Fall is one of the best times of the year to fly fish in the western US as there are a number of prolific hatches and eager trout. However, it is one of the more dynamic seasons forcing us, as anglers, to adapt quickly or come up short. In previous blogs, we’ve discussed some of the tips, tactics and flies associated with early fall fly fishing. Here, we’ll get into what’s changed as fall comes to an end and trout prepare themselves for winter and conservation mode.
Air & Water Temps
First and foremost, ambient temperatures are dropping. As a result, feeding throughout the day has been less consistent. In general, the mornings will be cold and trout will be more concerned with conserving energy than feeding. As such, it is in your best interest to give the air and water time to warm up before hitting the river. Unless you’re worried about crowds, we like to give it until about 10 am to 11 am before we begin fishing. As temps rise, feeding will increase and trout will be more willing to come out of their holding positions.
Where on the River to Fish
With consistently cooler weather, trout will gravitate toward the deeper runs and slow pools where they can be most efficient from an energy perspective. This type of water allows trout to expend less energy as opposed to fighting the faster currents. Whether you are nymphing or fishing streamers, you’re going to want to ensure you get your flies deep as trout will favor the deepest water columns. On mild days, trout will feed closer to the surface and move in and out of the faster moving runs and riffles to feed.
In the late fall, bug variety begins to diminish. This is largely due to lower water temps that prevent certain aquatic bug species from hatching. While you’ll find the sporadic caddis and stonefly floating through the water, they will be smaller in numbers the closer we get to winter. While bug variety is lower, hatch intensity among midge and BWOs is rising. Midges in particular are especially resilient and often thrive in colder weather. As such, you’re going to want to focus most of your attention on those smaller imitative midge patterns.
For the dry fly purist, late fall can be a somewhat depressing season as surface action begins to dwindle the closer we get to winter. This isn’t to say you cannot or should not fish dries, but rather, trout will feed more heavily below the surface of the water and be less inclined to look up. We discussed this growing intensity of the midge hatch which does bode well for dries. So if you see trout actively feeding on the surface, don’t hesitate to rig up a dry or dry/emerger rig. Otherwise, nymphing is going to be your best bet. Bigger lead flies in the stonefly, leech and caddis variety will turn a few heads while the smaller imitative midge patterns will be effective trailer flies. That said, you can’t go wrong with a simple midge/baetis rig during this time. Streamers will be effective as well, but more so on mild and cloudy days.