Summer sizzle puts trout in hot water

This smallmouth bass ignored the tempting green Gurgler and instead took a reverse-hackle wet fly typically used in Tenkara angling. Fish are funny that way.

Patrick L. Sullivan

Summer sizzle puts trout in hot water

The dog days have arrived.

This phrase refers to the summer, which brings heat, which makes trout unhappy.

During the dog days, anglers have to watch the skies and the thermometer. A stream thermometer, in particular.

The rule of thumb is: No trout fishing when the water temperature hits 68 degrees. When the water gets to 68 or above, there is less dissolved oxygen, which makes it harder for trout to breathe.

That’s why the Housatonic River has several designated thermal refuge areas, where little creeks or springs trickle into the big river, providing some colder water. You’ll see trout stacked up in these places, like airplanes waiting to land at a busy airport.

Regrettably, you’ll also see unscrupulous anglers chucking stuff at these beleaguered fish.

Many of the signs designating these areas have either fallen off their trees or are obscured by brush. Addressing this would be an excellent summer project for somebody.

If you want to fish for trout your best option is a tailwater, and the closest is the West Branch of the Farmington River.

The interagency confusion that left the Farmington with low flows the last couple of years was, thankfully, resolved by the General Assembly in the recent session.

So the 20 miles or so downstream from the Godwin dam north of Riverton have been good-to-excellent in terms of flow and water temperature. Downstream from that, not so much, but that is par for the course.

This is where your stream thermometer comes in handy. I’ve got two. A digital version that clips to my pack, and a regular one that I have affixed to a long dowel, for getting a reading without getting my feet wet.

The other tailwater options I’m familiar with are in the Catskills, between one and a half and three hours driving time from Northwest Connecticut. The East and West branches of the Delaware River, below their respective dams, are the most consistent. The Neversink near Bridgeville is okay as of this writing but does warm up, and my home river, the Esopus, is usually a dawn and maybe dusk proposition.

All of these rivers can be found on the United States Geological Survey water data website, where there will be info on flow, water temperature, and sometimes turbidity.

Back to the Housatonic. The river is home to approximately 100 kajillion smallmouth bass, who don’t mind the warmer water.

This is the time to dig out a heavier rod (line weight 6-8) and that box of poppers you were convinced to buy in a weak moment at the Orvis store.


The wet fly was tied to a piece of fluorocarbon tippet which was in turn tied to the hook of the Gurgler.Patrick L. Sullivan

You can fool around with a sink-tip line, but 99% of the time a floating line is fine. The smallies will move up and down the water column without much prompting.

A shortish, stout leader is the way to go. I start with a 7.5-foot nylon leader tapered to 0X. This usually gets hacked up pretty quick, and I add additional sections of tippet, 0X-2X, as needed.

Tactics can be just about anything. Crayfish abound in the Hous; you’ll see bits of claw in the shallows. There are as many crayfish imitations as there are crayfish, it seems. But if you don’t want to buy a lot of new stuff, a brown Wooly Bugger will do the trick.

When I was new to smallmouth fishing, and didn’t know a smallie from a crab, I watched a Housatonic old-timer put on an incredible exhibition. Every second or third cast he hooked up, and not just with the immature bass (aka “dinkers”) either.

When he took a break, I asked him how he did it.

The answer: He dead-drifted a brown Wooly, size 6 or so, upstream, keeping it short, maybe a 20-foot cast.

As the line and fly went past him and started to drag, he executed a series of short jerks, using a combination of rod wiggling and line strips.

The takes usually happened a couple seconds into the dead drift, or on the swing-and-jerk.

Last week I took an early morning shot at the Hous downstream of the Falls Village power station.

This is easy to get to but tricky once you’re in, mostly because of the wires that support the kayak gates.

Look at them sometime. They are liberally festooned with lures and flies.

If you don’t know how to sidearm, you will.

I caught a couple of dinkers on a brown Wooly. Craving surface action, I switched to a gurgler, which is a green foam thing that’s supposed to look like a…I don’t know what it’s supposed to look like.

This failed to interest anything, and it was getting hot.

Just for laughs, I tied a dropper to the bend of the hook on the gurgler and attached a reverse-hackle wet fly designed for Tenkara fishing.

I let this combo drift into the shallow riffle and was pleasantly surprised when an adult smallmouth, with vertical stripes and bronze coloring, took the wet fly.

I rassled it into the net, got my exciting photo, released it and immediately left.

It’s important to know when you’ve got a good exit line.

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