By Robert Fravel
Once the mild weather of September passes, many Keystone anglers will exchange their fly rod for a bow or shotgun, and stash the fly rod in the basement where it will collect dust until next year’s trout opener. But just because the weather has cooled off, and the hatches have died down does not mean that the trout fishing has slowed. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Fall is my favorite time of year to pursue trout. It is the time of year where you have the opportunity to land some big fish, and most of the time you will have the stream to yourself! However, fly fishing for trout in the fall is much different than the spring/summer and anglers must adjust accordingly if they want to have success in the cooler fall months.
- Use streamers – In the fall, hatches will substantially decline (with the exception of midges – they will come off all year long). Additionally, after the first solid frost of the season, most of the terrestrial fishing will taper off. As a result you will not see a lot of fish actively rising to take bugs off the surface. That means if you do not spot a fish, you will have to fish blind – and the best way to effectively cover a lot of water is with a streamer. The most popular way to fish a streamer is to cast across stream, let the line swing downstream like a wet fly and strip it back upstream, periodically jigging the tip of your fly rod to give the streamer some action. A lesser utilized, but effective method of streamer fishing is to dead drift a streamer with a midge pattern (or other small nymph) dropped underneath. With streamers, there is no need to repeatedly cast to one specific area. If a trout does not take the streamer on the first or second retrieve, work a different area. Once you’ve covered the surrounding area, take a couple steps downstream and repeat.
- Use big streamers – Remember, streamers are designed to imitate bait fish, other trout, crayfish, leeches, etc. All of which are large meals for trout. So if you tie your own flies, use big hooks. Don’t be afraid to create an ugly monstrosity on the vice. Big streamers = big trout. Popular streamer patterns include the clouser minnow, muddler minnow and wooly bugger, but there are literally thousands of proven patterns to choose from. I always carry wooly buggers in black, olive and white. I use the olive and black when the water is high and stained, and I use the white when the water is low and clear.
- Wear camouflage – I know this sounds a bit over the top, but it works. Fall streams are usually low and clear, making it easier for the trout to spot an approaching angler. Wearing camouflage or drab/natural colored clothing could mean the difference between spooking a 20 incher from 50 feet away or getting in position to make a good cast and hooking a hog.
- Wear polarized sunglasses – A good pair of polarized sunglasses are an important tool in any serious angler’s toolbox. In fall fly fishing, being able to spot a trout that isn’t actively feeding is crucial. Polarized sunglasses, are essential for this.
- Stay out of the water when possible – Just because you are wearing waders does not mean that you have to get in the water. Trout detect movement and vibration in the water through their lateral line, and if you are stomping through the water like a drunk hippo you will spook every fish within casting range. You want the fish to use their lateral line to detect your streamers, not your feet.
- Dress in layers – Fall temperatures in Pennsylvania, or anywhere in the northeast for that matter, can fluctuate. It might be 30 degrees in the morning, but 65 degrees by mid-afternoon. There is nothing more uncomfortable than being cold on the stream. Wear multiple layers, including a base layer that keeps the sweat off, and layers of fleece. Wear a couple pairs of socks under the waders (I prefer wool), a hat or hood and fingerless gloves.
- Pick your fishing time wisely – Remember, fall is different than summer. Trout will not be active during the same time frame as they were during the summer months. If you arrive at the crack of dawn you might be in for a disappointing morning. I find the best time to fish for trout in the fall is between 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. If you can hit the stream between those times, you should give yourself the best opportunity to hook into some fish. As an added safeguard, be sure to check your local stream report before heading out.
- Stay off the redds – If you are not sure what a redd is or what one looks like, google it. Wild trout are a valuable resource here in Pennsylvania, and as anglers we need to make sure we protect that resource. If you see a pair of spawning trout, leave them alone. And if you see a redd, do not walk through it and trample the eggs.
Now go head out to your local trout stream and catch that 25 inch slab!