Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Fall fly-fishing can be challenging, but rewards are great

By Richard Tate
Contributing Writer


By autumn, most fly-fishermen have their gear stashed in a closet until the next year. Some of these have become interested in archery hunting and they miss out on some exciting fly-fishing.


Unless we have the remnants of a hurricane ease up the Appalachians and dump a load of water sometime soon, those of us who fly-fish this autumn are going to be fishing in streams with flows that are even lower than usual.  


Famed freestoners such as Young Woman’s Creek and Slate Run have been mere trickles since early summer, and their surviving trout will be nearly impossible to approach in the low, crystalline water.


So, fly-fishermen this fall are going to have to locate a stream or two where there is enough water so that he or she can sneak close enough to cast to a trout without scaring it.  


Spring-fed streams such as Centre County’s heavily fished Spring Creek and Cumberland County’s Letort Spring Run are examples of smaller streams that should have good flows of water.  


Larger streams like Penns Creek and the Little Juniata River also should have enough water for fly-fishermen to find some success.


Cooler autumn temperatures should help lower the streams’ temperatures from their summertime highs, which stressed the trout in many places and where the trout sought thermal refuges.  


Pine Creek in Lycoming and Tioga counties is one such stream where at least one fly shop website discouraged anglers from fishing for trout that were stacked up in the refuges. In the cooler autumn water, trout will spread out into their normal haunts.


If a fly-fisherman hopes to catch some trout during the autumn, he needs to employ some tactics that will fool the fish. The primary tactic for an autumn fly-fisherman is nymph fishing.  


Though most fly-fishermen use nymphs with deadly efficiency up until midsummer, some who continue to fish during the autumn forget about nymphs.  


Although it is true that some of the large nymphs that take early-season trout are not as effective during the autumn, smaller versions of these nymphs can certainly deceive autumn trout.  


On smaller streams where I often use size 12 beadhead Hare’s Ear Nymphs during high to moderate flows of water, I find myself dropping to size 14 Copper Johns or size 16 Muskrat Nymphs in the low, clear water of autumn. 


In addition, the one or two size 8 split shot that I use to get my nymphs down where the trout are feeding when the water is flowing well are unnecessary during low autumn flows.  


For instance, last Sept. 27 provides an example. My fishing notebook states that I was fishing a well-known stream with a size 14 green Copper John.  


“The air temperature was only 50 degrees when I started. Fishing from 7:45 until 9:45 in 57-degree water, I caught and released 18 lovely trout.  Most of those were modest 9- to 12-inch fish, but I sneaked a pair of 16-inch browns out from under streamside brush piles.  


“The little green nymph proved its worth today.”


As effective as nymph fishing can be, it is not the most enjoyable method of fly-fishing that is useful during the autumn.  


“Fishing the water” with dry flies is the type of fishing I find most enjoyable during the autumn. Fishing the water simply means you cast an attractor-style dry fly such as an Adams or Wright Caddis to places where you think trout might be lurking.  


This approach can be effective on all sizes of trout streams. As the water has cooled off from its midsummer highs, the trout are out looking for floating bugs to eat during autumn.  


I find that this is most true during autumn afternoons between about 1 and 4:30 when the sun has warmed the water from relatively low morning temperatures into the trout’s most favorable metabolic range of around 64 degrees.  


The late Leonard Wright, in his classic fly-fishing book “The Ways of Trout,” noted that the closer and the more rapidly the water temperature approached the trout’s optimum, the more active the trout became.  


Over many years of fly-fishing, I have found Wright’s statement to be right on. I schedule numerous fly-fishing excursions accordingly.  Again, my fishing notebook reveals a nice outing from last fall, this one on Oct. 15.  


I got to a small stream at 1:15. “It was low, clear and 58 degrees when I arrived. I was tired from playing basketball (age 60 and over) this morning, so I moved slowly up the creek. I had used a size 14 Adams a couple days ago, and I left it on. The trout, while not going berserk over it, took it readily when I drifted it through sunny runs.  


“Unlike usual, the trout would not take it in shaded spots. By 3:45 p.m. when I stopped, I had caught and released 16 trout, including a colorful 17-inch rainbow.”


Besides nymph fishing or fishing to the water with dry flies, an autumn fly-fisherman can sometimes experience dry-fly fishing to autumn hatches. Most likely these will be emergences of size 18 or 20 blue-winged olives or size 14 brown caddises. The caddises can be quite entertaining as they dance over the water and the trout leap out of the water to get them.


Autumn fly-fishing for trout can be challenging. But, if a fly-fisherman dresses in muted colors of clothing and uses appropriate techniques, he can enjoy some fine fishing.

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