As the long summer days start to fade and the crisp morning air ensues, we all know fall is upon us. For many fly anglers, this will be the time they find themselves going to the river less and less, or maybe they are getting ready for the hunting season that is to come. For my brother and me, it is an entirely different story.
This just might be our favorite time of year for fly fishing. The kids are back in school, the tourists are dwindling and we are left to ourselves on the water without a single soul in sight.
We can cover kilometers of a river in a day, only to be met with elk, moose, the occasional bear, and a plethora of trout. I can almost guarantee that on any given fall day, I’ll end up with more horsefly bites than vehicle sights on the FSR.
The only downside to fishing in the fall is the first step you take in the river, it’s cold. Sure, you could wear waders, but then you find yourself sweating to death by noon and wishing you weren’t such a baby when it came to the cold caress of the fall morning air. I have suffered through some very cold starts to the day but always found myself happy to be comfortable by the time afternoon arrived without having to carry my waders kilometers down the river. Truth be told, I will take wet wading any day. The less gear I haul on the water, the better. I try to only take 2 rods at most and the only non-essential item that makes the list is my camera.
Let’s be honest here and get this out of the way. Cutthroat aren’t the smartest fish out there and it doesn’t always take a lot of effort to fool them into eating a fly. Compound that by a hundredfold during the fall when they know they need to get fat in order to survive the winter on a pretty meager diet.
The benefit to us fly anglers is we basically get to choose our weapon of choice, whether it be the dry fly, the nymph or the wet fly and, I suppose, if you are into that type of thing, streamers.
My personal choice for a sizable river would be the wet fly on a trout spey rod. There is something about the swing from the cast to the take that gets my blood pumping. On my last fishing adventure, the river was not large enough to justify my trout spey setup so I had to settle for dry flies on my 4-weight, the travesty.
This leads us to fly selection and yet another special part of fall; the fish are trying to bulk up for winter. So, if you are like me and are terrible at identifying hatches, always forgetting to flip over rocks to see what might be there, you’re in luck. We have found that during the fall, the fish tend to be less picky about what they will eat. It is the best time to take out that experimental fly you tied a few weekends back when you were slightly drunk, spinning up a mess on the vise.
You never know, you might have a winner on your hands, and if you’re lucky Umpqua just might be knocking on your door come Monday morning. The point is, a well presented fly in an active feeding lane is going to garnish some fish, whether you are on the hatch exactly or not. No need to fuss over that size 18, as they will probably eat the 14 just fine.
Over the past couple of years, I think it is safe to say that my brother and I have spent more time together with our feet in the water than on dry land, and I am okay with that. Being out in the wilderness, away from the hustle that is normal life, lets you connect with people on a different level. When you take time to focus on fly fishing there isn’t an abundance of room for the worries of the real world. My relationship with my brother grows stronger as we grow older and I believe we have fly fishing to thank for some of that. There is also the elation of landing a fish with a good friend that truly is hard to beat.
If you manage to find a Saturday, Sunday, or better yet a Monday when the kids are in school, get out on the water during the fall. The fish are hungry, the scenery is amazing, the temperature is just right and you will probably have an entire river to yourself. Take the time to look around and enjoy the seasonal transition of colors. Appreciate the golden glow of the sun as it slowly descends into the far off hills. We don’t go out to fly fish just to find the fish, we go out to find ourselves and the beauty that is mother nature.
Article from Dana Harrison, an avid angler and photographer based in British Columbia. Check him out on Instagram at @kootenay_kid.