Terrestrials: Bug activity during the fall is aptly named in that flies, particularly terrestrials, literally fall from the sky. By now, your eyes are in desperate need of a break and you’ve developed early onset wrinkles from squinting for hours on end at those micro dries. Fear not. Dry fly fishing in early fall, prior to the first real frost, means you should break out the big guns. After an ant has hatched underground it develops wings and travels to surrounding colonies to mate. Then, when it is finished cross-pollinating and nearing the end of its life, the ant is attracted to the water making it a prime target for hungry trout. When fishing terrestrials we like to go with a “hopper dropper” set-up. Lead with a large (#8-10) terrestrial like the Hippie Stomper, Chernobyl Chubby or Amy’s Ant followed by 24 inches of tippet and a smaller, sub-surface nymph pattern. This is a very effective set up as you will cover all fronts (surface and subsurface).
Winter Is Coming: While hopper droppers are highly effective in early fall, eventually, freezing overnight temps will eliminate terrestrials from the trout’s diet. The general rule of thumb is that two consecutive days of freezing overnight temps means it is time to stash the hoppers until next season. At this point, you’ll want to focus on very small (#20-24) mayfly duns and spinners, particularly in the olive variety. Olive colored mayflies are generally the most abundant from September through November, especially on relatively warm days. There is also an October Caddis hatch, so it is a good idea to have a few caddis patterns on hand, particularly in an orange hue.
Twitch Those Dries: In the fall, leaves from nearby trees are constantly making their way to the ground and floating downstream with the water. As a result, trout find it difficult to discern what is food and what is debris. After you’ve made your cast and you are comfortable with your drift, give the fly(s) a subtle twitch. Doing so will entice trout and reaffirm that what they’re seeing is edible. Don’t go too crazy though. Your flies should barely move.
Streamers: Fishing streamers can be hit or miss, but your odds will improve during the fall. During this time, the browns are spawning and become very aggressive and territorial. While they may not be feeding, brown trout will stack up at the tail end of pools and strike at just about anything.
Treat Them To Some Eggs with a Side of Bacon: During any spawning season, trout will key in on egg patterns and when paired with a worm, it is often irresistible for trout. If you see trout actively spawning on a redd please leave them alone! Instead, walk downstream and away from spawning grounds. Trout are known to hold several yards below a redd and sip on loose eggs floating downstream.
Move With Caution: For those tailwater junkies, this should come as no surprise, but for everyone else, remember to move slowly and keep a low profile. While you should follow this rule year round, it is especially important during the fall. Flows are generally low and the water is clear, leaving trout skittish and vulnerable. Trout are very aware of the seasonal changes and will be more cautious when feeding, so don’t blow a hole by walking carelessly near or in the water. This applies to your casting as well. Again, you should always avoid slapping the water with a poor cast, but I assure you, trout will spook more easily in the fall. You can even take it a step further by using a longer leader. A 9 ft leader is generally fine, but the longer the better. It is also a good idea to go with lighter tippet. You generally can’t go wrong with 5x fluorocarbon tippet, but if you are not seeing results lighten the load and use 6x tippet.
When all else fails, nymphs are your friend: Nymphing is arguably the most productive mode of fishing for any season. However, as air temps drop and after the first frost, hatch activity, particularly terrestrials, will slow and trout will feed predominantly on sub-surface flies. Remember, flows will be low and trout will congregate in the deeper runs, pools and pockets. Stick to smaller nymph patterns and shorter casts, ensuring a drag free drift.
Timing: If you’re not an early riser, the struggle is over. In the fall, productivity generally doesn’t pick up until air and water temps start to rise. Plan on sleeping in and getting to the water around 9 am to 10 am or fishing the twilight hours.