Thermal shelter: Finding Trout all summer long

Misty Delaware
A foggy morning in the Upper Delaware. Photo courtesy of Sasquatch.

Summer is the worst time of year for trout fishing. Or, at least that’s what any snobbish trout angler or social media police would tell you if you dare post a photo of a trout during the summer months.

With the onset of summer heat, rising water temperatures are the biggest factor causing these cold water fish to suffer. However, there are options that allow you to fish for trout all year round! You just need to know where to find cooler water!

The answer comes in the form of resources and tailwater fishing. These bodies of water run cool and stable all year round and are the solution for ethical summer trout fishing. Spring-fed streams are very common for regulated water temperatures due to continuous flow from natural springs deep underground. Tailwaters are simply rivers below a dam. Cold water constantly flows from the bottom of the lakes, leading to the constant availability of food and creating incredible fishing. Tailwaters lead to large populations of large fish and provide amazing angling opportunities. These fish are under a lot of pressure and usually 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 every angler. Here, I’ll outline some of the most popular summer options to wet your line. These are certainly not secrets, but allow fishing all year round, especially during the heat of summer. If you want to get away from the crowds, head north to Maine and Canada for cooler 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 there are many other tailwaters that offer great summer fun.

Connecticut: Farmington River

Farmington River Brown Trout
A wild brown that made a mistake in Farmington. Image courtesy of Downstream_downrange

The Upper Farmington River is an absolute gem in northwest Connecticut. I’m probably biased since I now live in the state of CT, but it has quickly grown into one of my favorite waters. Like all tailwaters, bottom released water creates consistent flows and incredible hatches year round. The summer brimstone is just giving way to the late summer Trico key, but many other bugs call the river home. But unlike other backwaters, the crowds and space at Farmington most of the year are more than tolerable. Add in wild catfish and surviving strains of browns that easily exceed the 20” mark and it’s no secret that the river has made a name for itself in New England. You might even come across 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 tips and tricks for the Farmington River can be found on YouTube Downstream & Downrange.

New York/Pennsylvania: West Branch of the Delaware River

West Branch Brown Trout
A stunner of a brown trout taken on a summer Sulphur. Image courtesy of Fishingwithafd

While Farmington has won my heart recently, 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 a lot of pressure all year round, making them some of the hardest to fool. By summer, you can expect these fish to be on their A-game, quickly distinguishing between a real bug and your fin hook. Slate drakes, or Isonychias (Isos) as they are called in the Catskills, are one of the main players of summer. But accompanied inside this hat are blue-winged olives, brimstone, a plethora of stoneflies and whatever else decides to hatch that day, making it a fun game of “what are they eating now”.

The water courses are always moving in the summer, but a trip to swim in the Delaware is always a pleasure. And if you feel like taking out trout, the ample smallmouth can keep any angler entertained in the hot heat. The West Branch Angler or Cross Currents rig is suitable for all knowledge of the upper Delaware system.

Pennsylvania: Spring Creek

Spring Creek Brown Trout
Most of Spring Creek’s cafes aren’t huge, but they sure are fun and beautiful. Image courtesy of Fishingwithafd.

Within Pennsylvania’s central county, Spring Creek is a world-class fishery known for 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 was plagued by raw sewage and chemical spills in the 1950s. But through conservation and studies, it is now a prime trout fishery. brown with more wild fish per mile than any other stream in Pennsylvania. The river hosts fish ranging from 10 to 20 inches, with most being 12 inches. With cadiz and olive trees abundant throughout the summer, the evening action is continuous throughout the summer. The TCO fly shop in State College PA is 5 minutes from the big water.

My favorite fly is a bird of prey or an old fashioned green fly. Just be aware that some areas of Spring Creek have some thermal issues. If it’s hot, please check the water temperature before fishing!

Vermont/Massachusetts: Deerfield River

The Deerfield River is a tailwater that originates in Vermont and flows to its confluence with the Connecticut River, providing world-class high-quality trout water. The river itself boasts wild populations of rainbows, browns and brookies with the state stocking it in abundance throughout the year. And the fish here are big! The average fish is 14-16 inches, but you’ll find 10-pounders mixed in. Like most of the rivers mentioned, wild mayfly hatches are common in the spring and fall, but in the summer, land is the way to go. If you’re on your way to investigate the big D, Deerfield Fly Shop right in South Deerfield is the first stop for all your information.

Massachusetts: Swift River

Rainbow trout, swift monster of the river
A beautiful, healthy wild rainbow. Image courtesy of Fishingwithafd

With the exception of Deerfield mentioned above, the Swift River is the most popular fly fishing destination in Massachusetts. Large rainbows inhabit these waters, but be warned, while it is popular, it is also one of the most technical, challenging stretches of water. Gin clear water and smart fish sometimes make it a real challenge. But with hardships come great rewards. Crystal clear water means that finding fish is not the issue here. In the summer, a walk along the creek should reveal rainbows ripe for the picking. Getting them to eat is another story. Go extra light on that tippet (6X-7X) with a long leader. While there aren’t many great snappers in Swift, midges are the game here. They hatch all year round and trout are always on the lookout for these little morsels.

Maine: Rapid River

Brook trout
The infamous Rapid River brook trout. Image courtesy of Fishingwithafd

The Rapid River located in the Rangeley region of Maine is a summer adventure waiting to happen. The last time I went there, I almost got killed by some 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 in addition to brook trout, it has the best landlocked Atlantic salmon. Multiples came to the net during my trip, all in the middle of an epic caddy clip. The only downside to the Rapid River is the travel. There is no cell service in the region and most areas require considerable walking to reach the creek. But brook trout and Atlantic salmon more than make up for the increase. Depending on the section you’re aiming for, your best bet for insider knowledge and gear is the Rangeley Region Sporting Goods Store or stopping by LL Bean in Freeport along the way.

New Hampshire: Upper Connecticut River

The last body of water we will mention is the longest river in New England. The Connecticut River begins just below the US-Canada border and flows south through four states to end at Long Island Sound in Connecticut. Because it is so long, the river contains an abundance of cold water and warm water species. But some of the best trout fishing is on the Upper Connecticut River below Murphy Dam near Pittsburg, NH. Similar to the Rapid River, these waters are home to trophy, brook, rainbow and landlocked salmon. Don’t get your hopes up for salmon in the summer, as most of the time they are only in the river during the spring and fall for spawning season which leads to explosive strip fishing. In the summer, early morning and evening dry flies provide excellent fishing followed by ground bugs. North Country Angler will guide you if you need more information on the way to the Canadian border.

Be responsible this summer!

summer sunset
Don’t forget to look down sometimes. Everything flows there eventually. Image courtesy of Downstrem_downrange.

Be responsible. This is the most important aspect of maintaining the great facilities we all love. 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, some conditions may still not be ideal and ethics should play a role in whether or not you should fish. Trout stress at temperatures of 67 degrees and above. To be a responsible and ethical angler, you should always consider this before you set 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 on making your trip a success every summer!

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