Tuesday Tips: How to Choose the Best Days to Fish

Written by: Bob Reece,  North Park Anglers

When your fishing days are limited, you should do whatever you can to ensure you choose good ones.
Photo by Bob Reece

Those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere are reaching the peak of our summer season for trout. Water conditions are becoming ideal, summer hatches are in full swing, and the daylight hours are long. These days can overwhelm anglers, myself included, with a desire to rush to the water as soon as possible and start chasing fish. It’s important to remember though, that even during this time of year, not all days are created equal.

For most of us, life is a busy process. Time is precious, and vacation time often more so. We know as fly fishermen and -women that our days on the water each year are numbered, so we want to make the most of them. I’ve heard many people say that “it’s not about catching fish.” While this may be true for them, I enjoy landing trout, in addition to being immersed in beautiful scenery while enjoying the company of friends.

When you’re trying to decide which days to take off from work, here are some ways you can ensure your best opportunities to find good fishing.

Clouds can often be an angler’s friend.
Image via NOAA

Weather may be the most commonly overlooked and misunderstood factor that affects the quality of fishing. The vast majority of anglers I interact with prefer to fish on “nice” days. Yet a “nice” day above water does not always equate to the same below its surface. When planning my summer trips, I always make a point to aim for days that will have some form of cloud cover. This usually means there’s a good chance of afternoon thunderstorms or even better, a full day of cloud-covered skies. Cloud cover prevents water temperatures from rising to values that decrease trout activity. This lack of direct sunlight on the water leads to fish that will more readily leave the safety of structure to feed. In addition to this, the drop in barometric pressure that accompanies thunderstorms frequently brings about aggressive feeding behaviors in trout, including the larger ones. The difference between what you can catch on a “nice” day compared to a cloudy day can be significant.

North Park Anglers guide Tim Drummond caught that fish as a thunderstorm rolled through.
Photo by Bob Reece

Stream Flows
Technology has provided the fly-fishing world with many beneficial tools, smartphones and the internet included. Both of these creations allow us to evaluate and monitor flow levels when planning a trip. USGS Current Water Data provides flow values for numerous bodies of water throughout the United States. Once you’ve entered the website, simply click on your state. The gauge stations are represented on each state map by a colored dots. Holding the cursor over the various dots will reveal the name of stream, river, etc. Clicking on that same dot will provide a graph of flow volume for the past several days.

Watch river flows to determine when fish will be most active.
Image via USGS

During spring runoff, the focus of anglers is often finding low enough flows to fish. Yet during the heat of summer, upward spikes in flow should be your target. These are often the result of recent rainstorms or reduction in the use of irrigation water, both of which inject colder water into the system, which decreases water temperatures and increases fish activity. This can make the difference between a marginal or epic day on the water.

If a fly shop gives you helpful information, make sure you drop a few bucks on supplies.
Photo via North Park Angler

Fly Shops
A good fly shop is an invaluable source of information. Many fly shops post up-to-date fishing reports on their websites. If you’re a person who enjoys tying your own flies, call the fly shop that covers the waters you’ll be fishing. Talk with them about where you plan of fishing and ask them what the primary food sources are and what patterns they like to fish on those same waters. When you head out on your trip, take the time to stop by that fly shop. If there’s one thing that guides enjoy talking about, it’s fishing. Take advantage of this fact and learn as much as possible. Set all pride aside and realize that knowledge is power, even on the water. The more you learn, the more effective you’ll become in your pursuit of trout.

The author caught this fine brown on a cloudy, windy afternoon.
Photo courtesy Bob Reece

Our work schedule largely dictates how much control we have over this last factor, but that does not diminish its significance. The fact remains that the vast majority of fishing pressure that our favorite waters endure takes place on weekends and holiday breaks. If it is at all possible, schedule fishing days during the week. The lack of other fishermen will result in more open water for you to explore and less wary fish that may be slightly more willing to accept your offering.

Bob Reece is a junior-high science teacher from Cheyenne, Wyoming, who spends his summer guiding for North Park Anglers in Walden, Colorado. He also works with the Cheyenne branch of Project Healing Waters and runs a fly-fishing club for 7th and 8th grade students at the school where he works. You can learn more by visiting his Reece’s Thin Air Angler Facebook page.

One thought on “Tuesday Tips: How to Choose the Best Days to Fish”

  1. For those who are semi – retired or fully without obligation to a daily work environment, the sport of fishing becomes more than the sum of it’s parts! Family of course comes first and fishing second. Although, the number one position is dictated by necessity.
    The health benefits of fishing have become a focus and is used by numerous groups to mediate the effects of illness both physical and emotional. There is building science to support this claim and the testimony of those who find the sport healing in one way or another. Tom Rosenbauer’s book “Guiide To Familly Friendly Fly Fishing” recognize this quality in the sport.
    So, in short I just love the sport and all it entails.

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