By Richard Tate
By October, most fly-fishermen who target trout have hung up their rods until next spring. With the dramatic expansion of archery deer season and legalization of archery equipment, many sportsmen are targeting white-tailed deer and have forgotten about trout.
For those of us who enjoy fly-fishing for trout, this is a good thing. With thousands of sportsmen hanging from the sides of trees in their deer stands hoping for whitetails to ease past, this leaves a lot of uncrowded water for fly-fishing.
During most autumns mid-size to large trout streams are the best bets to provide fly-fishing action. Even during dry years, these streams will carry enough water for trout to be approachable.
Penns Creek and the Delaware River system are places where fly-fishermen can be sure there will be sufficient flows to have realistic chances to tangle with trout. Large freestone waters such as Pine Creek can provide good opportunities as well.
In fact, “the stretch” below the village of Slate Run will receive a fall stocking of large brown trout that have been sponsored by the Big Brown Trout Club out of the Slate Run Fly Shop. This 2.8-mile section of creek will be more crowded than many places, but there will be an exceptional number of large trout for trout fishermen to target.
Of course, the famous spring creeks of the Cumberland Valley are also fine places for fly-fishermen to consider when looking for trout water to fish.
To be successful, a fly-fisherman has to have an idea of what kind of fly-fishing he wants to do. When I was young (50 years ago), popular fly-fishing writers often extolled the virtues of streamer fishing during the autumn.
Some fly-fishermen still swear that big Woolly Buggers and other streamers are trout killers during the autumn. However, streamers never worked very well for me when I tried them during the fall. Instead, I rely on nymphs and dry flies to get in on the action when fly-fishing during the autumn.
I like to fish with nymphs during autumn mornings and even into the afternoon. On larger streams my first choice is often a size 12 beadhead Hare’s Ear nymph. However, during the past few seasons, I have increasingly used a nymph of my own design, which I call a Bhshpid (pronounced “bishpid”) Nymph.
It consists of a peacock body of ice dubbing counter-wrapped with fine copper wire, a soft partridge hackle, and a ⅛-inch gold bead. Most of the time I weight both the Hare’s Ear and the Bhshpid with a dozen wraps of .015-inch lead wire to help get them down.
I drop the nymph a couple of feet off a high-floating dry fly. During the autumn, I generally do not have to add any split shot to the leader to help sink the nymphs.
It is usual to catch a dozen or more trout in a couple of hours of fishing. For instance, last Oct. 8 found me on a large, famous, heavily fished central Pennsylvania river. However, on this morning I fished more than a half-mile of water without running into another angler.
Using the beadhead Hare’s Ear and fishing from 9 a.m. till 11 a.m., I landed a dozen fine wild brown trout between 9 and 16 inches from the river’s broken water that was still a little chalky from a recent rain. Nymph-fishing episodes such as this one are fairly commonplace.
The kind of fly-fishing I particularly enjoy during the autumn is dry-fly fishing with attractor dry flies such as tan Wright Caddisses, Adamses, and LaFontaine Double-Wings in the absence of obviously feeding trout.
At one time I thought this type of fly-fishing was effective only on smaller trout streams. However, I have found that you can “fish the water” on all sizes of trout streams during the autumn and can expect good results. However, you need to be attentive to water temperatures.
Realistically, fishing the water with dry flies begins as the day warms up and the streams do, too. The rise of water temperature can spur a burst of trout activity.
As Leonard Wright noted in his fine book “The Ways of Trout,” the closer and the faster the water temperature approaches the trout’s optimum metabolic temperature (about 63 or 64 degrees), the more active the trout will become.
Over many years of fly-fishing, I have found that this exciting action begins about 1 to 1:30 p.m. on many sunny autumn afternoons; and unlike the rest of the year when trout, which are light-avoiding creatures, sulk during sunny afternoons, they will be out looking for flies during sunny fall afternoons.
Last Oct. 14 provides a typical example. My fishing log reads, “I got to the creek at 1:30. The air temperature was 70 degrees, and the creek was low, clear, and 58 degrees.
“Fishing with a size 14 Adams dry fly till 4 p.m., I landed more than 20 8- to 13-inch wild brown trout as the water temperature rose to 62 degrees. In addition to those, I also netted a colorful brown of more than 17 inches.”
Big fish can be taken during the autumn as well. I have landed trout well over 20 inches during the autumn, though my largest last fall was an 18-inch rainbow.
One other thing: You can run into fly hatches during the fall, ranging from small blue-winged olive mayflies to size 14 dancing brown caddisflies. You should stash a few of these in your autumn fly box – just in case.