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Key’s to Fall Fishing Success

September 8, 2010
Author: Trouts Staff

For anybody well versed at fly fishing in the Rocky Mountain West, there is Fall-on-the-Lower-Bluelittle doubt that Fall is one of the best times of year for fishing.  The mountains are lit in vibrant shades of yellow, orange and red, river flows are low and clear, trout are hungry and aggressive in anticipation of winter, and crowds are typically non existent.  Yet despite the long list of advantages to fishing this time of year, a successful day on the water isn’t always a certainty.  This usually has not to do with poor fishing conditions, but rather simple misunderstandings on the part of the fisherman.  In hopes of providing some wisdom on this issue, as well as maximizing your time on the water, here are a few suggestions for any angler venturing out during the Fall.

The Early Bird Doesn’t Always Catch the Worm:  while being the first angler on the water is a proven advantage during the summer months, this strategy won’t always prove as successful during the fall.  The reason being that as we progress into fall, night time and morning temperatures begin to fall, leading to much colder water temperatures during the early and late times of day.

These decreased water temps have the effect of slowing down the movement of aquatic insects as well as the resident trout.  As a result, anglers don’t need to be on the water at first light; instead, plan your day around the “prime times”, which on most rivers will be 10am – 3pm.  Before and after these times, anglers can usually expect to see a noticeable decrease in productive fishing.

When in Doubt, Go Smaller:  one of the hardest transitions for anglers during the Fall fishing season is how quickly things things change between August and September.  August is a month of big bugs, big leaders and big tippets.  River flows are at a low point for the summer, but the trout are still feeding hard on caddis, stoneflies, PMD’s, and terrestrials, and for the most part the fish aren’t too particular.  Yet as we transition into fall, the available bug life begins to dwindle, river flows continue to drop, and the fish typically get a lot more selective and particular about what they eat.  So what is the angler supposed to do?  Go smaller.  Instead of fishing 3x and 4x leaders and tippets, think about going down to 5x and 6x.  This goes for your flies as well, as summer insects (PMD’s, caddis, and terrestrials) start to diminish as the colder air and water temps settle in, and are replaced in the trout’s diet with BWO’s, baetis and midges.


Remember, It’s Spawning Season: in addition to the many other positive aspects of Fall fishing, the spawn of the states resident brook trout, brown trout and kokanee salmon help produce some of the best fishing conditions of the year.  Yet there is a few things to note about fishing during this annual event.  First, DON’T FISH TO SPAWNING TROUT!  You wouldn’t want somebody barging in on you when you’re having an intimate moment with the opposite sex, so let’s give the trout that same respect.  Plus, all that is accomplished by fishing to spawning trout is an inevitable decrease in the number of juvenile trout that will be produced, so please do the fish and other anglers a favor and leave spawning fish alone.  In addition, watch out for “reds”, or areas in a river where fish have been spawning.  Walking across these areas kills all the eggs that have been laid and fertilized there, leading to diminished juvenile fish returns the next year (if you need further clarification on how to identify these areas, please let us know and we’ll be happy to elaborate).


Now with that said, let’s move onto Kokanee. For those who don’t know, Kokanee salmon are essentially a land locked sockeye salmon that inhabit some of the states reservoirs.  Every fall, these fish will move out of these holding ponds, and move upstream where they will “spawn”.  Now it is important to note that this is ultimately a false spawn and fishing to these fish during their spawn has not adverse or damaging effects on their population.  For those wanting to try fishing to this species, head for the Blue River above Green Mountain Reservoir, the Dream Stream, and the Gunnison River above Blue Mesa Reservoir.

Winter is Coming, and the Fish Know it:  the cooler air and water temperatures that come every fall are a subconscious indicator to our resident trout that the easy living of summer is coming to an end, and that they better get ready for winter while they can.  This translates for fisherman into a perfect storm of conditions, where fish are feeding actively and aggressively to bulk up on as much food as possible.  And because the available bugs aren’t as nutritious as what’s around during the summer, it means the fish need to eat extra hard to compensate for their foods smaller size.

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