Fall Fly Fishing Tactics

fall fly fishing tactics

Fall is approaching. It is a fantastic time of the year to fly fish. The air temperature moderates, the leaves begin to turn color, and the pressure lessens. That’s because some fly fishers pick up their shotguns, rifles, or bows and leave their fly rods home. The trout fishing can be exceptional, but it does require some fall fly fishing tactics.

Here are are a few worth remembering when you head to the river or creek this fall:

Adjust to lower water

Rivers and creeks will be at their lowest. So the trout will be spookier – especially in smaller creeks and streams.

This requires more stealth. This may have to do more sneaking and make a more intentional effort to stay hidden. Too much false casting can send trout darting for cover. A smaller tippet size than normal might be helpful as well. Some anglers like to use longer leaders (although I confess I’ve never felt the need to go longer than nine feet).

Don’t forget about terrestrials

Keep tying on those hoppers, beetles, and ant patterns you used during the summer. They can still work great in September.

I’ve had some good days using terrestrials on the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park on fall days. I always seem to do better with hoppers, beetles, and ants on sunny days.

Make streamers a priority

You can catch trout on streamers in the spring and summer. But streamers are dynamite in the fall.

Trout are eating bigger meals as they get ready for winter. Plus, the brown trout getting ready to spawn tend to be more aggressive. You don’t have to get fancier than a Woolly Bugger. Go with basic colors like olive, brown, and black. Even white will work well in some rivers.

I’m partial to a JJ’s Special — a Woolly Bugger on steroids. It has rubber legs and a conehead (great to help get them deeper) in a brown/yellow color combination.

Try an egg pattern

If you’re fishing with nymphs in places where brown trout are present, consider an egg pattern as one of your flies. You can even use it either as your lead fly or your dropper — depending on what other fly gives you the most chance for success.

When I fish the Beartrap section of Montana’s Madison River in the fall, I tend to use an egg as a lead fly and then drop a size #18 Copper John (red or copper). Some days I’ll do better on one than the other. However, if I’m fishing the Gardner River inside Yellowstone Park in October, I’ll tie on brown stonefly pattern with rubber legs as my lead fly and then use the egg pattern as the dropper.

Go later than usual

As one of several fall fly fishing tactics, this more relevant when you’re fishing terrestrials. I’ve fished in Montana on September days where the temperatures dip into the high 30s overnight and then rise to the low 80s during the day. It takes longer for hoppers to “wake up” on these kind of days than in the hot days of August.

However, streamers and nymphs will work about any time of day. I remember fishing the Gardner River a few years ago around 7:30 AM – just when it was legal to start the day. I did it to beat the crowds (then realized there were no crowds, let alone any other fly fishers on that stretch of water!). I hooked trout on my first few casts, all before sunrise.

The action was steady all morning.

Seize the bad weather days

As one of the fly fishing tactics, bad weather (rain, snow) is all the more reason to get out on the river in September and October! I’ve had rainy September days on the East Gallatin River in Montana when rainbows seemed to gorge themselves on Blue-Winged Olives (BWOs).

I’ve learned, too, that cold, wet weather gets the salmon moving into the rivers from Lake Michigan in October. It does the same for the runners coming up out of Hebgen Lake into the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park. Yes, the worst weather for fly fishers usually turns out to be the best weather for fly fishing!

Dave, my podcast partner, and I are getting ready for a 5-day fly fishing trip this fall. We hope you’ll get out on your favorite river or creek and enjoy this amazing season of the year. For one of our best fall fly fishing podcast episodes, see S3:E13: The Mystique of Fall Fly Fishing

A Few of My Favorite Things About Spring Fly Fishing

favorite things of spring fly fishing

Raindrops on rainbow runs, hands without mittens
Bright colored Copper Johns, trout that are smitten
Browns slamming streamers so hard as they swing
These are a few of my favorite things

Perhaps this is not what Rodgers and Hammerstein had in mind when they wrote the show tune “My Favorite Things.” But spring fly fishing makes me want to break out in song! Here are a few of my favorite things about fly fishing in the springtime.

A new beginning

Spring is the new year of fly fishing.

After a long winter (and, boy, was it long in the Upper Midwest this year), this is the first of the three best seasons of the year for fly fishers—spring, summer, and fall. Let the fun begin!

Oh, yes, there’s a chance to use the new gear purchased with Christmas gift cards and, uh, money that could otherwise be put into savings.

Insect hatches

Spring is the time of year when the river bottom comes to life. The first brood of Blue Winged Olives shows up in March. Then Caddis emerge as the water temperature rises in mid-April. After a fall of slinging streamers and a winter day or two of drifting midges, the explosion of insect life is a welcome gift.


Spring is as a time for runners — the rainbows that head up the rivers to the redds (spawning beds), as well as other species of trout, which lurk behind in wait for eggs or small egg sacs to drift down the river. I’ve tied into some large rainbows on Montana’s Madison and Missouri Rivers during the spring rainbow run.

If you’re fishing during the spring, make sure to stay off the redds. There’s no need to add stress to spawning fish. Once you know what to look for, it isn’t hard to spot the redds. Look for shiny spots in gravelly places. You can fish below or above them. But please leave the redds alone.

Fewer crowds

Depending where you live, you still might see a lot of fly fishers in the spring — especially if you’re on a stretch of river where big rainbows are on the move. But tourist season is still a few weeks away. So you typically won’t have to deal with large crowds.

By the way, I have nothing against tourists or fly fishers who can only fish on a summer vacation. I’m now a tourist, I suppose, when I return “home” to Montana where I lived and fly fished for the better part of 25 years. The reality, though, is that you’ll have less competition in the spring than in the middle of July.

Crazy weather

Call me crazy, but I’m intrigued by crazy weather.

I’ve fly-fished in Montana and in Wisconsin on 60-degree days in March. I’ve also stood knee-deep in Montana’s Madison River in April when the snow softly falls. A few years ago, my podcast partner, Dave, and I floated the Upper Madison with a friend on a mid-April day. I think we saw at least three seasons, complete with sun, wind, sleet, and rain. It’s rather fascinating.

Alright, these are a few of my favorite things about fly fishing in the spring. Hooray for spring! It’s time to grab a fly rod and head for the river.

When no trout bite
When the sleet stings
When I’m casting bad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad