From the Olympic Peninsula to the southern Sierras, successful fly-fishermen chasing trout this month change tactics as dramatically as baseball managers change pitchers in the World Series. You could even say that familiar phrase – “Going, going, gone!” – penned for the boys of summer fits nicely into your fishing jargon when October slides into November:
“Going” are the hot days of summertime that carry you off trout waters when the sun is high and the air is dry. “Going” are the summertime water temperatures that led trout into the cool, deep pools and highly oxygenated riffles.
And “gone” are the summertime bugs that for several months have provided key disclosures to long-rodders selecting the just-right mayfly pattern.
Mindful of regional considerations and opportunities, fly-fishermen who flog the waters that flow off the spine of the Western mountains that stretch from Washington to Oregon to California, could find themselves pitching high-floating dry flies, swinging streamers, nymphing riffles and tailouts, spey-casting wet flies to deep runs and riffle-hitching seasonal caddis patterns. The tactics that will work best for you depend upon the water you choose to fish and the trout that swim there.
Fly-fishing since he was 12 years old, fishing guide Dave Leak of Blue Water Tackle and San Diego Fly Shop (www.SanDiegoFlyShop.com; 951-296-9999) in Temecula, Calif., casts frequently over the trout waters of the eastern Sierras in the vicinity of Mammoth Lakes, Calif. Fall brings many renewed opportunities to Dave and his clients, including freestone, tailwater and stillwater fly-fishing for inland browns and rainbows. “Freestone rivers, like the Upper Owens and West Walker rivers, often fall into the most consistent flows of the year in the fall,” Leak points out, “and consistent low-level flows on any freestone in the eastern Sierras results in excellent evening dry-fly fishing. Fly-fishing on the upper Owens in the fall means you’ll see an extensive amount of caddisflies; midges are constant; and mayflies – like the Pale Evening Dun – will hatch late in the day.”
But Leak persists that a good fly-fisherman will always use his or her knowledge of what they observe. Sometimes, fly-fishermen will not have one of those fall hatches present in the pocket water and boulder runs of a freestone stream. “That’s when you turn to high-stick nymphing the ‘lob-lift-lead’ technique of working both single- and double-nymph rigs in front of rocks, behind the rocks, along the foam lines,” he says, “anywhere the fish can preserve energy while feeding in the cooling water of the fall season.”
Highland regions in fall can also double-up your fall fly-fishing success. Tailwaters can sustain remarkably productive trophy-trout waters, while the cool evenings that fall across area reservoirs can bring trout out of the lakes’ deep waters to feed on both tiny midges and large mayflies that hatch over muddy bottoms and grassy edges.
For example, the Bridgeport Dam tailwater of the East Walker River holds remarkable ability to sustain trophy brown trout. Not only are the browns feeding heavily during the spawning period in the fall, Leak reveals, but this is a tailwater that’s ripe with baitfish. That’s a deadly combination for taking some of the largest trout of the year.
“The East Walker River is a tailwater where fly-fishermen can use large streamers in two ways to mimic the local baitfish, the Sacramento perch. You can dead-drift a Hornberg or a Muddler Minnow under an indicator through the pockets and the seams,” he suggests “or swing those same flies on the tailouts and shallow-riffle runs. Just remember, where you’ve got a large population of baitfish in a trout fishery, you can witness an all-out vicious event. When you’ve got trout feeding on other fish, those are big trout!”
When he’s stillwater trout fishing, Leak says, he’s typically in a float tube, observing the water for hatching midges and, sometimes, the Calibaetis mayfly – a mayfly so large, ” … they look like pterodactyls flying through the air,” he jokes.
“Key to float-tube fly-fishing on still water during the fall,” Leak says, “is to locate the depth at which the trout are suspending while feeding on the bugs that are working their way through the water column. You want to suspend your fly at the depth the fish are feeding – usually, between 8 and 14 feet, depending on the water temperature. This time of year, you need to find water from 55 to 62 degrees. That’s why I often stage three flies on my leader one at 6, 9 and 12 feet – and the lead fly will often be a leech or damsel fly pattern. Both are common in highland reservoirs.”
Canyons resonate with trout fishing along the north-to-south stretch of the Western mountains. The waters that have long carved their way through the granite and basalt bedrock of the Sierras, Cascades and Olympic mountain ranges have created freestone trout rivers that are heavily characterized by steep slopes, high gradients, long boulder runs, charging chutes, deep pools and plunging pocket water – trout water like that of the upper Sacramento and McCloud rivers in Northern California.
