By Gerald Almy - email@example.com
Battling the rambunctious brook trout towards the outstretched net, I glanced around and couldn't believe my eyes. I was on the Rapidan River, one of the most famous trout streams in Virginia, yet not a single other angler was in sight. And I hadn't seen one all day.
Quite often that's the case on autumn trout fishing forays. With hunting seasons open, you often find you have long stretches of streams and rivers all to yourself. That suits me just fine.
When leaves turn yellow and crimson and meadows are painted with glimmering white hoarfrost, there's no place I'd rather be than a knee-deep in a trout stream. With cooling temperatures and the impending arrival of winter, the fish are usually in a biting mood. And foods are abundant, ranging from minnows to mayflies, caddis to terrestrials.
In spite of its appeal, though, fall can be a challenging time if you don't have the right fly on your tippet. Based on over 40 years of chasing trout from Alaska to Tennessee, Iceland to Venezuela, here are my picks for the top offerings to stash in your "autumn fly box." We'll cover several this week and finish up next week with a second group of offerings.
1. Blue-Winged Olive: When the subject turns to fall mayfly hatches, few can compare with the tiny Blue-Winged Olives. With bodies ranging from dark brownish green to a pale yellow-olive and wings from light gray to dark slate, these mayflies emerge in different broods throughout the year, with autumn hatches some of the most consistent of all.
I've fished excellent Blue-winged Olive hatches on the limestone streams of south-central Pennsylvania, a number of western rivers and also here in Virginia. Though they can emerge in any kind of weather, some of the heaviest hatches occur on misty days when a light drizzle spits from pewter-colored clouds.
Sizes of the fly can range from 14 to 22, but 16 and 18 will fill most needs. Late morning to mid-afternoon is the best time to find them hatching. Try emerger patterns when the insects first start to appear. Later, as the hatch intensifies, go with an erect-wing Thorax, Parachute, Sparkle-Dun or similar pattern. Towards evening, switch to a brown-bodied spent wing pattern to imitate the returning spinners.
2. Trico: The Tricorythodes is one of the smallest mayflies trout feed on, but it comes off in such numbers that fish gorge on the tiny white and black flies. I've seen hatches so thick swarms of the insects filled the air. When fish are feeding on these size 22-24 flies, they usually won't eat anything else. Hatches begin in July or August, but emerge heavily right through October, even early November.
Unlike most hatches, it's the spinner fall that is the major event with Tricos. The insects fly off quickly after hatching and return in mid-morning in huge swarms. Dipping down to lay their eggs, they fall spent on the water by the thousands and cause frenzied feeding among waiting trout.
The flies are easy to tie, with simply a gray or black body and spent wings of white polypropylene. Use 6X-7X tippets and present the tiny offering with a drag-free float. Study the trout's feeding pattern and time your cast so your fly drifts down at just the right time when the fish is due to come up and slurp in a couple of spinners.
3. Elk Hair Caddis: I count myself fortunate to have once shared the boat for a couple of days on the Beaverhead with tying legend Al Troth, of Dillon, Mont. It started with a visit to his home and shop to watch him tie a handful of last-minute flies for our day on the water. Amid the flies he whipped up were a few Elk Hair Caddis patterns. This is one of Troth's many creations and one of the greatest dry flies of all time.
With an elongated silhouette and down wing, the fly can imitate just about any species of caddis and also does a good job of representing stoneflies, grasshoppers and a variety of other creatures. The real key is it simply looks buggy and interesting to trout the way it's shaped and the way it floats.
Olive, brown and gray are the top colors. Stock them in sizes 12-18 and tie one on when caddis are emerging, but also simply when fish are rising and you don't really know what they are eating. Chances are they'll work. If a dead drift presentation doesn't pan out, try twitching the fly or even skittering it wildly across the surface.
4. Humpy: Sometimes when you're wet wading up a wilderness stream or pounding heavy white water from a drift boat, a fly that floats well and simply looks "buggy" is a good alternative to more realistic patterns. Enter the Humpy. This fly is so popular in the Rockies that major fly shops sell over a dozen colors and variations of the pattern.
These flies simply look tempting to trout and float high in even the most frothy water. Even when they get bedraggled looking they'll still catch fish.
Best sizes for the Humpy are 12-18. As an alternative for heavy white water, the Stimulator, a Randall Kauffman creation, is another good choice. Both of these work best in olive, tan or gray.
5. Black Ant: If forced to choose one dry fly for trout fishing from September through November, it would be hard to top a black ant, size 14 or 16. Members of the Hymenoptera order, these insects are relished by trout like no other. Famous trout author Edward Hewitt actually tasted ants to see what their incredible appeal was. He postulated that it was "on account of the formic acid taste" that trout liked them so much.
A good rule of thumb is if you can't figure out what to offer trout, try an ant. You can make them out of foam, cork, fur, balsa or other materials. They all seem to work, though some perform better on different waters than others. Try experimenting with the various patterns to see which produce best on your home streams. Sizes 12-20 can all entice strikes.
Next week: more great fall trout flies.
-- Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.