Yellow Leaves and Running Browns - By Nick Freeman

With the aspens starting to turn, mother nature prepares herself for the long winter. Every animal from bears to squirrels starts to pack in as much protein as possible and works overtime to get it. All manner of insects have long ago laid their eggs that will hatch next year. Fewer and fewer are being seen on the streams as the sun sets earlier and the temperature drops. Hungry trout start to change their feeding habits as the summer food sources diminish. Now, more than ever, anglers can use this situation to their advantage to catch ferocious fish in the rivers of Summit County and beyond.

Choose Your Strategy

If you’re not already aware, there are 2 main types of fishing that happen in the fall. The first and one of my personal favorites is streamer fishing. The second is going after fish that have or are getting ready to spawn. These types of fish are the kind you see in magazines. Huge browns that come up from the lakes this one time of the year to spawn are only in the river for a couple weeks, so the crowds in well-known spawning areas can be intimidating. But if you make it in there and hook one, strap in for a wild ride!

Spawning Fish Etiquette

If you decide to go for spawning fish, please be aware of several rules of etiquette as these fish are trying to reproduce and keep a healthy population. If you happen on actively spawning trout, please leave them alone at least until they are done as interrupting the process can have lasting consequences if these fish don’t get to spawn. Also, keep an eye out for “redds” when wading. Redds are the egg beds of fertilized eggs and tromping through them will damage hundreds of eggs and ensure that they never hatch. For more information on redds, how to identify them, and common sense precautions about spawning trout, check here for more information. Please make sure you are educated before going for these spectacular fish.

trout spawning

Catching spawning trout requires tons of patience. Since they are in their reproduction cycle, they will not be very interested in food. Small winter patterns like midges or eggs are usually the ticket but different rivers are temperamental and advice from the local shop is pretty important to have a shot. The right amount of weight to make sure you are bouncing off the bottom is almost as important as the fly since these fish will not go out of their way to take a fly – it has to pretty much hit them on the nose to induce a strike. Patience and getting down in the deep holes quickly are key.

Streamer Fishing

The other popular method of fishing is to use streamers. For the most part, streamers imitate vertebrate animals such as sculpins and small fry, all of which large predatory trout key in on. These types of flies are instantly recognizable with long tail feathers and large hackle. They can be brightly colored, shiny or plain. Streamer technique requires that the fly be stripped intermittently through the water, imitating a swimming fish. The benefit of using the streamer is that if there is a fish who will take it, they will take the first opportunity presented—so more than a dozen presentations means that you’ve pretty much fished out the area.

Use the Right Equipment

Casting large and sometimes weighted flies might involve some adjustment to your equipment or casting style. A larger rod such as a 6 or 7 weight is ideal to power the fly where you need it to go. 3x or even 2x tippet is also recommended to prevent snapping off the expensive fly and to prepare for large predatory trout. Light tippet will not benefit you very much. If you really want to get into proper streamer fishing, try switching to a sink tip line. This will help get the streamer down quickly to the proper depth. Stop by our shop for help finding the proper set up for your rod and casting style! Finally, try using a double haul to really send the line out. If you are unfamiliar with double-hauling techniques, here is a helpful video to introduce you to the basics. Casting a heavy streamer can be frustrating, but double-hauling will help smooth out the process. Definitely focus on making sure your line is all the way out behind you – weight transfer is key and following through too early will get you a tangled mess.


Typical streamer technique involves casting right up against the bank upstream at about a 45-degree angle, letting the streamer drift downstream and sink into the river, then methodically retrieving the line in bursts, making the fly seem alive and swimming through the water. You should try and change up the pattern of when you start retrieving (from almost immediately after the cast to when it has drifted significantly downstream from you). You can move along after fishing the water only a few times, as fish will usually take their first opportunity at large bait or none at all. You will immediately feel the strike, as it is usually vicious and electrifying.

Enjoy Fly Fishing in the Autumn

The cooler weather and changing colors are part of what makes fly fishing in the autumn an exceptional experience in the Colorado high country. The aspens and riverside flora reflected in the waters simply remind you of why fly fishing is such a passion for so many. It is in the changing of seasons you feel the pulse of the earth--the deep rhythm of the year from summer to winter. It’s a brief moment in time that is so very special, not in spite of, but because of its brevity. Cutthroat Anglers invites you to take part in this spectacular time of the year and to enjoy everything it means to fly fish the Rockies in the fall. We hope to see you soon – tight lines!

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