than a few seconds for pictures leads to suffocation. Poor and abusive handling of trout while removing hooks or taking photos can also cause injury or death. Playing or fighting trout for an extended period of time can result in exhaustion and eventual mortality.
Fortunately, for anglers who want to ensure that catch and release practices when fly fishing for trout during late summer actually work, there are some easy steps one can take to ensure the future of our trout fisheries.
This is a social media hashtag and website aimed at educating anglers on the proper techniques for taking photos of trout anglers intend to release unharmed. It’s very simple-keep the trout partially submerged in the river, never removing them from the water and limit handling and photo sessions to just a few seconds.
2. Play fish quickly and aggressively.
The idea here is to land the trout as soon as possible in order to release them while they are still active and in good shape. A “green” fish-one that is still spunky- that is released quickly has a much better chance of survival because it was not fought to exhaustion.
3. Avoid light tippet.
Many anglers feel they will catch more fish in the low, clear water of late summer with thin diameter tippets. Perhaps, but I’ve experimented extensively with “smart, spooky, tippet shy” tailwater fish and I rarely fish tippet lighter than 4X and never go lighter than 5X and my catch rate remains higher than anglers who go extremely light. Using the heaviest tippet possible allows anglers to play fish more aggressively and land them faster as noted above.
4. Barbless hooks
These reduce injury to trout and also help anglers release trout more quickly. If a fish is hooked deeply, anywhere near the gills, simply cut the tippet and leave the fly and release the fish. The hook will rust and fall out in a couple days which is a better choice than digging around in a trout’s throat doing more damage.
5. Don’t handle trout at all
This applies if you are not going to take a photo. With barbless hooks a quick twist of the hook with your fingers or hemostats will dislodge the hook while the trout rests in the water in your net.
6. Rubber Net Bags
Those found on Fisknats and Nomad landing nets are must have tool for effective catch and release fly fishing for trout. They do not damage a trout’s layer of protective slime and they don’t snag hooks. Larger rubber net bags are better than small. These give the trout a comfortable place to rest in the water while being released or revived.
7. Revive trout as necessary.
When landed under warm water conditions, trout, especially larger specimens that have been played hard require a little extra attention when being released. Think of a marathon runner at the end of a race. Oxygen needs to be recovered and lactic acid purged. If a fish cannot remain upright, wag its tail, shake its head and look generally spunky it needs to be revived. Do not handle the trout while reviving. Do not move it back and forth in the water. Keep it resting in the net facing upstream into the current. This allows water to flow over its gills and simply let it recover oxygen for as long as necessary. When the fish begins to actively try to swim out of the net it is ready to go. I’ve revived large trout for as long as ten minutes or more before they swam off on their own.
8. Fish when the water is coldest.
Conveniently, during late summer when water temperatures approach or exceed 70 degrees during the day, the best times to fish and catch trout are also when the water is cooler. Limit your fishing to a few hours. Ideally from sunrise to mid-morning or the last hour or two in the evening before nightfall.
9. Use common sense.
Carry a stream thermometer and use it. If the water is holding in the mid 60’s you’re probably alright to fish. Make sure you practice the above catch and release techniques. When temperatures reach the upper 60’s, exercise caution. If the water hits 70 degrees simply stop fishing. Even if you do everything right, there’s a good chance the trout you are releasing will die.
10. Fish where the water is cold.
If water on lower elevation fisheries (Roaring Fork/Colorado River) is exceeding 70 degrees, fish water that remains cold all year. High elevation, mountain trout streams and alpine lakes like the ones we fish on our HikeNFish trips stay cool throughout the hottest part of summer. Tailwater streams below dams that draw water from the bottom of reservoirs also feature cold water. This is true no matter how hot air temperatures are.
During late summer there’s no reason anglers should not be able to continue fly fishing for trout. Its just important proper catch and release techniques are followed. At VVA, all our guides are adamant about protecting our fisheries. We strive to do the best job possible to keep the trout we love alive and well.
Brody Henderson, Guide and Content Writer