Note: This story was first published to Troutbitten in June, 2016. It is updated and revised here.
I’m not a big fan of summer.
It’s the heat. Thing is, you can’t really get away from it. If you want to be outside in all seasons (and I do) you have to somehow make friends with or tolerate the weather. Against the cold of winter, you can add layers to fend off most discomfort, but in the summer heat, once the shirt is off and the flip flops are on, your done — that’s as cool as you’re gonna get. So there’s no option but to mow the grass, play baseball and have the family picnic in a thick, wet blanket of summer heat. People still tell me that I’ll get used to it. I doubt it.
The same people also tell me how much they love summers. I don’t believe them. I think they like the idea of it, and they like the parties, the parades, the fireworks, the longer daylight hours and the lax work schedules. But the actual season? The weather? Nah. Bitching about the heat (like I’m doing here) seems like another common summer recreation from the list, and I see a clear majority looking for the next air conditioner, cold lake or swimming pool.
I don’t like pools much either. Seems like a waste of time, swimming back and forth just to be wet. Maybe if you’re a lapper, doing it for the mental and physical health benefits or something, but bobbing around aimlessly in a pool with a big happy grin seems about as pointless as floating down a river without a fishing rod. The former does seem like a nice, lazy way to spend an afternoon forgetting that there’s work to be done, but the latter misses one hell of an opportunity.
For the despondent fisherman toiling through summer days, wet wading through cool water is another way to deal with the heat. But there are good reasons why most trout fishermen hang up the rod by this time. The trouble is, trout don’t seem to like summer much more than I do, and you really have to know what you’re doing to fool trout all summer long.
Most days, though, there’s a generous window of opportunity for good fishing, lasting from dawn to about five hours later, give or take. Then there’s a short period before dark; that can be forty-five minutes if you’re lucky, but it’s usually a half-hour where you can just barely see your fly on the water, followed by another fifteen minutes where you can’t see your fly at all. You then curse a few times at the still-rising fish and walk back to the truck.
Some guys fall in love with that half-hour, and it truly is a predictable enjoyment with the opportunity to find rising fish and fool ‘em on a dry — most every evening for one half-hour. I hate it. I always feel as though I’m playing a game of Beat-the-Clock, or like tiny grains of sand are pouring into the bottom of the hourglass right in front of me. The light from the top of the glass empties into the bottom, everything goes dark, and I’m left anxious and unsatisfied. It feels desperate.
The cut-off for decent morning fishing is a race against time too, but it’s not as concrete as the darkness coming down hard at night. Around 10:00 am you may start to notice the fish aren’t hitting like they were a bit ago. You can accept it or choose to ignore reality and keep fishing. There is, after all, a whole day in front of you left for hiking through cold water, casting flies and drifting away your worries. There’s a built in excuse when you don’t catch many, either. That’s a nice thing. No pressure, because everyone knows that summer fishing in the high, hell-hot sun is expected to be bad. Any fish you do catch, when you shouldn’t have, will be enough to keep you grinning like an idiot bobbing in a swimming pool.
The summer morning early bite and the last-light-bite are about the most predictable things I’ve seen in trout fishing. The fish seem to compress all their feeding to the edges of daylight because they know that, for most of the day, the sun will be high and the water will be warm.
Do you know what solstice means? It’s the extreme. It’s a turning point. The winter solstice in December gives us the shortest daylight of the year, and the summer solstice beats as much sun down on this hemisphere as one day can possibly have — before we spin around to face the rest of the universe.
Now, the bad part about sun on the water is how it lights up the shadows — and brown trout do love shadows. A huge overhead searchlight comes with the long side of the solstice sun, destroying most comfortable feeding areas for any self-respecting brown trout and forcing him into the slivers of shadows that remain in the shallow summer water. By contrast, the sun of the equinox lies lower in the sky and creates vast shadows where trout may roam and feed comfortably for a large part of the day.
I’ve always felt that a high sun (or moon), upstream and in the trout’s vision, makes for horrible fishing. I think they just can’t see what you’re showing them. Sometimes you can get around the corner — following the bend of the river — to change the angle of the light more in your favor (and the fish’s favor). But when the sun is very high (summer solstice high) and directly overhead, you simply cannot get away from it, and neither can the fish.
The solstice came June 21st, and around here, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky for most of it. I fished because I had the time. I also have two kids, so when the time is there in front of me, I take it without any questions. River conditions? Weather? Summer solstice? Who cares.
The fishing was predictably poor after mid morning, though I kept at it a few hours longer, parachuting black ant dry flies into those skinny shadows just to prove some larger point to myself. I turned a few small ones and hooked a few more that were even smaller, and then I went home to rest and make ready for the welcome darkness, when I would fish again.
Night fishing. You’d think with all that darkness, away from the high hard light, the fishing would be easy. But no.
As the sun went down the moon came up — high and hard — just like the sun.
— — — — — —
After two long nights of labored fishing (nearly dusk to dawn), and with much lost sleep and only a few mid-sized fish reeled in, I groggily stumbled to the kitchen this morning and complained to my wife about the terrible conditions.
“That moon was high and bright all night long,” I said. “I just couldn’t get away from it.”
“Don’t you know?” She told me, casually drinking coffee and scrolling through the screen on her phone. “It was the Strawberry Moon — that’s what they call the full moon of June because it coincides with strawberry picking season. This year it was on the same day as the summer solstice. Hasn’t happened like that since the Sixties or something.”
No damn wonder.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N