All Southern Tier rivers are in great shape for fly fishing. The Tioughnioga, Chenango, Chemung, and the Susquehanna are at low late-summer flows and are gin-clear. Water temps are prime to start the fall feed-up:as of Sunday, 9/19, the Susquehanna was reading a very fall-like 65 degrees.
At this time of year, smallmouth bass are starting to feed aggressively. Cooler water temps trigger the bass to feed and they will target bigger than normal prey in their quest to store up for the long winter ahead. Use larger-than-normal streamers (hook sizes of 4 and up) that imitate the natural forage. Look for signs of feeding fish in shallow bays and pools in low light conditions and remember that bass are not subtle when they are hungry. In these areas and under these conditions, fish with poppers or streamers using a floating line. Once the sun is up and bright, be prepared to fish the deeper water using a floating line with weighted flies or a heavier sink tip line and shorter leader.
With water as clear as it is, wade and cast carefully. Bass can be holding almost anywhere in the river at this time of year, including shallow areas where creeks feed into the river. They will set up wherever an easy meal can be had, so key in on any area where baitfish are concentrated. Weeds and aquatic grass often shelter thousands of minnows and are great places to target. When wading, always remember what smallmouth bass fly fishing expert Harry Murray says: “too many anglers fish where they should be standing and stand where they should be fishing.”
As mentioned in a previous post on the fall feeding frenzy, don’t be afraid to break out the 8-weight. An 8-weight fly rod will cast a larger fly size and provide a little extra backbone for bigger fish, such as pike and musky. When fishing bigger flies, be aware that pike and musky are also on the hunt for prey and they will eat anything, including small gamefish, ducklings, and mice or muskrat, if the opportunity is there. Read this blog post about a recent encounter with a musky while fly fishing to see just how big their appetite can be.
With daylight shortening and air temperatures cooling, walleye may also start feeding actively. A local fisherman once said that walleye start biting after the first frost of the year. Don’t hang your hat on that, but keep in mind that cooler water temps and low light conditions can improve the walleye bite, even for fly fishermen. Fish deeper water for walleyes using dark colored flies. Leech patterns in black, olive and brown always work well as do heavily weighted clousers.
Fall offers warmwater fly fishermen a wonderful fishing experience. Get out and enjoy great fishing, the beautiful scenery and the relative warmth of late summer / early fall while you can. Winter is not far off.