Transitions in the Fall on Western RiversOctober 10, 2018
Albeit more dramatic on our river, the Yakima, all western rivers go through similar transitions in the fall regarding water flow, weather, and of course the "bite". On the big river in front of Red's we go through these changes in dramatic fashioned and its called "flip flop". Since our river flow is managed for irrigation demand, it runs very high during the summer to nourish Washington apples, wines, and one of the biggest sources of Hops for beer brewing in the world. These require a fair amount of water. In addition there is lots of conventional agriculture downstream from us. Around Labor Day our river begins to drop fast, but it isn't too different from the more subtle transitions that take place on freestone rivers as the nights get cold and the high country freezes. Short of some rain storms all rivers tend to shrivel up in the fall and get very low and clear.
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Unlike the spring when nymphs are moving about and available in great abundance, in the fall river flows are stable and sterile making the nymphs a challenge to access. Understanding these changes will help with your ability as an angler to adapt and react before you get skunked!
Transitions of the Fall:
- Late Summer - Peak flow and snow melt begins to subside and the rivers get clear and can be quite warm. Most aquatic insects have hatched and there is often a "lull" in the hatches. Trout will forage during the mid-day hours looking for hoppers, ants, and other terrestrials. As long as it doesn't get too warm, this is often the best dry fly fishing of the year!
- Early Fall - Terrestrials are at their peak. Bees become a food source for many trout. The nymphing action can be productive, but since the water is low and clear this isn't a staple food source quite yet. Pay special attention to small mayflies, midge, and other hatches that become triggered as the water cools. Cloudy days tend to trigger these hatches and you should match your nymphs to the bugs that are actually hatching rather than general prospecting. Especially if targeting mature trout. Many rivers have an October Caddis that begins in mid September.
- Fall - Terrestrials are frozen at this point and the fish move AWAY from the shorelines typically into deeper troughs. Night time temperatures push fish out of the shallow water in the morning, but they may move back into shallow water in the afternoon to position of hatches or search for October Caddis in the evening. Nymphing becomes very productive and think about "quiet nymphing". Lighter tippets and flies in the #14 - #20 range are most often the primary tools of effective anglers. Follow the hatch, since the water is very low and stable these are the insects that are abundant. Consider the Midge. Don't forget the midge!
- Late Fall - Now the mornings are cold and you need some gloves and coffee. Most hatches are isolated to the afternoon about 1 pm - 3 pm and are short lived comprising of very small Blue Winged Olives and Midge. Be sure to fish specific pools and spots you know there to be trout. Don't wander, stay focused, and move slowly. Short floats and/or high focused wading is best. The trout are now schooled up in the prime holes. This is when Trout Spey fishing or using small streamers on sink tips begins to happen. As the food source in the way of hatches dries up, trout move towards chasing baitfish. Consider very small patterns like a Bou Face. Their bodies crave protein before winter sets in. As a general tip, slow down, enjoy the quiet, and dress warm. This is an amazing time to be on the water.
- Winter - Look for days with cloud cover to help preserve a reasonable night time temp. If it dips into the teens, that can be rough fishing. But as long as it ranges in the mid 20's to near 40's these can be productive outings.