I ran into a friend of mine heading out to do some trout fishing and before we ended our quick conversation he asked: “do you have a few fall fly fishing tips for me?” The secrets of fall fly fishing aren’t as well kept these days. Autumn fly fishing is gaining popularity as fly anglers are sharing their fall fly fishing tactics more readily. There nothing wrong with that. If you want to learn about how to catch trout in the fall here’s how to approach fall fly fishing for success
5 things make up my list of how to approach fall fly fishing for success.
- Total Stealth
- Get Back To Basics
- Re-Think Food and Food Sources
- Downsize, De-Color, Add Motion
- Don’t Leave Fish To Find Fish
Fall for us here in Pennsylvania means harvest time. The cornfields are being cut, leaves are changing color, and temperatures start falling. For trout, fall means food sources are becoming limited and water levels are generally low and clear.
Fall also means the spawning season has arrived. Fall is a magical time to be on the stream for the Fly fisherman. But fall trout are a challenge. They are warier and water condition are to their advantage. How you approach fall fly fishing for success can make a real difference. So let’s breakdown 5 things I found to help my fall fly fishing.
Let’s take into consideration a few things that fall has that is different than other times of the year. For example, the days are now getting shorter. The sun cast long shadows due to its position in the sky than those cast in summer. Vegetation is thinning and getting sparse and this visibility opens the creek. Water is much clearer and lower than earlier in the season. Hatches have, for the most part, come to an end reducing insect activity.
But most importantly this is the time of the year when you are more likely to be detected by trout. Clear low water conditions open the sight window of trout. This gives trout a great advantage as he can detect more than he could under other conditions. Add to this also, he has learned a great deal to have survived to this point, so he knows a thing or two.
Fall fly fishing’s challenge is overcoming the eyesight capability of trout. This time of year how to approach fall fly fishing for success requires greater stealth.
Dress For The Occasion and Stealth
Fall for me is a great time of the year. The changing leaves with all their color are breathtaking at times. Cool mornings warm quickly as mid-day approaches and cools just as quickly as evening rolls in. Dressing for fall is important for two reasons, being comfortable and blending in.
For comfort, dressing in layers as you may be aware, provides for warmth and comfort, and wearing clothes made of breathable materials helps keep you dry. But it is important to wear drab colors. Dressing for stealth is wearing clothes that blend into the surrounding of the stream. Colors that help you blend with the surroundings is much harder for a trout to detect compared to brighter colors.
Also, be mindful of the objects you have hanging from your vest or waders. Shiny things flash in the sunlight and will alert a trout of your presence. Things like swinging hemostats and nippers can reflect sunlight like a mirror. To a trout, this sudden flash isn’t normal in his world and he isn’t going to wait around to see what it is.
So What Is Total Stealth?
For me it is really simple, I want to see a trout before he sees me. If I do that, see him before he sees me, I can more easily figure out an approach to try and hook him. To achieve this you need some patients and observation skills.
But more importantly, is being aware of your actions. Motion is what gives away all things in nature. Planning your movement and moves is key. As mentioned, dress in drab colors to blend into the surroundings and move around slowly and carefully. Especially when wading. Try to stay in the shadows and keep a low profile.
Keeping a low profile by fishing from a kneeling or sitting position and sneaking around the banks helps give you an edge. Position yourself behind objects to help conceal your outline.
The main thing is to develop a stealthy approach keeping movement to a minimum and calculating your movement and motion. If you approach every possible trout holding position utilizing stealth you will increase your odds of seeing a trout first and more importantly presenting your fly undetected.
Seeing a trout first before he sees you takes some patients. It is difficult to recognize a trout from the other objects in the water. Many times it comes down to who moves first. All too often lack of patients sends a trout scurrying.
Get Back To Basics
In our region here in the northeastern states summer water temperatures often keep us off of the trout streams. High water temperatures cause enough stress on trout without adding to the struggle they go through when being caught and then released. So, when autumn arrives and temperatures begin to drop it’s time to return to the creeks. This is also a good opportunity to re-focus, re-tool, and get back to the basics of trout fishing.
