Late September is an interesting time for the stillwater angler. Gone are the days of match the hatch fishing on warm, calm mornings. Weather watching and hitting the windows of opportunity is the name of the game. We saw fairly heavy snow last week in the areas above 7500ft, which means that looking to the lower elevation venues may be a safer bet if you hope to extend your stillwater season. With dropping temperatures, insect activity drops off and aquatic vegetation begins to die back, shifting the food source focal point away from insects and toward the bigger protein sources - leeches, scuds, crayfish, and baitfish. As the days shorten, the urges of Autumn take over the brains of the fish (and anglers).
What are the Urges of Autumn?
For the fall spawners (brown trout and brook trout) the urges are primarily related to reproduction. Both species head towards the places where they will eventually spawn - rivers and streams, or springs in the case of brookies. Along the way, they will often happily gobble up a real or fake leech or baitfish! These big, pre spawn fish are moving shallow again after late summer in hiding and prefer low light conditions. That means that we might be better off waking up early, staying late, or bundling up on those overcast, rainy/snowy days.
For the spring spawners (rainbows, cutthroats, and hybrids) the urges of Autumn are all about packing on the pounds before winter. That means feeding binges when the conditions are right, and absolutely amazing fishing opportunities for those willing to put in the time on the water at this time of year. Again, the food focus is likely going to be on larger prey like leeches and baitfish, so ditch the light tippets and tiny flies and get ready for the big nibs. Alot of this activity will happen in the shallows where weeds are dying back, and baitfish go to hide. Don't overlook places that have not been holding trout for a while. I was reminded of this fact the other day when I watched the wake of a giant rainbow trout vacating the shallows I was wading through en route to where I thought the fish would be!
For stillwater anglers, the urges of Autumn relate to the fact that we know that soon enough, our favorite fisheries will be covered with ice once again, and the fun will shift back to the moving waters, or back into our fly-tying rooms. All we hope for is one more grab from a beautiful stillwater trout so big that the memories will get us through the long winter ahead. Get out there, friends. Have fun, and be safe.
Favorite fly patterns for this time of year? Look no further than some of the all-time classic stillwater flies. Rickards Seal Buggers in a range of colors. Midnight Fire Buggers. Rickards Stillwater Nymphs. Angora and Simi Seal leeches. Classic cast-and-retrieve patterns that have accounted for so many big fall trout over the years. As water temperatures fall into the 40s, fish will become less willing to chase down a faster stripped fly. That's when the balanced leeches will really come into play. Fish 'em slow under an indicator and be ready.