Fall is a tough time for the outdoorsman or woman. You probably can't find enough time to do all the hunting you'd like, but fishing is excellent too at this time of year. If you choose the latter and trout are your focus, here are five productive flies to stock in your vest for trips this autumn.
Beetle: Like the ant, discussed last week, this is another "terrestrial" or land-based insect. But even though they live on the ground, beetles find their way into trout streams on a frequent basis and are readily consumed by fish. Beetles are part of the single most abundant order in the animal kingdom -- Coleoptera -- with an estimated 325,000 species. They are plentiful in all types of streamside habitat from meadows to forests and can range in size from pin-head to over two inches long. A fly in between these two extremes is a good idea-size, 10-18.
Lots of beetle patterns exist, from trimmed hackle versions with a feather over the top to more robust patterns made of clipped or folded-over deer hair, cork and balsa. These latter types, particularly the deer hair patterns, are my favorites.
With these chunky flies you can imitate the sound beetles make when they fall into a stream. The "splat" as they tumble in is a key trout use when feeding on them. The fish often rush several feet out of their feeding lane when a beetle (or your fly) plunks into the water nearby. I've found the best tactic is to drop the beetle slightly to the side and behind the fish, to take them by surprise and elicit a quick turnaround and instinctive strike.
Grasshopper: Though many other terrestrial patterns will work well in fall, this one, along with beetles and ants, completes the "big three" of land-based patterns. They are especially good to turn to on meadow stretches where the natural insects abound.
Like beetles, sometimes it pays to drop these to the water with a slight "plop" to alert nearby fish that a calorie-rich food has tumbled in from land. Often a lunging take is the result. Other times simply dead drifting the patterns through riffles, runs and deep pools produces. Occasionally a slight twitch will help elicit strikes. Working waters close to shore is particularly effective, since many hook-jawed browns and rainbows wait along the banks for hoppers to get blown in.
Good hopper flies can be made of spun or wrapped deer hair, fur, foam or cork. Some of my favorites include the Joe's Hopper, Letort Hopper, MacHopper, Dave's Hopper and Foam Hopper, plus my own creation, the Nymph Hopper. Sizes 6-16 are useful, with the larger ones reserved for big western rivers.
Gold-Ribbed Hare's Ear: This is the most popular nymph of all time, and for good reason. The simple, universal pattern accurately imitates the immature stage of life of many stream insects. The dull grayish-brown body is highlighted by a touch of gold ribbing that gives it flash and a natural, segmented look.
This fly is appealing for fall outings because it imitates so many different species well and can be fished in a variety of ways. For big waters and deep fish, try a weighted pattern in size 8 or 10 and scrape it along the bottom rocks. For the other extreme, deliver it on a fine tippet in size 18 or 20 as trout sip food delicately just below the surface film.
Use a floating line and an 8-10-foot leader tapering to a 4X-6X tippet. Add a strike indicator near the point where the leader joins the line or closer to the fly if you're fishing shallow. When probing deep or swift water, squeeze on a small split shot or two for extra weight. Work undercut banks, rocks, eddies, log jams, deep runs and mid-sections of pools.
Woolly Bugger: Sure, we all like to fish dry flies to rising trout, but fall isn't always that kind. Sometimes on blustery, cold or otherwise inhospitable days the fish may not come up. That's when it's time to turn to this all-around, proven streamer pattern. Not only will it often save the day, it may produce some of the biggest fish of the season.
Tied with a chenille body overlaid with palmered hackle and a marabou tail, the Woolly Bugger is a multi-purpose workhorse. It can represent a variety of baitfish such as sculpins, dace or shiners, as well as creatures such as leeches, crayfish and large nymphs.
Basically a Woolly Bugger is a Woolly Worm with a long marabou tail added for bulk, length and extra fluttering movement. The best colors are black, olive and brown. Hook sizes can range from 2 to 8.
Standard across and downstream deliveries work best most of the time. Let the fly sink close to the bottom and then keep the rod tip low and move the fly with six to 12 inch strips and pauses in between. As an alternative, sometimes a straight upstream and across delivery and dead drift presentation produces strikes from jumbo browns.
San Juan Worm: No, this fly doesn't imitate an earthworm, but it looks somewhat like one. (It actually imitates aquatic worms.) It's a simple pattern tied in its most basic form with a piece of red chenille tied on a hook so it extends out the front and the back. Other more elaborate versions are available -- some using two colors, others including a hump in the middle that makes the fly look more meaty and realistic.
Whatever version you try, sizes 8-12 are most useful in red, pink or maroon. I like to fish the pattern dead drift through pockets, deep pools and undercut banks as well as in eddies. It's deadly in tailwater streams in particular, such as the Smith and Jackson in central Virginia. Both are just a relatively short drive from the Shenandoah Valley and good bets for a fall fly fishing outing.
-- Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.