Fall means it’s time for the browns to come out of hiding, prepare for the spawn and fatten up before ice, snow and cold temperatures send them into their winter hiatus. Sure you can catch browns year round, but now is the time when big browns come out of hiding and all of their cousins live in fear as they themselves look to fatten up with an autumn binge.
There are three major fly patterns to carry this time of year. Yes, you could probably fill a box with different colors and sizes of a given pattern, but after 30 years of fishing the Rockies and the West, hanging out with fly gurus and experienced guides, this is what I carry in my fly box from the month of October through December.
My favorite pattern to throw for browns in the fall would have to be a streamer. Something like an olive Zonker, Stanley Streamer in little rainbow pattern or maybe a wiggle minnow work well as the water begins to cool and browns get aggressive as they become very protective of their territories. Whether they are hitting the streamers out of frustration, aggression or they are simply hungry, you can be sure to catch one with a streamer. Trout patterns are by far this fliers favorites.
Fishing the streamer is fun and productive. Typically, a brown will hit the streamer within the first few casts into his vision, but once in a while you might have to hound a fish until he hits out of frustration. I throw the streamers on a full sink line and cover lots of water. If I spot a quality fish. I might spend some time on him, but typically I’ll cover a quick mile when streamer fishing. Throwing a streamer upriver and giving the line one big mend before ripping the streamer back is my favorite way to toss a streamer.
As the water gets colder, the fish will not swim as far to hit a streamer so a slower retrieve or a switch to a black or purple leech pattern might be in order. Whatever time you find yourself on the water in the fall or early winter, remember flows will be low and spawning redds will be obvious. Please do not fish to spawning fish and do not to wade over spawning beds.
The next pattern for fall fishing is a no brainer. Egg patterns account for much of the action this time of year as huevos are loose in the river and everybody takes notice. The browns will hit egg patterns if they are not actively spawning or sitting on their own redds. Rainbows often sit behind browns and wait for loose eggs in the current. I love using small lifelike beads on a Tiemco hook. There are a ton of patterns to choose from, but I’ve never had as much luck with the soft patterns. Might just have to share mine with a fly company soon?
Egg patterns are best fished as a lead fly above the next pattern in the fall must-have list. Coming in at number three is really a choice of about three patterns. This is where I like to tie on a beadhead nymph. Something like a copper John, Prince nymph or a blood or zebra midge. If I go with a midge, I use something in the 18 to 20 size range. If I go with a nymph, I use something in the 14 to 18 size range. These large nymphs work well in early fall as the fish put on the feed bag. However, winter’s colder water temperature call for tiny flies often with midges down to the 20s, 22s and 24s.
Lastly, clear low flows also call for smaller tippets to go with the smaller flies. I primarily fish fluorocarbon tippets in 6X year round, but sometimes on a spot like the Frying Pan, you might have to drop down to 7X. Don’t be afraid of using light line, that’s why you buy a high-end fly reel with a great drag system. Finally, if you do drop down to 7X, remember the hookset is a delicate thing. Simply raising the rod after the hit is all you need to do. Leave your Bill Dance full-bodied hookset with you bass rod. A twitch of the wrist will suffice every time, even with heavier tippets on heavy water.