Summer is the worst time of year for trout fishing. Or, at least that’s what you would be told by any snobby trout fisherman or the social media police if you dare post a picture of a trout during the summer months.
As the summer heat sets in, rising water temperatures are the biggest factor causing these cold-water fish to suffer. However, options exist that allow you to fish for trout year-round! You just have to know where to find colder water!
The answer comes in the form of springs and tailwater fisheries. These bodies of water run cold and consistent year-round and are the solution for ethical trout fishing in the summer. Spring-fed creeks are very common for regulated water temperatures due to the continuous flow from natural springs deep underground. Tailwaters are simply rivers that sit below a dam. Cold water constantly flows from the bottom of the lakes, leading to constant food availability, and the creation of incredible fisheries. Tailwaters lead to high populations of large fish and provide amazing angling opportunities. These fish are heavily pressured and typically smarter than the average trout. Be on your A-game when fishing these waters.
Most states have at least one cold-water fishery within a reasonable distance of any fisherman. Here, I will outline some of the most well-known summertime possibilities to wet your line. These are certainly not secrets but allow for year-round fishing, especially during the heat of summer. If you wish to get away from the crowds, head north up to Maine and Canada for colder streams or target some warm water species. But if the drive is too far, these options are some of the best on the East Coast. Of course, this list is not exhaustive and many other tailwaters exist that provide excellent summertime fun.
Connecticut: The Farmington River
The Upper Farmington River is an absolute gem in the northwest of the state of Connecticut. I’m probably biased since I now live in the state of CT, but it has quickly risen to one of my favorite tailwaters. Like all tailwaters, the bottom-released water makes for consistent flows and incredible hatches year-round. The summer Sulphur hatch is just giving way to the late summer Trico hatch but plenty of other bugs call the river home. But unlike other tailwaters, the crowds and space on Farmington most of the year are more than bearable. Add in wild fish and survivor strain browns that easily surpass the 20” mark and it is no secret that the river has made a name for itself in New England. You may even run into the occasional Atlantic salmon! UpCountry Sportfishing is in the upper section of the system. They have daily fishing reports and all the knowledge you need to be successful. Additional Farmington river tips and tricks can be found on Downstream & Downrange youtube.
New York/Pennsylvania: The West Branch of the Delaware River
While the Farmington has won my heart lately, nothing will rival the West Branch of the Delaware in my mind. Located just below Cannonsville Reservoir in the Catskill mountains, the West Branch of the Delaware has made a name for itself as one of the best streams on the East coast. These fish feel heavy pressure year-round making them some of the hardest to trick. By summer, you can expect these fish to be on their A-game, quickly distinguishing between a real bug and your feathered hook. Slate drakes or Isonychias (Isos) as they call them in the Catskills, are one of the main players come summer. But coupled within this hatch are blue-winged olives, Sulphurs, a plethora of stoneflies, and whatever else decides to hatch that day, making it a fun game of “what are they eating now.”
Water flows are always wadable come summer but a float trip down the Delaware is always a treat. And if you do feel like, laying off the trout, the ample smallmouth can entertain any angler in the hot heat. The West Branch Angler or Cross Currents outfitters are the go-to for all the knowledge on the upper Delaware system.
Pennsylvania: Spring Creek
Within Pennsylvania’s Centre County, Spring Creek is a world-class fishery known to legendary anglers such as George Harvey, Joe Humphreys, and Charlie Meck. The river itself has an interesting history too long to discuss here but in short, it had been plagued by raw sewage and chemical spills back in the 1950s. But through conservation and studies, it is now a premier brown trout fishery with more wild fish per mile than any other stream in Pennsylvania. The river harbors fish ranging from 10 to 20 inches, with most in the 12-inch range. With ample caddis and olives throughout the summer, evening action is constant all summer. TCO fly shop in State College PA is 5 minutes away from great water.
My favorite go-to fly is a bird of prey caddis or an old-fashioned green weenie. Just be aware that some areas of Spring Creek have some thermal issues. If it is a scorcher, please check the water temperature before fishing!
Vermont/Massachusetts: Deerfield River
The Deerfield River is a tailwater that originates in Vermont flowing down to its confluence with the Connecticut River, offering world-class high-quality trout water. The river itself boasts wild populations of rainbows, browns, and brooks with the state supplementing copiously throughout the year. And the fish here are big! The average fish is 14-16 inches but you will find 10-pounders mixed within. Like most rivers mentioned, wild hatches of mayflies are common in the spring and fall but come summer, the terrestrials are the way to go. If you are on your way to investigate the big D, the Deerfield Fly Shop directly in South Deerfield is the first stop for all your info.
Massachusetts: Swift river
With the exception of the Deerfield mentioned above, the Swift River is the most popular fly-fishing destination in Massachusetts. Huge rainbows inhabit these waters but beware, while it is popular it is also one of the most technical, challenging pieces of water. Gin clear water and smart fish make it a real challenge sometimes. But with hardships comes great rewards. The crystal-clear water means that finding fish is not the issue here. In the summer, walking along the stream should reveal rainbows ripe for the picking. Getting them to eat is a different story. Go extra light on that tippet (6X-7X) with a long leader. While there aren’t too many great hatches on the Swift, midges are the game here. They hatch year-round and the trout are always looking for these tiny morsels.
Maine: The Rapid River
The Rapid river located in the Rangeley region of Maine is a summertime adventure waiting to happen. The last time, I ventured there I almost got killed by several moose (a story for another time), but the fishing was off the charts. This place is one of the best places in the United States to catch a trophy brook trout. And besides brook trout, it has the best landlocked Atlantic Salmon. Multiple came to the net during my trip, all in the midst of an epic caddis hatch. The only downside to the Rapid River is the journey. There is no cell service in the region and most areas require significant hiking to get to the stream. But the brook trout and Atlantic salmon more than make up for the hike. Depending on what section you are targeting, your best bet for insider knowledge and gear is the Rangeley Region Sport Shop or stopping by LL Bean in Freeport on the way up.
New Hampshire: The Upper Connecticut River
The last tailwater we will mention is the longest river in New England. The Connecticut river starts just below the US-Canadian border and flows south crossing through four states to end in the Long Island Sound in Connecticut. Because it is so long, the river contains a plethora of cold water and warm water species. But some of the best trout fishing is in the Upper Connecticut River below the Murphy Dam near Pittsburg, NH. Similar to the Rapid River, trophy browns, brooks, rainbows, and landlocked salmon inhabit these waters. Don’t get your hopes up for salmon during the summer as most of the time they are only in the river during the spring and fall for spawning season leading to explosive streamer fishing. In the summertime, dry flies in the early morning and evening provide excellent fishing followed by terrestrial insects. North Country Angler will set you straight if you need more info on the way up to the Canadian border.
Be responsible this summer!
Be responsible. This is the most important aspect of maintaining the great outdoors we all cherish. Plan your adventure, and take care of yourself, the fish, and the environment. While we are giving you the green light to fish these rivers year-round, certain conditions may still not be ideal and ethics should play a role in whether you should fish or not. Trout stress in temperatures 67 degrees and up. To be a responsible, ethical fisherman, you should always take this into consideration before heading out. Personally, I always check the USGS websites for water temperatures and carry a thermometer with me in the summer months to check how the water temperature rises throughout the day. Check out our latest post to make your trip a success each and every summer!