We are approaching one of the best fishing times of the year! The air and water will be cooling and the trout and landlocked salmon will start their pre-spawn movement and/or positions into the rivers very soon. One, if not the main, motivating factor of trout in Maine starting their fall behavior is water temperature. The combination of good water levels and cooler water are the ideal duo. However, it has been found that even if a push of water gets the fish to enter the river, if the water temperature is not to their liking, it's probable they will recede back to the lake/pond/deep water holding lie until the water indeed cools down further. Key water temps for trout spawning activity will be at or around 55F. Pre-spawn behavior will begin before this...
Some say that trout do not feed in the fall. I think that's a pretty generalized statement. It's likely that's solely considering trout during the actual spawning ritual and not necessarily during their pre-spawn or early fall behavior. I've seen many cases where fish, even during their pre-spawn activities, are less focused on food and more on staging. It's a fairly common behavior, especially of brook trout, to actually "move" intruding smaller fish out of its area by physically pushing them or even inhaling them them, swimming off, and spitting them out. This is simply a "get out of my area" tactic. But even then they will take a streamer, nymph, or dry fly. So the additional theory that trout only take flies out of aggression in the fall I think is also ill-founded. There is clearly no question trout and salmon get territorial, but there's not much "aggression" in sipping a #18 BWO off the surface. This is a factor that I think makes fall fishing so exciting. You aren't necessarily fishing to hungry and energetic trout and salmon that have been sitting under ice for months, but are more so trying to tap into the behavior/mental state of the fish.
Here is a list of 5 flies that I would highly recommend fly fishing anglers have in their fly box this coming fall:
1. Mickey Finn
(tied by Joe Webster)
The Mickey Finn is an old New England staple. The fly was originally just called the Yellow and Red Bucktail streamer, but was later changed to the Mickey Finn in relation to film star Rudolph Valentino who was killed by the drug mickey finn. This is a classic example of an "attractor pattern" - not necessarily imitating anything specific, but simply good at getting a fish's attention. I find this fly to be most effective when fished on a swing. It can also be a great smallmouth bass pattern in the spring!
This is a pattern that I have come to fish often, almost all times of the year. However, when the fall approaches and we get hatches of small Blue Winged Olives, especially on gray & rainy days, this fly can really do well. Originally tied by Rim Chung, I believe its original intent was to be fished just below the surface as an emerger. But what I think makes this pattern so useful is that I have found success also fishing this fly right along the bottom as well. It's the CDC that really makes it stand out - giving it great vertical movement by trapping air bubbles in the material. Go small with this pattern...Don't be afraid of tying on a #20.
3. October Caddis
As the name implies, this is a caddis imitation most plentiful in the fall months. Sharing similar aesthetic characteristics of natural autumn colors in the trees, these sedges during the fall months tend to be larger. Although there are many "October Caddis" patterns out there, the one pictured here is simply an orange-body elk hair caddis - which works great here in Maine. The hatches tend to happen overnight or early morning/evening. Also, working variations of emergers and nymphs can also be productive, but I have found most success actually with dry flies (not the usual here in Maine!). Because of the larger size, orange Stimulators can also be a great option. Also, since you are using larger and more buoyant dry flies, take this opportunity to tie on a dropper off the back!
4. Copper John
Developed in the 90's by John Barr in Colorado, the Copper John has become just as popular here in Maine and New England as it has out west. In my opinion, there are three specific characteristics of this fly that make it stand out: its great shape and profile which is a spot on imitation of a mayfly, the wing encasement which gives off an airy/glowy look which is prevalent with emergers and nymphs, and lastly its weight which gets the fly down quickly. In similar fashion to the RS2 mentioned above, I tend to fish smaller sizes of these in the fall. They are just as good fished off the back of a dry fly as they are dredged along the bottom of a nymph rig. The Copper John is tied in almost every possible color from zebra to wine and pink. I would certainly tie up some of the original colored versions, but don't be afraid to experiment a little!
5. Montreal Whore
(tied by: Josh Thelin)
For those of us who are streamer-junkies here in Maine, the Montreal Whore is one of the most popular "traditional styled" streamer patterns around. Its history is a little muddled, as I believe it was originated by Lenny Loiselle. But my own personal knowledge of this fly and its popularity in Maine comes from Dan Legere. The construction of this fly is a combination of marabou and bucktail for the wing - red and blue bucktail is mixed and tied under white marabou. Some will fish this streamer all season, but I have found it is most effective during the fall. It tends to incite those aggressive/territorial strikes from brook trout and landlocked salmon.
Photos + Words by: Josh Thelin