September warmwater fishing was quintessential of Colorado in late summer, and the return of normalcy was welcome after a crazy spring and summer. The transition to fall is shaping up to fall in line, and that means consistent warmwater angling until the cold locks in!
The Denver South Platte is in classic form; low, clear and a tactical sight fishers paradise. We still have the advantage of the high flows of the summer, which have greatly reduced pressure, and the Carp and Smallmouth are a little less wary than they would be in a normal early fall. The river is crystal clear, you will be able to SEE almost every fish in the river, and that really helps the odds, as you have lots of targets, cut carp and DSP Smallmouth are smarter than most, and stealthy approach and presentation is CRITICAL. We spoke about two big things you can do to counter this last month; reduce false casts & wear camo. In addition to this, fly selection is increasing in importance. With high flows and reduced clarity, big and bold flies were the ticket. Now we need to consider weight and color with higher scrutiny. The challenge of the DSP is that it is, to varying degrees, moving water, and many popular carp flies just do not have the weight to get down into the feeding zone of a river carp. Contrary to that, heavy flies and splashy presentations are increasingly triggering a spook reaction in these fish, as they see more overhead danger, and of course, angling pressure. Balance is key and flies with medium lead eyes, and even better, hidden tungsten beads to reduce splash are key; enough weight to get down, but not so much it hits like a cannonball. Slimmer profiles also help, as they cut through on entry, and splash less. Color is also a critical factor, as fish have been noticeably wary of the gaudy flies that were produced earlier in the year. Avoid bold colors; reds, purples, deep blacks, stark whites, and go with muted fly choices. Olive and rust are obvious choices, as they are in line with the main forage. Tan is an underrated color for this time as well and will be a good producer. I’ve shared some of my favorite early fall flies below, of course, you can never go wrong with a Barry Reynold’s pattern, but a unique fly noted is the Crawdad Craig, which uses a rubber band to attach the lead eyes, so you can easily switch out different weights.
Nighttime fishing is still producing great action, especially in peak moon cycles, and contrary to what you would think, the cold, and especially rainy/sleety nights can be the best. In mid-November, the consistent cold will cease this, but the pattern we have now; warm days and cool nights, the benefit of the temp increase from the daylight sun, will keep temps ideal into the night, and fish will continue to feed. Less scorching heat will also keep fish more active during the day, and Bass and other meat-eaters will move back into casting distance. Baitfish can be this best producer this time of year, as Shad and other minnows will congregate in schools, and become a prime target for big bass looking to add calories before a long winter.
As we noted last month, the predators of CO’s bigger water are following the bait, looking to add calories. As the waters cool, the bait will move higher in the water column and in closer to shore. This puts them back into the ideal range for fly anglers. Riprap dams tend to be a prime concentration point, and Smallmouth, Wiper, Pike, and most notably Walleye, will be patrolling these structures, smashing bait. The best advice for presentation is to go SLLOOWW on the retrieve and break it up with pauses and erratic twitches. The colder it is, the slower you present, and truly successful anglers know the agony of painfully long pauses between strips. Late October and early November can be the best time of the year for Walleye in Colorado, as they are eating, unfettered by spawning urge, and at their peak weight from a summer of bounty. This is the time to dawn a headlamp and go find a Jumbo ‘Eye!
Fall is also the time to target BIG Pike in the impounds in which they reside. Big Specimens are patrolling decomposing weed beds, searching for a few more large meals to hold them through the lean winter. Big flies and slow retrievals are key as the water cools. Fall Pike pishing is not a numbers game, but it is common knowledge your best chance at a real MONSTER comes in October!
Fall can be the best time to go explore Colorado outside of the usual Mountain Trout Destinations. Opportunities close to home abound, and there is always a potential for a trophy surprise at the end of your line….