How To Succeed On Summer Rivers

How To Succeed On Summer Rivers

The still water fishing that we can expect here in the UK in the late summer can be nothing short of depressing, high temperatures puts paid to any sport during the day.

I’d go further, the whole day! There were times when the fishing would be worth a shot ‘early doors’ or again later on in the evening, sadly, I feel this has changed too, I feel that the lack of insects is the major factor…. Anyway, I digress.

Although the still waters are not producing there are other options, yes carp and other coarse fish can be targeted on the fly, but having done it, I can’t get overly excited. Salt? Yes, the fishing is epic in most coastal areas but then you have to live nearby to benefit!

Rivers are where it’s at!

The river ( I’m talking freestone rivers, chalkstreams are different due to the relatively consistent water temperature) will fish all the way through the summer months, but you need to fish it in a certain manner in order to succeed on running water.

I’m lucky enough to have access to a few good rivers and others  which I can drive to in a couple of hours (something you’d be loath to do in order to fish a stillwater) at this time of year. But you don’t need to know a river intimately to catch well in the summer, not at all. What follows is an outline of knowledge gathered over decades of river fishing from all over the world, not just my own knowledge but also the information gathered from some the best anglers I know, and I know a lot of them!

When the water temperature rises the trout seek out cooler, oxygen rich water and for us this is usually shallow, fast moving water. As the water temperature climbs, the trout and grayling become more active, their metabolic rate kicks in big style, so they need to eat and this is the type of water where they like to find food!

If you’ve not read it, then please try and get a copy of Tactical Fly fishing by Devin Olsen, page 17, ‘Water Temperature’ he covers water temperature in great depth and detail and what ‘it’ actually means to the trout and how they feed.

In brief, water temperature…

30 – 40F, I’m just not fussy.

40 – 50F, Kind of looking to eat now, but I’m not going to waste any energy.

50 – 60F. Literately mad for it, if it moves anywhere near me, it’s mine!

65 – 70F. Too hot, I can’t eat.

Luckily for us our rivers here in the UK rarely get to those giddy 70 Fahrenheit temperatures, but they do get to the optimum ‘I’m eating anything in sight’ temperature!

As most insect activity happens around the faster shallower water, we as anglers need to be looking at riffles and pocket water. Trust me, it doesn’t matter how fast it is or shallow, there will be fish there.

Look for water which is anything from 6-inches to 2ft deep!

6-inches, actually 3 inches is enough, if you pardon the pun!

How often have you put a foot in ankle deep water at the side of the river only to spook a fish, seeing it bow wave out into the main flow?!! We’ve all done it!


Fast water but a little deeper here, so the nymph approach rather than dries is a better bet.


Let me highlight two scenarios that will make you think twice about fast, shallow water..

Scenario 1.

A few years ago I fished in a competition over two days, the river was below summer low and there were 10 of us fishing five sections, short 150 to 200 yard sections, it was high summer and around 27 degrees in the sun!

Four of these sections produced fish, small trout, most around 20cm which was the measure for that comp.

From memory..

Section 1 – three fish

Section 2 & 3 – none!!!

Section 4 – four fish.

Section 5 – nine fish, most to one angler that was lucky enough to draw it first.

On the two ‘death’ sections, I moved a fish, a small one on section 2, stupidly shallow water, and a size 20 CDC and Elk caddis, nymphs were a no-go.

However, in section 3, I hooked an absolute brute of around a pound and half in similar water but interestingly, nothing had been seen in this section, never mind hooked!

I hooked it in shallow water with stones protruding all over the place, but the flow (which was off the main current) was, ‘just enough’ to create some movement. Most anglers had focused on the faster water, and most with nymphs, ignoring the softer water on the far side as too shallow to fish, a great example of how we in the UK tend to pick the ‘easy’ water.

Anyway, the monster fish was lost! Once hooked, it took off back to the current, bow-waving as it did so with my leader getting snagged on one of those protruding rocks. The air went blue after that, that one fish would have meant so much in such a tight competition, when so many had blanked… oh well.

But it highlighted to me that trout, more so than grayling, will sit in ridiculously shallow water, the kind of stuff we in the UK ignore.


Working up some skinny stuff with a dry fly, you’ll be surprised how many fish it can hold. From that stone to the little riffle at the top, we shared the rod and took 7 trout!

Scenario 2

A similar scenario happened when I was over in Tasmania. Our practise waters, rivers, were not great due to low flows, scary low flows, but we did find some water. On the first little river, the manager Howard Croston who later went on to win it, fair play, a good guy and the best all round angler we have, now WORLD CHAMPION showed me my first practise section. It was the worst looking water ever and on a tiny river in the middle of a campsite – think paddling dogs, kids and overall heatwave carnage- I looked at him, as if to say ‘are you serious?!’

