Late season can also be prime time for the use of ultra light spinning tackle to toss small lures that imitate small fish, including young trout, and crayfish.


The author with a spinner-caught brown trout.


Many anglers are aware that resident stream trout feed most efficiently in shallow water. While drifting insects and other invertebrates do tend to be concentrated near the bottom, currents can move them to any part of the water column. Shallow water always concentrates drifting food items and decreases the amount of energy browns, brookies, and rainbows must use in intercepting them. In addition to the fact that trout like to feed in shallow water, late summer also often brings low water conditions to our streams. This situation further results in the trout feeding in shallow water.

Often trout anglers give up on fishing for stream browns and brookies in late August and September. The major hatches of the larger insects are, for the most part, over and usually the rivers and creeks are low and clear. While the fishing can be tough at times, it is definitely a mistake to quit chasing trout in late August and September. Their metabolism is still high and the brookies and browns need to build up reserves for spawning in October and November. Couple this with the fact that food can be relatively scarce, and you have a chance to fool that lunker that wouldn’t take an imitation of an abundant insect that was hatching earlier in the season.

Most of the insects and other invertebrates in the stream drift are quite small at this time of year. Fly anglers will want to use small nymphs in sizes 18 to 24 when trying to imitate the naturals. A better tactic may be to use flies that imitate crayfish or minnows, or large terrestrial insects such grasshoppers, crickets, ants, and beetles. Late season can also be prime time for the use of ultra light spinning tackle to toss small lures that imitate small fish, including young trout, and crayfish.

The low and clear water conditions that are normally present in late summer accentuate the need for a very stealthy upstream approach if you want to hook that lunker brown or brookie. Keep a low profile and wade quietly. Minimize any kind of rapid movement, as they seem to be especially alarming to trout. Long, slow steps are better than short fast ones as there is less splash and minimal wake is created. Make as long a cast as you can without sacrificing comfort and accuracy. If you need to get fairly close to holding water because of over-hanging vegetation, consider kneel-ing on the stream substrate. Wear waders instead of hip boots so you can get on your knees and also so you can wade in deep water and be in better position to make presentations in the shallow water above the hole without being detected by the trout. Donning clothing that matches the background can also be helpful. Light line and longer, lighter leaders will pay off in more hookups.

Cover is always very important to trout in any stream setting and becomes especially so when the water is low and gin clear. While our stream resident trout will feed in shallow water with relatively scant overhead protection, they will still remain close to a deep water or heavy cover sanctuary to which they can quickly escape when threatened. Always be on the watch for any kind of overhead cover above or along side of a deep pool, substantial undercut bank or other good holding water. These situations allow the somewhat vulnerable trout to quickly reach safety.

Trout use many different kinds of cover. Occasionally water depth may provide the necessary shelter, but I believe stream trout prefer something more solid such as logs, overhanging bushes, undercut banks, large rocks, watercress beds, culverts, low bridges, root systems, and clay ledges. Deep water will still hold trout, especially near the head of pools where a riffled surface provides additional protection.


Terri Bedford admires a late-summer brookie.


When you locate a spot where excel-lent cover is found in combination with a good feeding lane, you have zeroed in on a prime location for a nice trout that is in an active mood. You should be constantly look-ing for situations where the main flow of the stream intersects good overhead cover. This combination often occurs in narrow stretches of trout streams because the food carrying currents are concentrated. Add a log here and you have a prime lunker hangout. Undercut banks meet the above criteria automatically because it takes a concentrated current flow to create and maintain them.

Riffles, with their cobble substrates, provide great habitat for the aquatic insects, crayfish and other invertebrates that trout feed on. Their riffled surfaces also provide some cover. Add a big boulder, aquatic vegetation bed, log, or overhanging vegetation and you have a great spot for a sizable trout to feed, especially if a deep hole is just downstream.

Always keep in mind that any bank related cover deserves extra attention because a fair amount of the trout’s summer and early fall food comes from the bank. So try to place your fly or lure close to the bank whenever there is cover that can hide the brown or rainbow. Usually you will want to cast your offering upstream of the trout’s lie and let the current or your retrieve bring it to the trout so as to not spook the brookie or brown. There are times, though, that having your lure or fly plop in the water near the fish will bring a quick reaction strike. The trout can be so attuned to terrestrial insects falling in the water they see them before they hit the surface. There have been many times when my spinner was grabbed the instant it hit the water. If I hooked and landed the brown or brookie you could call the event a “good catch” times two.

