The rumblings in a big brown’s stomach during the fall spawning run are insistent. Brown trout typically make their spawning runs after the fall foliage has turned colors but before the last of the leaves have hit the ground.
When hen browns and their knobby-nosed paramours are on their redds, food is the last thing on their minds, but for several weeks prior to the spawn and again after the eggs have been fertilized, trout appetites are enormous. Anglers who know where to look for autumn browns and how to entice them stand a very good chance of hooking up with specimens which are better suited to family-room walls than to baking pans.
The keys to catching sizable brown trout consistently in the fall are good timing, identifying prime fishing locations and making thoughtful bait selections. My own experiences with these fish have been both bitter and exhilarating.
I will not affirm the hoary cliché about timing being everything — because it is not — but if you visit all the right spots and use the right lure at the wrong time, your chances of wrestling with a whopper are zilch. Unless you can leave the office at a moment’s notice, you must make certain to schedule your fall fishing days during the October-November window cited above. If I had to pick an optimum period in which to schedule a brown trout expedition, it would be the first week of November.
Within the rest of the October-November time frame, one should look for the heavy rains and rising stream flows, which trigger fresh migrations of brown trout from lake to stream and river to feeder creek. Increased current facilitates long upstream swims and also washes a supply of terrestrial food sources (most notably nightcrawlers) into trout waters, taking the edge off ravenous appetites.
Productive fall brown trout fishing locations during the spawning run include the mouths of tributaries, deep pools which offer a sense of security from winged predators and the prying eyes of human anglers, gravel-bottomed riffles and tail-outs that make superior sites for redd-building and, best of all, the holes at the bases of impassable waterfalls.
Although browns can be teased into striking various baits, lures and flies when they are “on the gravel,” the vast majority of large fish I’ve taken during spawning runs bit in deep holding water and were not visible to me when they struck. Sight fishing is exciting but blind fishing is more lucrative in the long run.
The methods and lures you choose to employ on autumn browns depend on your personal skill level and preferences. It would be easy to could fill a large tackle box with artificial offerings that are capable of catching monsters every now and then. However, if you’re looking for the most consistent trophy taker of them all, just strap on a headlight late some evening. Grab a coffee can and quietly pluck dew worms from a fresh cut patch of grass after the next good downpour. Nightcrawlers are hard to beat, especially early in the spawning run, when leg-long browns are stoking up on calories. In all water conditions, but most notably when streams are pulsating with runoff currents, worms draw hard, unmistakable bites. Worms are so reliable that a friend of mine who specializes in trout of 20 inches and longer never leaves home without a few dozen nightcrawlers, even on days when he suspects flies or lures would work better.
After laying in my personal supply of ‘crawlers, I fill out my autumn arsenal with several other lunker baits. In addition to worms, I rely on floating-diving stickbaits, some egg-imitating trout and salmon flies, a few streamer flies and a couple of single-hook spinners. Each offering excels in the right circumstances.
Stickbaits work well in moderate or slow currents, and can be absolutely deadly on minnow-eating browns. When painted in trout colors, they will also stimulate an aggressive, “get-out-of-here” response from male browns, which are jousting for the right to spawn with ripe hens. Before using any stickbait, however, make sure they are legal in the stretch of water you elect to fish. Some trout spawning grounds are off-limits for any lures which have more than a single hook point. Other streams can be fished with treble hooks provided the lures float when at rest.
Where regulations give you the green light, allow your stickbaits to wobble and dart through any pools or runs which serve as rest areas for migrating browns.
Many autumn trout anglers rely on spawn sacks made with trout or salmon eggs, but I am lazy enough to prefer imitative flies, which are much easier to construct and store and are every bit as effective. My favorite pattern is fashioned from a synthetic material called Diamond Braid, lashed to the hook in a series of 6 to 8 tiny loops with fluorescent thread. Each of these faux “egg sacks” takes only a couple of minutes to tie. The pink and orange colors I employ give the flies the appearance of a real egg cluster and produce solid strikes when drifted through gravel spawning areas.
Streamer flies often out-fish stickbaits in slow pools and eddies, provided the angler is willing to vary retrieve speeds and can mend a line to slow down or speed up his offerings. An upstream mend, achieved with a simple roll of the wrist, slows the fly’s drift while a downstream flip causes the line to belly and takes the fly along for the ride. Try out different colors, as well. Sometimes a natural looking pattern, such as a Little Brown Trout bucktail, is just the ticket, but over the years I have become partial to comet-style flies, with wispy tails, tinsel bodies and long, combed-back hackle in orange, red or other autumn colors.
In swift currents, though, you will be hard pressed to find a bait more effective than a simple in-line spinner. Deep water should be probed with a heavyweight spinner, such as a Blue Fox Vibrax, while knee-deep riffles and runs and clear water call for a feathery lure, such as a Hildebrandt Colorado-blade model. I’m not sure why, but autumn browns show a definite partiality to gold or brass finishes rather than silver spinner blades.
As with stickbaits, be sure to check local regulations before using spinners adorned with treble hooks. In some waters, only a single hook point is allowed. Where that’s the case, anglers can easily use wire cutters to substitute a Siwash-type single hook for the factory treble.