It’s a shame that after the months of April, May and June many anglers hang up their rods for “the season” and allow them to collect dust until next spring. Admittedly, fishing in the boiling heat of summer may not be as appealing or fun for anyone other than the hard core anglers looking for a challenge, but the crisp, cool, reviving fall season with all of it’s colorful splendor has a lot to offer in the way of natural beauty and, of course, great fishing. There is an often overlooked opportunity when the air temperatures cool and the leaves start to change. It is a renewal of life in the region’s cold water fisheries. As optimum conditions return in mid September, observant anglers will notice a variety of fall hatches and trout activity that will entice them into searching the local waters for active trout.
In the early fall most of the mid Atlantic region will see a variety of mayfly hatches. Slate Drakes (Isonychia), Little Bluewinged Olives (Baetis), Pink Ladies (Epeourus vitrea), Cahills (Maccaffeertim / Stenacron), Hebes (Leucrocuta hebe), and Tricos (Tricorythodes) appear throughout the region on many of the streams. These hatches may not be as heavy as their more famous spring counterparts, but can often be heavy enough to bring good numbers of rising fish to the surface. On larger creeks and rivers you can often find small pods of fish working on the duns and spinners which float down the pools. In the riffles, during sporadic hatches, the nymph activity will often overshadow the dry fly. Having the proper size and color of all stages of the insect is the key to success in the fall. Make sure you take the time to get a drag free drift and a natural presentation of both the dries and the nymphs. The length and diameter of the leader and a good presentation that offers the dry fly first can really help produce on the surface. A good drift that is slightly slower than the water on the surface is always a safe bet when plying for trout along the bottom.
Fall caddis hatches can also be significant with sporadic activity occurring throughout the day on many of the local streams. Colors and sizes of caddis will vary with species and locations, but the following list will help you identify the insects, you’ll be seeing. During hatches of Hydropsyche and Neophlax caddis you will see tan colored caddis that are around a size 16 with the larva and emergers having cream to tan bodies. Another common fall caddis is the small dark caddis, Dolopholodes. This is similar to the spring and summer Chimarra caddis in that the adults are black to dark brown, but its larva is creamy in color, not orange. The emerging pupa is dark brown to black, just like the adult, only in a smaller size 18. There is one large, size 8, orange caddis that can be found on some streams called the October Caddis. I have seen fish take these tasty morsels on the Upper Delaware and fishing a size 8-10 orange stimulator can be effective during this sporadic hatch.
In the fall the fish are not only actively chasing flies, but in many streams wild and holdover trout will start to spawn in mid to late fall. While they are taking care of business, many trout will refuse your average insect imitations, but very few of them can pass up a small egg pattern drifted along the bottom of the stream. My favorite patterns are light pink and cheese, colored egg flies that are tied out of traditional egg yarn which is more transparent and realistic than some of the newer materials. I also have had great success with light colored sucker spawn during the fall and into the winter. As a matter of fact eggs and spawn in size 16-20 can be effective throughout the winter and into the early spring in any of the streams that have a decent population of wild and holdover trout or sucker spawn.
So, with the large variety of insect activity and the wild antics of the spawning fish, what would be the guides’ choice of flies to carry? I do carry a variety of patterns to match the hatch, but consistently find myself coming back to some great, basic, go to patterns. I have often said that you can match most hatches with one or two patterns tied in a few different colors to match a variety of naturals. The paranymph is a great, easy to see parachute pattern with a trailing shuck that can do just that. To match the majority of the mayflies above, you can tie or buy this pattern with a light tan body and a grizzly hackle in sizes 14-18. For the bluewing olives and hebes, this fly can be tied with an olive body and a dun or grizzly hackle in sizes 18-20. For the Slate Drakes just change the body to a dark brown to mahogany color in a size 14. If a more exact imitation is needed, a cut wing pattern has a better silhouette and a more realistic profile. The same color combinations as above can be applied. Often you will find fish sipping on spinners in the fall and the standard rusty spinner and trico patterns will work fine. Make sure you have plenty of rusty spinners in the 18-22 size, they have been great producers in the fall for many years and represent a variety of spinners. Caddis dry flies can be cdc or elk hair versions in tan and dark brown or black. Sizes 16-20 will be your best bet. Remember it is often important to impart motion to your caddis flies to create a more realistic presentation to the fish.
On the subsurface side, a simple selection of nymphs, caddis larva and pupa can be useful as well as a small selection of eggs. My favorite nymph of all time is the bead head pheasant tail in sizes 16-20. A basic pattern tied on a scud hook with a copper bead works the best. Hare’s ears and prince nymphs can also be effective in sizes 14-18. A year round standard in my box, is the basic hare’s ear caddis larva pattern in sizes 16-18. It imitates many caddis larva and is just a great searching pattern in general. Soft hackles and caddis pupa can be good producers in the fall when tied in tan and dark colors (peacock) in sizes 16-18 and can be fished dead drift or on the swing. Micro eggs and sucker spawn in cream, pink lady, and Oregon cheese colors, rolled along the bottom with just enough shot to slow them down, can also be extremely effective in mid and late fall.
Remember to match your leader and tippet to the conditions of the season. Fall conditions can be very different from year to year. It often consists of a period of low clear water, making you more visible to the fish which can be quite skittish from being pressured all season. In the instance of high water the fish can occasionally be aggressive as they bulk up for the long winter. Many streams in New Jersey and Pennsylvania receive a fall stocking that adds to the excitement of the fall season. Many of the fish will be uneducated and easy pickins’ at first, but will learn fast during increased angling pressure. Stealth tactics and the correct fly choices will be needed to be successful. With these flies and techniques you should have a head start on the other anglers. Enjoy the many colors of fall. The vibrant reds, oranges, and browns of fall are not just in the leaves, but on some of the best looking fish of the year.