It doesn’t matter how seasoned or new you are to fly fishing, casting is the heart of the fly fishing endeavor and practice never hurts. Take a few minutes and take a few casts before you get back out on the stream. Think of it as a baseball player or golfer. Swings matter to them and a few cast should matter to you too.
Getting the feel back is what it’s all about and it won’t take you too long to achieve it. But waiting until you are on the water is a bad idea. Stealth this time of the year is critical and casting a sloppy cast to a weary trout will prove to be a huge mistake. Take some time and make a few casts before you get into a likely holding spot for trout.
Casting into an area where you know trout aren’t holding gives you the chance to get the feel back. Take a few drifts as well to “see how” things are. How fast the water is moving, what the fly does, and how well you can see it in the water. These few minutes are worth the time spent.
There is no reason to be in a hurry when fishing in the fall. A simple but effective adjustment is to pause between casts. For example, if drifting a nymph or swinging a streamer or wet fly, wait a few minutes between each presentation. Food availability for trout this time of the year is limited. Trout aren’t seeing the abundance of insect life like they were a few months ago. Slowing the number of presentation helps you get into the rhythm of fall. In turn, you’ll avoid spooking trout by having less commotion.
Read The Water
Autumn’s changing colors is the end of the growing season for vegetation. This time of the year insect life is sparse, hatches minimal if at all, and the hard times of winter will soon be knocking on the trout’s door. The creeks and streams are going through a change and the trout are making necessary adjustments for their survival.
During the warmer dog days of summer, trout moved to areas where the oxygen levels were higher and streamflow was cooler. Trout would often “pool up” in pods of fish in these areas to take advantage of the cooler oxygenated water. During this time most feeding activity would occur during the night when water temperatures have cooled.
When autumn arrives, water temperatures drop, and trout disperse. Two important things are now their focus, finding cover, and engaging in the fall spawning activities. These two things put trout on the move which creates an opportunity for the fly angler.
“Reading the trout water” in the fall is essential because trout can be anywhere and less predictable. Finding structure, like undercuts along creek banks, submerged logs, and holding pools is what reading the creek is all about. Trout could be in any of these areas this time of the year, so don’t pass too many up.
“Structure” is really important all year long but especially during the fall. Trout are moving around and will hide using just about any structure they can find. As leaves fall onto the water and float downstream they collect in front of obstacles in their way. Trout lay under the leaves well hidden from above. It doesn’t take much in the way of cover for a trout to hide. Many times I have found them laying under a small submerge limb, and, close to the bank to boot. (How to Read a Trout Stream to Catch More Trout)
Re-think Food and Food Sources
During the spring and summer months, insect hatches dominated much of the food supply for trout. Caddis and Mayfly hatches keep trout well fed along with a host of other choice findings during these months. (The 5 Bugs of Fly Fishing Entomology to Know?)
But all of this changes once the leaves begin to color and temperatures fall. Hatches are no longer a trout’s source of food. Re-thinking food and food sources are considering what is available now for trout to feed on and finding something in your box that closely represents it. So what is available through fall? Bugs!
Bugs, in general, are always around. They live in the trees and on the ground under the fallen leaves. Crawling among the overhanging limbs and leaves many fall victim to a gust of wind falling onto the water.
Grasshoppers are more plentiful this time of year as well as beetles. Ants are a common insect for trout and is a favorite. These and other terrestrials are abundant in the fall. Until the first hard freeze, these bugs are a portion of prime food for trout.
So consider for a moment what type of bug may be in the tree or shrubs above a trout’s holding position. Then see what you have to offer. For example, ladybugs are all over the woods in our area, so trying a beetle in a size to match a ladybug may work perfectly.
Throughfall and winter any big meal put in front of a trout are most likely going to be eaten. Crayfish, baitfish, leeches, and the like can hold a trout for a day or two before the next opportunity.
As fall moves into winter, Caddis, Midges, and Stonefly nymphs living on the creek bottom make up a trout’s diet for the most part. Another consideration when fall fishing is using egg patterns. Oh, I know some of the purists out there will frown on their use. But the truth is, eggs are available due to the spawning activities and trout eat eggs.