I had one decent run at the top of my 50-meter section, maybe a foot to two foot deep ( a favoured spot for kids to zoom down on their inflatable toys ), the rest, 40 meters worth, you could walk through without getting the top of your ankle socks wet!

It was open too, wide open with no cover, you could see every stone on the bottom, it was also sunny, and hot, I literally despaired.

The plan in my head was to not spook anything, so I set up with light French Leader, straight mono, with a little stretch, and one very lightweight small nymph on 0.10mm tippet. I’d change this when I got to the good water at the top, dry dropper, I was thinking.

Anyway, on my hands and knees I covered this, in my eyes, barren water. And to my utter shock, five yards in, my leader kicked and I struck into a brown trout which was quickly netted. I’d caught one. I was dumbfounded, I cannot emphasise how crap this little bit of river looked and yet I caught one. I took a photo, first trout in Taz, so I had too.

Well, I only went and caught another two from it, three fish from the ‘no fish water’! I only had two from the run at the head, both on the dry, it appeared that the fish were favouring the faster, shallower water, the stuff most of us ignore!!

I was more than a little pleased with myself. I’m sure the boys t didn’t believe me when I told them how I’d gotten on, as they’d had it tough on their sections too, but I had photos!


First trout in Tasmania and in water you would NEVER bother to fish here in the UK!!

It’s also worth noting that this, along with knowledge garnered as a team, put me in great stead for my river sessions where I actively targeted fast shallow ( six inches pretty much ) water. I managed a 2nd place on the Meander, but more impressive was my three fish from the ‘section of doom’ on the Mersey, I was last on it, fifth session. It was by far the worst performing section of the both rivers…

Session 1. Two fish

Session 2. One fish

Session 3. Two fish

Session 4. BLANK

Session 5. Me, Three fish landed and I lost one! All by fishing very fast, shallow water.

All of the above highlight the fact that trout love fast shallow parts of the river (when the water temperature is right).

So don’t be scared of it, the fish, it seems, thrive here when the water temperature is up, so you should actively target it.

Tackling The Shallows..

For me the best way to target this type of water is with a dry fly. You don’t need to be overly specific, below is my favourite fly…


My favourite little dry for fast, shallow water, a little sedge affair with a bright sighter and a little Angelina Fibre in the butt.

However, saying that anything with buoyancy is going to work. Don’t be using a cutesy little olive, you’re casting all the time the fly needs to FLOAT!

Anything deer hair, elk hair, foam, and Polyprop is what you’re after.

Use a tapered leader, again, not fancy, 9ft tapering to 4lb, tippet ring then 3ft of tippet of your choosing, and cover the water like a madman, constant casting, grid the water and make sure you cover the lot.


Constant Movement Scenario…..

In a Rivers International on the Ebbw in Wales a few years ago, I saw Kieron Jenkins, a gifted laddie if ever there was one,  literally speed walking up shallow water casting a dry fly or Duo, although I only saw him briefly, I thought to myself, what on earth is he doing, he’ll scare everything!

Turns out he was catching and catching in areas where others had struggled, his results spoke for themselves. He knew the river and what he could get away with. Practically running through shallow, fast water and casting dries was doable. Where most anglers had walked past or indeed only fished a small section before moving on as it was taking too long, he had blitzed the water like a whirlwind, no caution, just all out speed fishing.


‘EURO Nymphing’ God, I hate that catchall

Of course the other way to target this water is with the Euro Nymphing approach, long leader, long, light rod and an indicator section of nylon and use one or two lightweight flies. Keep them well apart, a meter I’d say.

As the water is shallow I tend to favour scruffier flies, ones that wont sink fast, hairy flies. I have a few that I like. Most have very little or no hotspots or flash at all, they don’t need them. The reactions of the fish in these areas are quick, in this type of water they don’t need colour to draw them in from a few feet away.

Again, as with dry fly, grid the water and cover everything, but pay particular attention behind stones or little scoops in the river bed, any change in the surroundings basically. Simple fishing indeed but you need to committed to it, they will be there!


Simple drab affairs are what I like in skinny water, you don’t need bling when the fish have a split second to make up their mind..

Lightning Fast Reactions.

Be mindful when fishing such shallow water, the fish hit fast, really fast, so be ready, best have the net in your hand, you’re casting short, so it should be a case of cast, hook a fish and bounce it into the net. You lift the fish in mid-air into an outstretched net. The fish can’t do very much in the shallow water and getting a net UNDER them is tricky, so lift them in, your soft rod an leader can cope with this quite easily. Sounds daft, but it works and it’s vert efficient, you’ll lose less fish doing this than you will trying to play them.

However, I have to stress this can only be done with smaller trout, fish up to pound are manageable.

So, in high summer, look for the shallows, because that’s where the fish are!

Do you want to know more or would like day out to see the above in practice..

Get in touch…












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