Fall is one of my favorite times of the year to be out fly fishing. The streams are low and clear, the leaves are turning color and the crowds of summer have diminished. The days are shorter, temperatures cooler and the Brown trout are beginning to think about spawning. All this adds up to some wonderful days of fishing for Brown trout which, like the leaves, are taking on their autumn colours.
An autumn coloured brown trout
When fall arrives it presents its own challenges to the angler, especially when chasing Browns. The sun being lower in the sky creates longer shadows that the angler must be aware of, you may get away with a shadow across the stream with brookies and cutthroats, but not with browns. Insect activity starts to diminish and any aquatic bugs are usually midges or very small Blue Winged Olive mayflies. Terrestrials are my fly of choice at this time of year as far as dry flies go, if there hasn't been a hard frost yet hoppers will still be around and browns will take them readily. Beetles are always a good choice, with a multitude of different varieties available most of the year trout know they are food. By far my favourite fly pattern for the fall are ants. Ants also "hatch" at this time of year, usually called a "fall" many of these winged ants will end on the surface after mating and the trout love them. Trout are used to eating them year around so they will usually take a winged ant pattern without hesitation.
When fishing dry flies in the fall it is a good time to do what we call the "twitch". With the amount of leaves and other assorted stuff on the water it helps to give your terrestrial fly a little motion, twitches, if you will. Beetles, ants and hoppers do not want to be in the water and will struggle, slight twitches, especially with a fly with some rubber legs on them, can help get even the stubborn trout bite.
Brown trout are fall spawners, they are very territorial fish as it is, but when fall rolls around they turn it up a notch. Streamers are a very good choice of fly at this time of the year as browns will often chase "intruders" of their territory aggressively. Streamers with a little Orange or bright Red in them always seem to work well and usually the bigger the better, remember you're imitating an intruder. Your streamer will need to be worked near the bottom so a sink-tip line or a sinking leader should be in your gear bag. Cast well upstream to the fish so that your fly has a chance to sink. This will also help in not spooking the fish, remember these fish have seen many flies, lures and fishermen over the last few months and they can be very spooky. Egg patterns can also work at this time of year, browns are not averse to eating their brethren, no matter how small. Some people don't like to fish egg patterns but let your conscience decide. When fishing in the fall get to know what a redd looks like. These are the nests that the female lays her eggs in. Do not wade anywhere near these, leave them and any fish near them alone. Wading through an area with redds can destroy hundreds of eggs and hurt the future of the fishery. Streamers and terrestrials will be your go to flies at this time of year but you should also be ready for some late season mayflies and caddisflies with a selection of your regular season trout flies.
Flies with rubber legs work well when twitched
Temperature is something that a lot of anglers ignore, but shouldn't. During the hot summer months the trout will be doing a lot of their eating in the morning, before the water warms up, and again at night, as the water cools down. During the fall months though you will find that mid-day, once the water warms, through to early evening, are the prime times to find feeding fish. Carry a thermometer and check the water temperature once in a while, fish do not need it to be the optimal temperature for feeding but start to feed as the temperature moves towards it, i.e. as the water warms towards prime feeding temperature, 10 to 14 degrees Celsius, in late morning and again when it starts to drop in early evening.
As in all fly fishing for brown trout use stealth when approaching the stream, always approach the stream slowly keeping an eye out for any fish that may near the bank. You'll always have a better chance at catching trout if you spot them before you start casting. When possible avoid wading, trout have very sensitive lateral lines that pick up underwater sounds and will spook easily if you wade like a bulldozer going up the stream.
Use stealth to catch spooky brown trout
The equipment used during the fall is no different than the rest of the year with a couple exceptions. Due to the low clear water usually found at this time of year fluorocarbon tippets will help you fool more fish. Also consider using longer leaders, instead of the normal 9’ try using 12’ or 15’ leaders if room on the stream permits. Polarized sunglasses are a must whenever fishing but are an autumn essential, spotting fish becomes easier with the low water conditions and spotting them before spooking them will help make the day. Make sure the rod you're using has not only the backbone to cast various sizes of flies but also to land the fish quickly, the last thing you want to do at this time of the year is overstress the fish, they have enough problems with spawning and getting ready for over wintering.
You’ll want a rod that will help you land the fish quickly
Fall is hunting season and fishermen going out at this time of the year should play it safe with high visibility clothing, an angler dressed all in khaki hunched over the stream could get mistaken for an animal. I wear a bright "Simms" orange hat and have a piece of surveyors flagging tied onto my backpack. Carry and use a wading staff, water temperatures are very cool at this time of the year and a slip and fall will probably put an end to your day, if not worse. Always carry bear spray when you are fishing in areas where bears are present so that you don't become part of their pre-hibernation diet. Always fish with a partner, this is a good idea at all times of the year, but especially so in the fall. With fewer people out and about the chances of getting help if you're alone and need it are a lot slimmer.
A quick picture or two and then release
Fall can be your best shot of the year for catching a trophy brown, fat and healthy and beautifully coloured, take a quick picture or two and release him or her to carry on with their fall ritual. Take some time this fall and get out and do some fishing, raking leaves and all the other fun fall chores can wait. When there’s a foot of snow on the ground, (hopefully covering up those leaves), you'll be glad got in some fall fishing action.