Downsize, De-Color, Add Motion
So far we have talked about three items regarding “how to approach fall fly fishing for success”, stealth, basics and, food and food sources. Now let’s examine our fly choices, but from a slightly different angle, size, and color.
The available insect life that we typically find through fall and even winter are duller in color and smaller than they were a month or two ago. Blue-winged olives and midges are typically found this time of year and through winter. These guys are small so using sizes ranging from 18-24 is good. Smaller flies in natural colors and with less flash is what is called for during the fall months.
I mentioned “de-color” and what I mean by that is many of the summertime insects are yellowish, greenish, and generally brighter. As winter approaches these colors go away. Winter colors, in general, are grays, blacks, silvers, and for the most part dark. So it stands to reason the camouflage for survival the insects are deploying is going to match their surroundings.
Fall is the transition period from summer to winter, so using smaller flies and dull, drab flies will match what is happening with insects this time of the year.
Leaves are falling on to the water as they depart their perches from limbs high above. Other debris like twigs and nuts are also making it into the water. Trout are finding lots of objects entering their world and to survive he needs to distinguish between what is edible and what is not. Things he can eat usually give themselves away by struggling, swimming, wiggling, or what have you. This motion is what a trout keys in on.
I like wet flies, especially spider type soft hackle wet flies this time of year. As they move through the water they have action to them which allows them to stand out from the other objects in the water. This life-like movement attracts trout.
Streamers are another favorite for fall. Remember the spawn is on in fall so even if a trout doesn’t care to feed he will defend a position. Streamers trigger a trout’s defensive and aggressive nature. A streamer to him is either an annoyance or an intruder. Whichever it is to him, he hit it. Again, natural color rather than flashy bright colors is the better choice for fall. (Learn more about Streamers: Why Should A Newcomer To Fly Fishing Use Streamers?)
Long leaders and lighter tippets can be helpful in the fall as well. Again, clear water and spooky trout call for different tactics.
Don’t Leave Fish to Find Fish
In some ways, you could call this a standard rule that could be applied year-round, but is especially worth paying attention to in the fall. As the winter approaches, deep holes accumulate trout where they will hold over. Many times if there is one there are more trout to be had in these spots. In general, the trout tend to sit closer to the bottom and concentrate in deeper water. Throughout spring and summer trout spread themselves out from bank to bank feeding on the abundant food sources available during this time.
But fall into winter finds trout taking advantage of the deeper running currents. These “chutes” of strong current act like funnels channeling available food. Trout will sit near the bottom and in the edges of the stronger currents and slower water where they can pick off any nymphs or other food sources caught in the current.
Fish these areas thoroughly, “working the box”. If you hook one trout you’ll usually hook another. (Learn more about Nymph Fishing: Working The Box)
Each of the items mentioned for “how to approach fall fly fishing for success” can be utilized all year long and should become part of your general fly fishing habits. But the key to fall is knowing you are fishing for smart, spooky trout with a larger sight window because of clearer low water conditions. The advantage this time of the year goes to Mr. Trout. who has successfully survived the spring onslaught of anglers, the high temperatures of summer and through all of this has learned a few things. “Wary” is an understatement when describing fall trout. But the reward of catching one seems even more special when considering all of the above. The fall colors of the spawning trout themselves are spectacular and maybe solely worth all the effort. Fly fishing has so many great moments waiting for those who partake and memories that will last a lifetime. Fall fly fishing is just another chapter in the great book called “fly fishing”. Fish on!
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What do trout eat in the fall?
Trout rely heavily on food sources like land-based insects, called terrestrial, that fall or fly into the water. Grasshoppers, as an example, are abundant in the fall and many find their way into a trout stream.
What is a key element to fall fly fishing?
The key to fishing in the fall is your fly selection and keeping presentations in rhythm with the changing environment. Caddis and hoppers could be the fly of the day and an overnight freeze means the next day its small midge hatches that win the day.