I recently headed north with my Sighter 350 on a DIY trip to Maine. Amidst my excitement to be around giant native brook trout once again, I was equally stoked to get my first real taste of fall. A few days of chilly nights and unpredictable weather (those of us in New England have seen enough of the latter in 2023) made for some dynamic fishing, exactly what I was missing about this time of year. Autumn can certainly shake up your trout playbook, but embracing the change is a challenge that can provide fantastic fishing before the cold really sets in. Here are a few tips I found myself coming back to on this adventure.
Dress Warm, Fish Fast
That romanticized fall “chill in the air” certainly loses some of its luster when you’ve been camping in it all night and now have to head to the river. A common fall trout fishing tip is to keep this change in mind and restructure your productive periods of fishing (normally switching from fishing mornings and evenings in the summer to mid-day in the fall). This may be true towards the back end of this season when nighttime temperatures really take a dive, but for the most part I’ve found that you can have great fishing in the fall whenever you make it on the water. Compared to the boiling temperatures many trout fisheries are hit with in the summer months, fall conditions allow fish to feed in some capacity all day- you just need to change your approach to follow them.
This brings me to the meat of this advice, which is to fish fast and aggressively to dial in a great fall trout bite. I’m talking more about a mindset instead of a technique here. Whether they’re following food to stock up for winter or preparing to spawn, fish move around a lot in fall. This is not the time of year to camp out at your favorite hole in the river for half the day. Cover different water types with different styles to get in front of all the ways trout spend their autumn.
Be Broad in Fly Selection
In addition to moving fish around, shoulder seasons can lead to a lot of overlap in hatches and the availability of different types of food. You may see caddis on one warm fall evening and tiny blue wing olives along with a cold drizzle the next day.
It’s not just bugs either. The activities of non-target fish species change this time of year too, which can introduce even more options to the mix. Be prepared with streamer patterns and have a few eggs handy as well. If you’re on a river with spawning salmon, whitefish, suckers, etc., egg flies are most definitely your friends.
Switch it Up
Variable fly selection means you should have a range of tactics ready. Most common trout techniques can be done with one rod, but it doesn’t hurt to have a few different sized leaders and tippet for everything from finesse dry fly fishing to high water dredging. Rivers in the fall can still be low from summer flows or flooded by big seasonal storms, so more than ever keep an eye on current and upcoming conditions to influence how you’ll need to fish.
Very generally speaking, you can plan on sticking to late summer tactics at the beginning of autumn. Air and water temperatures may be cooling, but water may still be down and clear. Lighter rigs continue to be a good choice and you may still see a good amount of surface activity. Towards the back end of the season, you’ll experience more lethargic fish in likely higher water. This can still be a highly productive time of year, but you may want to pack up the dries and stick to heavier nymphs or streamers.
With the curveballs fall can throw at us, one pattern or technique won’t necessarily cut it for consistent success, especially on multi-day trips. Compared to more predictable and stable summer conditions, there are constantly new factors that will require little adjustments to figure it all out. This is also what makes autumn in my opinion the greatest time of year to fish for trout. It’s an ever-changing chess match between circumstances and strategy that can reward you with some of the best fishing and biggest catches of the year. Whether you’re in the backwoods of Maine or on your local stocked trout stream, you can be sure the fishing is about to get better. Have fun out there.
Meet the Author: Ben Groppe is a multi-species angler and overall fish fan, dedicated to enjoying, preserving, and occasionally documenting the fisheries he loves. Off the water, he’s sharing his passion as one half of the blog Long Haul Fly Fishing.