Published by: Head Guide Reed Ryan
October is upon us and it’s time to dust off your waders and settle in for some good old-fashioned fall fishing.
It's true, flows are low just about everywhere, but here's the good news: low flows concentrate the fish and once you're into some pods of feeding fish, there's no real need to move (unless of course, you caught them all).
Fall baetis hatches have started, signaling the end to this season's bug party. This has put the trout on the feed and we're loving the shape the fish are in. Unfortunately for most anglers, the baetis have been on the small side (think #20s or #22s), so if you're getting refusals, keep going smaller. 4.5 or 5x fluorocarbon seems to be the norm these days, especially in areas that have seen significant pressure over the summer like the Roaring Fork and Upper Colorado. After this week's unsettled weather, the patterns look to be mild through mid-October and the Climate Prediction Center is calling for warmer than average October temps so an extended fall could be in our future. Lucky us! Look for the baetis to increase in size a bit later this fall. There are a few red quills about still on warm sunny days and we have had moments of glory on the rustys, but those days are for the most part behind us. Other hatches of note to be ready for are the Pale Evening Dun (PED) and Flav emergences in the afternoons. While not a major hatch, they are big bugs (#10-12) and can be an important fly to run as part of a double dry or a multi-nymph rig. It may not get the most eats, but you may be surprised at the size of fish that eats it. Don't discount a classic parachute adams for these guys. Charlie's TDJ golden in a 10 or 12 works well for the nymph and can pass as a golden stone nymph, big caddis nymph in addition to the PEDs or Flav nymphs. Caddis are also starting to increase in prevalence, especially in the afternoons. Look for streamer fishing to become more important as the brown trout head into their spawn later this month and into November. With lower flows, we seem to be going smaller in streamer size leaving the super-big articulated stuff in the box unless there are cloudy conditions associated with a low-pressure system and instead opting for patterns like the Goldie or Thin Mint fished both single or double.
This brings us to most everyone's favorite ethical conversation regarding fly fishing during the brown trout spawn. Coincidentally, it is the time of year many of us enjoy fly fishing so much. So, this begs the question, how to be an ethical fly fisherman during the spawn? Many other sportsmen may look at fly fisherman and our approach to conservation in this realm as paltry. So many other sporting pursuits focus on the spawning period as the time to target their species. Think elk and deer hunting during the rut or Turkey hunting in the spring strut. But why, for whatever reason do we snub our noses at targeting brown trout when they are spawning? The answer is complex and varies depending on the individual. For me, it has to do with the relationship that I have with these fish and my role as a catch-and-release fisherman. Because not every brown trout spawns, I view the spawners as those that nature has chosen as the "fittest" and best to pass on the genetics for survival and ability to grow into a trophy. If we interrupt that process by catching that fish or stepping on the fertilized eggs, then our impact as catch-and-release anglers has affected the future of the resource. And as much as we are loathe to admit it, the popularity of the sport has increased the stakes as we are dealing with a finite resource that has seen some incredibly challenging water conditions over the past 3 seasons--very high water followed by 2 seasons of low and warm water and rising sediment load from mudslides.
Let's talk about spawning behavior---you'll often find a spawning pair laying tandem on the redd. It is often in water so shallow that their backs may be out of the water. After laying their eggs or depositing sperm you'll see them turn sideways and thwap the riverbed with their tails to bury the eggs into the fine gravel. You might also observe a female jump out of the water vigorously with NBA-esque height. This isn't an extremely big rise, but rather a fish attempting to break up its egg sack prior to spawning. It is also important to refrain from walking on redds when you are wading or crossing the river. They are sometimes very easy to spot as the fish have cleaned the riverbed of all silt, moss, and debris. Some describe them as "shiny".
Here are a few guide tested models to being both ethical and successful at fly fishing during spawning season:
1. Fish a rainbow-heavy fishery like the Blue River or the Eagle River.
2. Avoid small tributary streams and fish the big rivers. There is plenty of space to fish and coexist with the spawning trout. Focus on the water that spawning trout don't inhabit--fast riffles, pockets, deep pools. There are plenty of nice fish that aren't spawning that still need to pack on the pounds before winter.
3. Here's the controversial one--you can try fishing well below a known redd. Just like we enjoy an incredible, edible egg, trout everywhere are tuned into it as an easy source of protein during a time of year when there isn't a ton available. You'll often find fish stacked below a redd feeding on the eggs that didn't make it into the bed. Be careful about how close you get to the redd and if in doubt, move to another spot.
As our season slows and winter starts to slowly take over the freestones, I'd like to take a minute to thank all our clients and customers who fished with us this season. You make our industry go round and make it all happen.