Fall Fly Fishing
It was a gorgeous day in Colorado today, in the low 60’s, sunny, and hardly any wind. With the elk and deer rifle seasons underway, taking a lot of people into the woods to hunt, a day like today is perfect for getting out on a trout stream. Fall fly fishing for trout can be some of the best fishing of the year as the fish try to fatten up for the coming winter.
While we have had many nights of temperatures below freezing, most of the ground-based bugs have either gone into hibernation or have died, but there are still some out there, especially winged ants which live under ground and remain active a little longer into fall than other insects. Once these ants fly out and mate with ants from other colonies, for some reason they search for water to die, and this can create a feeding frenzy for trout. Ant patterns are very easy to tie, and adding on a set of wings can be done by tying on some hackle just behind the head of the fly and trimming the lower portion below the fly. If you don’t tie flies, you can get ant patterns at any fly shop, and a floating ant pattern without wings will still work.
Until the really frigid weather sets in, beetles and grasshoppers may still be an option, so don’t overlook these flies, especially if it’s a little windy. One thing to remember is that in the fall the rivers and streams will be full of falling leaves and twig particles, so impart a little bit of action on your fly every once in a while with a quick tug on your line. It is important that your fly is distinguishable from the other floating debris in the water.
On a day like today, there will be hatches as well; usually blue winged olives in this part of the country, but other flies will come off the water on a warm fall day if the conditions are right. Remember that these bugs live under water, sometimes for up to 15 years before they hatch, and if the stream isn’t frozen over, there is always the possibility for a hatch. Just be sure you have the tiniest dry flies in your box that you can manage to tie on and see, even down to a size 24. For me, that is a really small fly to see in the water, but that’s just me. If you can see these small flies on the surface and you see bugs hatching, give them a try.
When there is a combination of terrestrials and aquatic bugs hatching, one of my favorite flies is an elk hair attractor pattern. This can look like a terrestrial or a rising fly, although a large one, but it can still entice a strike. I like to use this pattern as a searching fly to find where fish might be and if they are feeding, which this time of year on a warm day most fish will be feeding, all day long.
Nymphs can be effective in the fall, but I find streamers, wooly buggers, and the muddler minnow to be effective fly patterns over nymphs, especially if the day turns cold, windy, or rainy. These flies are especially effective at the tail end of pools where the fish will stack up in the slower water. I also like to cast these quartering upstream, and I focus my retrieve as the fly swings across the river as it flows downstream at the end of my line.
One other thing to consider is that at this time of the year, water flows are typically slow and clear, and the fish are a bit spooky after being pursued all summer. You need to use a long leader in as thin a line as you feel comfortable. I prefer a 9 foot 7x leader, and I make sure my casts land gently on the water. One bad cast or too short of a leader can send the fish off to another pool in a hurry.
As I have said in many of my articles, fall is truly one of the best times of the year for outdoorsmen and women; there are so many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. While many people turn their focus to hunting, don’t overlook that chance to have some great fall fly fishing. The fish really need to eat a lot at this time of the year, and if you adjust your techniques a little bit, you will find success on the fall waters for trout.