As water temperatures fall with the cooling of the season on the canyon waters of the Pacific Northwest, a ke episode in the annual progression of hatching aquatic insects is the appearance of the so-called “October caddis” of the insect family Dicosrnoecus. This large, pumpkin-colored caddisfly typically hatches in a short period of two to three weeks and is most active in the afternoon and evening on the low, clear water common in the fall.
“The upper Sacramento is renowned for the October caddis,” says fishing guide Brian Bommarito of The Fly Shop (www.TheFlyShop.com; 800-669-3474) in Redding, Calif. “My ‘go-to’ for this event is the drydropper rig. On top I’ll have an orange Stimulator in size 6 or 8, over-hackled to double its physical density and floatation, which helps it carry a big tungsten-bead dropper. Which dropper? Any of the variety of typical nymphs – Prince, Pheasant Tail, Hares’ Ear, Copper John and sometimes a caddis pupa – but up scaled to sizes 12 and 14 from the usual size 16 and 18 of summertime. The fish are just more aggressive and will bite a bigger fly. As evening approaches and the big caddis start egg-laying, we’ll cut the nymph off and fish only the dry the last two hours or so. You might only get a couple of grabs on the dry but, they will likely be the fish of the day!”
Of course, there are many fly patterns modeled on the October caddis – the Goddard Caddis, Mercer’s Skating October Caddis, October Irresistible Caddis, Pompadora Skater, Moorejohn’s Comeback Caddis October Caddis, Tungsten October Fox Pewpah, Mercer’s October Pupa and many more. Whichever pattern you choose, the key to success wherever . you find October caddis in the Pacific Northwest is fishing the fly – dry or nymph – when egg laying adults and hatching pupas are both active.
“Fish your presentation in the slower, deeper slots. In the fall, trout move into the more ‘walking-speed’ runs where there’s not as much high energy to the flow. And look everywhere,” he adds, “everywhere, other than the highly oxygenated pocket water you would have keyed on during your summertime fly-fishing.”
Interestingly, the phenomenon of the October caddis hatch also plays out among the sea-run cutthroats (Oncorhynchus clarkii clarki) of the waters of the Olympic Peninsula. A native species that begins to return ) freshwater in June and July, this Dastal cutthroat holds in its greatest umbers from mid-August into fall, in vers like the Calawah, Bogachiel and 01 Duc, where fishing guide Doug ose (www.DougRoseFlyFishing.com; 360-374-2635) of Forks, Wash., as guided for 12 years.
“You don’t tend to fish for these cuts like you do for rainbows and browns. You might be used to dead-drifting dry flies, for example. But these are migratory fish, and they’re very aggressive,” Rose explains. “They’ll pursue fly more aggressively, so I’ll fish an October caddis pattern downstream ld with a riffled hitch. Caddisflies are awkward flyers, and most trout fishermen have seen them dappling the surface. Throw a couple of hitches behind the eye of the hook, and you’ll cause the fly to ‘swim’ erratically on the surface, almost tumbling sideways, while so appearing much like it’s depositing eggs.”
Rose says he chooses the Stimulator, Bomber and Waller Waker as caddisfly patterns, whether he’s pursuing the cuts on the large coastal rivers or on the smaller “cast across” creeks after the fall/winter rains settle in. Seam cutthroats run 8 to 20 inches long, with the average fish measuring about 12 inches. Five- to 6-weight rods are standard, amended with 3X leaders. they’re not leader shy,” Rose adds.
HIGH DESERT RESIDENT TROUT
Central Oregon – and the high Oregon desert that stretches eastward – a contrast of high mountain peaks and arid plains, rocky bluffs and rolling hills, and deeply carved canyons. Its trout waters are renowned for its annual runs of steelhead that migrate rough the Columbia River system to the primary watersheds of the Deschutes, John Day and Grande Ronde rivers.
But if you’re going to fish for resident trout on the high desert of central regon, you’ll have to find your way Ito the Deschutes. Its watershed, which includes the Metolius, Crooked ld Fall rivers, stands out with a population of “redside” trout – a wild, native strain of rainbow trout that is member of the family of redband trout, more specifically identified as Oncorhynchus mykiss newberrii. It grows larger than the others in its family and also has a distinct darker red stripe than most wild rainbow trout. They are abundant in the Deschutes south of Bend, Ore., and provide local anglers with a small handful off all trout fishing sites in the region.
