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Takeaways From the 2021 Summer Fishing Season

Published: 13th October 2021 | Author: Jess McGlothlin

As we swing well and truly into the cooler fall months, many of us are delving into fall fishing seasons or planning to migrate south to warmer weather and saltwater escapades. We’re excited to see cooler weather and fall rains hit much of the drought-ridden United States. And, we’re ready to — perhaps begrudgingly — pull out the fleece and waders for the coming colder seasons. But before we turn fully into steelhead and winter fishing, let’s look back at a few takeaways from the 2021 summer season.

Very little about 2021 and its predecessor 2020 could be called “business as usual” or even hedging toward “normal,” and in these strange times, many anglers sought solace in the familiar. We’ve headed to our favorite rivers, discovered new local streams, and perhaps valued our time on the water — away from the news cycle and talk of politics — more than ever.

But the fly-fishing industry, just like the rest of the world, isn’t exempt from change. As more people look for those escapes from the world’s current oddness, we’ve also seen unprecedented traffic on our waterways. More people have looked to the outdoors as a distraction — which, in the grand scheme, holds the potential to be a good thing, even if temporary — but it also means many of us have had to adapt, learn, and perhaps change our waterside strategies a bit this year.

Yeah, it’s been a tough, strange year for most of us. Here are a few ways we can help make it better as we look to next summer’s fishing seasons, and possibly help mitigate issues in a few instances.

Takeaways from the 2021 summer fishing season will be key for subsequent seasons.

Get Outta My Spot: Pressured Waterways

As more recreationalists turn to fishing as a way to get outside with minimal travel (most Americans have a pond, creek, lake, or river within reachable distance), waterways are experiencing increased pressure. We’ve all seen the images and headlines of Western boat ramps blocked full of people with no ramp etiquette, and rivers so filled with boats and wading anglers that navigating a riffle turns into a bumper car competition. One solution? Head to smaller creeks and streams, and leave the more popular waterways for the crowds. Hiking in a few miles from the access point shaves off most aspiring anglers, and you’ll likely find yourself away from the crowds.

Find less popular small creeks and streams.

Hoot Owl and Beyond: Handling the Heat

The summer of 2021 was a hot one. And a dry one. Many anglers — especially in the West — were watching water temperatures with a grimace. According to Trout Unlimited, “Most trout species’ optimal temperature range is 55F-65F for maximum growth and health. For native bull trout that range is even colder. When water temperatures rise into the high 60s, trout begin to experience stress and hooking mortality rates increase.”

This past summer, many rivers saw temperatures cresting into the high 60s, starting as early as July. When it gets that hot, it’s a good idea to pause the pursuit of trout and look to chasing warm water species (bass, anyone?). If that’s not an option, consider fishing during “hoot owl” hours: get on the water as early as you can, fish the cooler part of the day, and be off by midday when the water temperature starts cresting. (Watch the charts; this can vary by fishery.)

Get on and off the water as early as possible.

Fish Management: Keep Fish Wet

Proper fish handling is even more critical when water temps are high. Nonprofit Keep Fish Wet is founded on the principal of promoting the use of science-based best practices to catch, handle, and release fish. One of the most basic? Keep the fish wet. Keep it in the water. Slowly we’re seeing magazines and social media trend away from the dry “look at my fish” hero shot and more toward images of dripping fish that have just been lifted from the water, or — even better — images with fish still in the water. Keeping fish wet is even more critical when water temperatures are hot.

At the end of the day, you’ll survive without the hero shot.

When it’s hot keep fish in the water.

When to Call it: Let it Rest

For recreational anglers, there comes a point when fish health supersedes the recreation of fishing. Educate yourself on flow and temperature charts, and when the water is simply too hot to fish for cold water species responsibly, don’t. Make the call. Maybe you explore a local lake and chase smallmouth and perch. Perhaps it’s time to pull out the tying kit and prepare for those autumn months or an upcoming saltwater trip. Don’t be afraid to take a few months off from your favorite trout fishery… the fish will still be there when you return.

Sometimes it’s better to just leave the fish alone.

Close-Quarters Combat: Dealing With Other Anglers

Rivers are busier. People are more stressed. We’ve all seen the “normal” world take a sharp nosedive in the past 20-or-so months. And that’s showing, even on the river. I’ve seen more angry anglers yelling and other anglers on the water this past summer than ever before. We’ve seen tires slashed, rigs vandalized, fights in parking lots. And while, hey, we all have some stress to work through, the river’s not the place. Take a deep breath and move on with life. Laugh about it later. Rant about it later. Whatever.

The water’s a place we all turn to in order to escape, to think through issues we have to solve, to hang out with like-minded folks and maybe get a break from everything else for a few hours. Let’s keep it that way.

If you enjoyed reading Jess’ takeaways from the 2021 summer fishing season, you should check out other recent articles on our blog!

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