By JON MAGEE
For The Inter-Mountain
The autumn leaves are at their peak, a chill is in the air, the rivers are low and the crowds disappeared months ago. I do not think there is a more beautiful time to be on a trout stream. When most people are hunting or at least thinking about hunting, some of the best trout fishing of the year abounds in the Mountain State.
With the relatively mild summer weather, the streams have remained in good shape temperature-wise and there seems to be good numbers of holdover trout in many area waters. I have caught some nice, healthy trout in August and September while smallmouth bass fishing in several local rivers. Combined with the stocked trout in October. It should be a great fall for people wishing to spend some time on the water fishing.
Since the water is usually low and clear in the fall, stealth is a big factor to success. With low water conditions, it is possible to sight fish to individual trout. This can be quite challenging, avoiding spooking the fish while sneaking into position for a cast. It helps to have good polarized sunglasses to cut the glare and spot fish, while maintaining a low profile. Making accurate casts will also increase your odds. It is a lot like hunting, spotting and stalking your intended target. The DNR stocks some large fish in the fall and by targeting individual fish, you can get a few shots at a large fish without it spooking. A struggling fish can sometimes spook the whole pool in low water. Sneaking up a stream, spotting and casting to feeding trout is always a memorable experience.
Fly fishing can be very productive in the fall especially before the first killing frost when grasshoppers and crickets are still active along the stream edges. Pools with overhanging grass beg for a few casts with a hopper imitation as the fish gorge on just about any insect that hits the water as they prepare for spawning and winter. Large caddis flies will also make an appearance on many rivers early in the fall. This rust-colored fly tied on size 8-12 hooks will take trout in the riffles and runs when present on the water. Later in the fall when the weather turns nasty, look for blue wing olive mayflies on the water and the trout taking advantage of this excellent hatch. I have seen some of the heaviest hatches of these small mayflies in the worst weather but the trout never seem to mind. They just go about their business of sipping the diminutive flies off the surface impervious to the weather above the water.
When nothing is happening on the surface, the best baits are minnows. Imitations or naturals are excellent baits in the fall. Spawning trout will defend their nests from sculpins and other egg-stealing minnows and the bait fish provide a substantial meal for trout preparing for winter. I have seen many large trout taken on minnow lures and streamers over the years and I know these baits catch fish in the fall; after all big fish do eat little fish.
Still, my favorite trout fishing in the fall is for native brook trout, while not the biggest fish out there, they are by far the prettiest. They are great sport on a light rod and will take a variety of baits. In the fall, a native’s spawning colors are as brilliant as the foliage and the action can be fantastic. As a bonus, brown trout also spawn in the fall. Not to be outdone by the brookies, sport their own striking colors with bright red spots on golden flanks and white tipped fins with the larger males developing a pronounced hook jaw.
The wild and native fish combined with the stocked fish often share the same watersheds making it possible to catch all three species of trout on a single outing. What better way to enjoy a splendid fall day on the water?
There is just something magical about fishing in autumn, the beauty of spawning trout matched with the radiant foliage on a crisp fall day is without equal.
Even as the trees lose their leaves and autumn gives way to winter, the fish are still there and I have spent many November and even December days standing in a river fighting fish and listening to distant gunfire wondering if those hunters are having as much fun as I am.