“The Deschutes is the most popular river on the West Coast, and the only river I know of that’s a blueribbon trout stream and a blue-ribbon steelhead stream,” says fishing guide Taylor Geraths of Taylor Made Outfitters (www.TaylorMadeOutfitters.com) phone: 541-420-4997) in Bend. “When fall weather patterns spin into the area, the change of season upon the Deschutes moves the redsides into the eddies where fly-rodders will find that taking these trout is a technical matter. It’s all ‘spot and stalk’ – you see the fish working, typically rising on very small blue-winged olives. You move into the fish and you strategically target a fish. You fish specific patterns, not terrestrials and not attractors. You don’t blind cast. You always cast over rising fish.”
But your best tactic for taking fall trout on the high desert may be to hire a good guide. “That can make the difference,” Geraths says. “Public access can be limited, and you cannot fish from a boat on the Deschutes. A guide can provide you with access to the best sites, then lead you with his technical expertise.”
From Northern California through the Olympic Peninsula, migrating populations of steelhead trout present what is, perhaps, the finest trout fishing experience found during the fall months. Fly-fishing options are both coastal and inland based, with some populations of these magnificent trout pushing upstream more than 500 miles beyond the river mouths that introduced them in their first year of life to the Pacific Ocean.
Factors for fly-fishing success with fall steelhead are often defined by individual rivers. What works on the Hoh River in Washington may not give rise to a steelhead on the Rogue River in Oregon. Representative waters, however, offer a lot of insights to when, where and how fly-fishing is approached during the fall months when many trout anglers set sight on the fish of their dreams.
Without doubt, the Grande Ronde River is set apart from other steelhead rivers by the magnificent scenery of northeastern Oregon where it cuts a steep, rugged canyon that rises from 3,000 to 4,000 feet above the river’s riffle-to-pool-to-riffle character. But fishing guide Dave Tucker of Dreams On The Fly (www.DreamsOnTheFly.com) (208-861-2853) in Parma, Idaho, also explains that fly-fishermen who chase the steelhead of the Grande Ronde can learn a lot here about steelhead fishing that they can take with them to other rivers.
“First, steelhead are constantly on the move and stalled only by changing – either warmer or cooler – water temperatures,” Tucker points out. “They are always looking for traveling water – runs or slicks from waist-deep to 8 feet – that’s moving as fast as you would walk. And tail-outs can be especially fine places to fish. All of these are factors you can take from the Grande Ronde and apply to a steelhead river near you.”
Tucker also points out that because the steelhead of the Grande Ronde are so far inland (after traveling for hundreds of miles through the Columbia River system), they may also act less like they’re coastal counterparts.
“In fact, they really become trout-ish,” he says. “They’re very unlikely to key on baitfish. And we’re using wet flies only when the water gets cold – say, 42 degrees or less. Rather, the steelhead of the Grande Ronde are willing to take a dry fly,” he says. “They’re willing to chase and grab … or chase and not grab, as is sometimes the case.”
Tucker leads his clients to fish large October caddis patterns, riffle hitched, for steelhead with spey rods. “It gives them the best chance for executing what is basically a monster roll cast, down and across the current, covering as much water as possible,” he explains. “I tell ’em to cast two or three times, take two or three steps, and start casting again. It’s key that they move only a few steps at a time because they really need to swing the fly in front of the fish’s face. And when a fish takes the fly, I tell them to let the fish hook itself. Don’t set the hook until you feel the weight of the fish. You’ll pull the fly from its mouth. In fact, it’s often best to give the fish 2 feet of slack line when he rises on your fly.”
Fly-fishing for trout is a sport that can throw you fastballs, curve balls and change-ups. And the defense embodied in the trout waters you fish changes physically and, sometimes, anatomically, with the fall fishing season. Observe your surroundings when you carry your fly-rod to river’s edge this fall and make note of what you see and hear. You’ll learn that what you discover on one playing field can often carry the day on the next playing field. Other times you’ll make necessary adjustments. Somewhere along the way, you’ll swing for the fences and discover those fishy boys of summer will play ball well into November.