Fall is a special season for all, especially for fly fishers. The multi-colored riparian foliage is like a brilliant tapestry, strung along the streams’ edges. Its sheer beauty is sometimes distracting when fly fishing fall. But the trout, brook and brown, are in peak condition, ready to spawn, and fiercely defend their reds. Thus it is the season that offers the best chance to land a trophy trout.
In the Rocky Mountains of Montana, the cottonwoods, willows and aspens turn bright yellow, while the red-twig dogwoods lend a red hue. Both contrast with the ever-present dark green conifers.
The upper section of the Ruby River courses through the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National forest. It is home to native cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, cutbow (a cross of the former two), an occasional brown trout, mountain whitefish, and a rare grayling. A modest stream, it is visited by few anglers, and offers a wilderness-like experience.
The Gallatin River begins in Yellowstone National Park. It runs north, joining the Madison and Jefferson Rivers at the town of Three Rivers, to form the Missouri River.
The Madison River also begins in Yellowstone National Park. The section above Hebgen Lake is famous for its fall-run brown trout. As they move upstream to spawn, they are followed by rainbow trout, hoping to feast on the brown trout eggs. The fall-run trout are large and feisty!
In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, a colorful mix of hardwoods and conifers crowd the streams’ edges. The Piney River is one of many streams that run off the eastern slope of these mountains.
A bit farther to the west lie the Allegheny Mountains, which offer larger waters, like Back Creek, the Bullpasture and Jackson Rivers.
In the fall, most streams will experience their lowest water levels of the year. Runs become slow, clear and shallow. A fly fisher’s watchful eye can often see trout finning in their waters.
The summer mayfly and caddis hatches have nearly come to an end. Other than a few gray drakes and mahoganies, only the tiniest of flies are present. Most nymphs are small as well, having hatched but a few weeks earlier.
But in the fall, trout are trying to fatten up for the upcoming winter, and for brook and brown trout, the spawn. Faced with a diminished supply of aquatic insects, they turn to baitfish and trout-fry for a high protein meal. Thus fall is synonymous with streamer fishing. While streamers may be fished year ’round, they are especially effective at this time of the year. I like to fish a tandem rig, with a streamer and a small, trailing soft hackle. Browns seem to prefer the streamer, while rainbows usually go for the soft hackle.
As the sun sets on summer, don’t despair. The bountiful summer hatches may have come to an end for the year, but fly fishing the fall season is indeed a special experience. There are fewer fly fishers on the streams, and the fish are hungry and strong. So try giving them a big meal, and enjoy the beautiful panorama the fall season provides!
by Al Simpson, November, 2016.