Autumn Trout Hunting

Cranberry River WVFall cues wild creatures to hunt, fatten up and prepare for winter. As a young lad, I hunted and fished, and now it’s just catch and release for me mostly. Though I don’t harvest trout much, it still feels like predation. Some just hunt fish.

We are a month into fall and the abrupt arrival of strong cool winds yesterday finally nudged summer to the side. Alas, it feels “trouty”, and I’m unpacking the waders I haven’t worn since June – we wet wade here in the summer.  I’m telling myself it’s time to get busy tying flies again.  I always feel behind on tying frankly. I like to tie, but I usually have to commit to a trip in order to get motivated enough to crank some out. I’ll probably end up throwing something I already have that’s suggestive of the hatch.  I’m an impressionistic tier and I put more emphasis on casting and presentation than I do matching the hatch with a realistic fly.

I have a few outings planned guiding Project Healing Waters warriors and vets before the program settles in for our winter rod building, fly tying and educational curriculum. The last outing is in early December, but for me that’s not the end of the season.  My only “off-season” time is September and February, and that’s not a really a rule, more because the water is either too warm, too cold or too low. Also, I don’t commit to any late summer or early fall trips because they are frequently interrupted by hurricanes and tropical storms.  Late autumn and early winter are my favorite days to be on the water, so until the leaves are all down, I’m determined to hunt trout and postpone leaf removal and Christmas shopping – thank you Amazon.

I’ve noticed that while I’m winding up for a three-month long binge on trout hunting this time of year, many anglers are winding down, fish less, or just put away their gear. I see it already.  My usual fishing companions making other commitments and unsuccessfully negotiating kitchen passes. No matter,  I must fish harder in the fall and into winter, all the way up to about February, when the air just gets too frigid. Yeah, the limestone spring creeks maintain fishable water temps, but when the rod guides just won’t  de-ice in the winter sun, I take the month off and prepare for a spring assault.

My flies this time of year? There’s still a few terrestrials afloat right now.  Even if the foam beetle at the end of my leader is the only one left in the county, it can still occasionally pick up a fish with lingering summer fever and the instinct to strike at it.   I either go big or really small. By “big” I’m talking about streamers (size 4-10) and by “small” I mean tiny midges and caddis dries in the size 20s.  Midges are around all year-long. Blue Winged Olives and small stoneflies will also show when the conditions are right.  I might do a dry-dropper rig with a standard pattern nymph, but full on nymphing is my last choice. I’m just more into dry flies, emergers and wet flies at this point in my life.   I bust out the streamers when the fallen leaves clutter the water surface making dry fly presentation and good drifts problematic.  For rods I’ll tend to use a moderate action 8 ft (ish) 4 weight, a faster action 6 weight and even an 8wt (for really big flies). Most of the water I fish in Maryland and West Virginia will be heavily stocked through the fall, but there will be wild browns and rainbows too.  The browns will be moving up in the tailwaters and heading for their spawning grounds soon; the brookies are already on theirs, so they get a pass.

I do not advocate fall and winter fly fishing here in the Mid-Atlantic region, where I fish at least.  In fact, I recommend  going where it’s warm and tropical.  Don’t worry.  I’ll stay local and will keep an eye on the local streams in your absence.  Enjoy the rum.