Ahhhh Fall. The summer rush has ended. Visitors to our state have mostly headed back to their home states. Rivers and streams are virtually uncrowded. And, in Colorado, Fall fishing is some of the finest of the year. What makes it so?
Well, it is Colorado in the Fall so that means aspens are changing. People drive for miles to just get to the aspens and then drive for miles more to view them in all their glory. Toss your fly rod in the car and head to a river for some of the best views, fewer people -- and no cars -- that you can experience.
I have to share this story. A couple of Fall seasons ago, I headed up to Elevenmile Canyon on work-day. (Don’t tell my boss. I ... ummm ... really did think I had a doctor’s appointment that afternoon.) It was a spectacular day -- that warm autumn air, fresh blue skies, the changing leaves and foliage along the canyon. This day, though, the forest service was doing a controlled burn in the canyon. This was pre-Springer and pre-Waldo Canyon; we didn’t have the same mindset toward wildfires that we may have today. They had signs up telling folks of the activity. Several forest service vehicles were lined up along the road. Standing in the river, it seemed almost surreal to catch the faint smell of the burn. It was almost calming, like the smell of a campfire.
All of my senses were taking in this day -- the flow of the water against my legs, the sound of the river, the scent of the autumn air with the added sensation of the controlled burn.
The Challenges of the Season
Fall means, usually, lower flows and clearer water. Those two conditions increase some of the challenge because the fish are spooky and, if you are fishing some catch and release water, they are leery of anything that doesn’t “act naturally” on the water. Because of the lower flows, they may be congregating in deeper pools or in some of the riffles, so a stealth approach, careful presentation, and quick reaction to the strike are all necessary.
And fish are spawning. Fly fishers have to be attentive to the spawning beds -- “the reds” -- where fish are laying their eggs. Reds will be in fast shallow runs with a gravel bottom. Stay out of the reds; if you see fish there, observe for the pleasure of it, and move on.
Fish are hungry after the spawn which means they will be taking in a lot of food to beef up for the winter months. And the Fall offers a buffet of options to have in your fly box.
What to Use
On some warmer days on canyons and rivers lower in elevation, we may still see some of the hatches we had in mid- and late summer:
Trico hatches in the mornings are not unusual. Trico Spinners later in the day, as the days get shorter, are not uncommon. Blue Wing Olives on those overcast days are a welcome sight -- and yet a reminder, too, that winter is approaching. Midge hatches return due to the lower water levels.
In our more local waters, fish some small patterns. Size 24 RS2, Black Beauties, Barr’s Emergers. Some of our guides suggest red Copper Johns. Probably keeping with the colorful Colorado theme, “red seems to produce in the Fall.”
Terrestrials may even still be enticing -- particularly at lower elevations and before the first frost.
What More Could You Ask For?
More solitude. Autumn beauty. Hungry fish feeding on everything from dry flies, to streamers, to emergers.
Colorful Colorado gets even more beautiful in the Fall for fly fishing.
*all photos courtesy and copyright of Dave Herber
Orvis 101 Introduction to Fly Fishing
Early season stillwater Fundamentals-Classroom