As mentioned earlier, casting accuracy is very important. Trout won’t venture far from their hideout when the water is low and clear. Lures and streamers will get the attention of the trout from a fair distance and draw them out to some extent on occasion. So, don’t try to get your offering so close to the cover that you are hanging up a lot. Obviously, you cannot catch that big brown when you are snagged up. The best plan is to make your first cast reasonably close to the likely fish holding cover and then make subsequent casts closer. As I have written many times, the underhand pendulum cast is the one to use when fishing with spinning tackle. Just let your lure hang about four feet below the rod tip, swing it back, and then thrust it forward with a snap of your wrist. This gives your lure a low trajectory which keeps it under overhanging vegetation and you can watch its flight path all the way to the target. Midair corrections are thus possible.


Terri Bedford with late-summer brown trout.


It should go without saying that being able to see the underwater cover is very important. So don’t forget your polarized sunglasses and long billed cap. Watching your lure or streamer is also important. Often you will see a trout follow and inhale your lure without feeling the strike. There is no chance to hook these fish un-less you see the take. Watching your lure will also let you how trout react to it when they come out but don’t hit. Do they follow with interest or flash out and then dart back? By the way, if a trout is following usually the best way to get them to finish the deal and take is to speed up your retrieve. Make your offering look like it is now aware of the predator and is trying to get away.

If a trout doesn’t come out again after turning down your offering, try something quite a bit different. My favorite pair of lures for trout are the weighted spinner and the minnow plug. If a nice brown or brookie turns down one I will switch to the other lure. Using a small, black, duo-lock snap will allow you to quickly change lures.

It should be noted that often the best streams for low water summer trout are the larger ones. Trout seem to “feel” safer in big water even though it is now on the skinny side. Now is your chance to fish some of those streams that were too hard to wade in the spring. But, don’t forget to concentrate on the bank cover and make lots of presentations to those trout waiting for a grasshopper, beetle, or mouse to fall in the water.



Late summer is also the time some of the anadromous trout and salmon from the Great Lakes will head to tributary streams. Summer steelhead may have been there for awhile but their numbers increase as fall approaches. Chinook salmon have increasingly run up their natal or planted rivers in August in recent years. Lake run brown trout don’t seem to be as common as they used to be but they also often enter tributaries in late summer.

Often the mainstream water temperatures are a bit uncomfortable for these visitors and they seek out the cooler trout stream tributaries to the bigger rivers. They mix right in with the trout but usually seek out the larger, deeper pools.

It is very exciting when you encounter these anadromous fish when trout fishing. Sometimes the encounters are brief because your tackle is very over matched and you rue the loss of a fly or lure to one of these bullies. But there will be times when the visiting trout or salmon stays in the hole and never finds a log or boulder to wrap your line around. You will feel a great sense of accomplishment when you manage to finesse one of these big fish into your net or to your hand.

If you have learned or know in advance that one of your favorite trout streams has been invaded by anadromous fish you can beef up your trout tackle. Finding the happy middle ground that al-lows you to still fool the wary stream trout while have a chance to land the anadromous visitor can be tricky but definitely can be done.


Author with a September steelhead.


Four years ago a large number of sum-mer steelhead strayed into one of my favorite trout streams. At first, I lost more of these visitors than I landed but I adapted. I increased my line test to 10 pounds by us-ing a thin monofilament line with very high tensile strength and used a longer, soft action spinning rod. This combination al-lowed me to land close to half the summer steelhead hooked on my ultra light lures in a stream filled with wood. A real key was to put as little pressure on the fish as possible and often finesse them away from trouble. Carrying a good-sized net was also helpful in shortening the battle.

Did you enjoy this article? If so, please subscribe today to Great Lakes Angler magazine and support GLA and this website!

Back to blog


Nice read

justin partington

Well written, and most enjoyable, article.

Capt Pete Rosko

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.