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

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