I'll never forget the first time I fished with legendary flyfisherman Ernie Schwiebert. It was on a hot, bright midsummer day on Columbia County's Fishing Creek more than 20 years ago.
I watched in awe as this true master of the sport coaxed one trout after another from a glass-smooth pool that afternoon under those difficult conditions. His overall approach to the situation was deliberate and methodical as he spent as much time adjusting his leader and changing flies as he did casting. After releasing a nice brown trout he had hooked in the shade of a hemlock tree, Schwiebert noticed me staring at him with wide-eyed admiration. He chuckled and said, "This is like a combination of surgery and chess."
Schwiebert's offhand analogy of summertime trout fishing aptly sums up many of the challenges fly anglers face this time of year. Presenting a fly in low, clear water often requires surgical precision and delicacy in order to tempt ultra-spooky fish rather than sending them dashing for cover.
And like a chess master who possesses a thorough knowledge of tactics and strategy along with the ability to think several moves in advance, a summer angler needs the ability to evaluate and adapt as his game unfolds.
Of course, the summer months also offer some of the year's most unique and productive opportunities for dry-fly fishing. The often abundant hatches of mayflies, caddisflies and other aquatic insects that could produce hordes of rising trout are mostly a memory now. Those showy events have transitioned into another equally abundant but more subtle food source in the form of so-called terrestrial insects such as ants, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, inchworms and other caterpillars, even bees and wasps. But instead of hatching by the thousands in short time as many aquatic species do, these land-based insects find their way into the water haphazardly, a few here, a few there, and mostly by accident.
Wind is one of the primary providers of terrestrials as it blows lots of bugs from overhanging foliage into the stream, and it doesn't take long for trout to become accustomed to feeding on this summertime smorgasbord.
I also find tying terrestrial fly patterns almost as much fun as fishing them. Aquatic insects tend to be slender, somewhat translucent and delicate, while most forms of terrestrials are full-bodied, opaque and sturdy bugs.
Therefore, bulky buoyant materials such as deer hair, cork or sheets of foam from the craft shop work well for fashioning terrestrial initiations that both look good and will float all day.
We've had ample rain throughout our region in recent weeks, so many streams are flowing well for this time of year, making fishing a little less touchy than usual. As the streams return to more typical summertime levels, however, much more finesse will be required for success.
One of the best tips I can offer for fishing terrestrials in low water is to rig a reel or spare spool with a 2- or 3-weight line. With a little practice, a good caster can land one of those light lines on the water with amazing delicacy, providing an extra edge for spooky trout in skinny water.
Notice I didn't say get a 2- or 3-weight fly rod. My two personal favorite dry-rods are a 7-foot 4-weight for small streams and an 8 1/2- foot 5-weight for larger water, and I found years ago that either of them would cast a lighter line with no problem for summertime fishing.
I've tried some 2- and 3-weight rods and found them a little wimpy for my taste not to mention way more expensive than just buying another line for one of the rods I already own. I'm sure most folks will find the same thing is true with one or more of their favorite fly rods.
Another important low-water tactic is to stay out of the water as much as possible on small streams and to stay as far from your target as your casting skills allow on bigger water.
Stealth and stalking is a big part of the game right now. Most anglers fail because they scare away their quarry before they ever make the first cast. Wearing dark or drab clothing to blend with the surroundings will also be an asset to disguising our presence.
Finally, take your time and don't feel to compelled to make many dozens of casts per hour as you would on a typical springtime outing. Stay back, stop and observe, especially for signs of a fish or two that betrays its presence by plucking an ant or beetle from the surface.
Having a definite target makes fooling the fish much easier. Take your time to get in position, and you can usually take that fish on the first cast or tow.