Fall has arrived and the air is crisp and clear. It's a time that just begs to have you come out and play. The conditions usually are comfortable, the scenery can be fantastic and the fishing€¦well, it can be tough.
That's especially true if you don't adjust your tactics to the reality found on the water.
For fans of small-stream trout action, the fishing can be downright challenging. But fishermen paying attention to the changing weather patterns still can have some very successful days. That usually means taking the time to read the water when you arrive at the creek.
Of course, in the month of October you are very likely to find less water to read. Fall is basically a drier time of year and the water table in the creeks and streams reflects that situation. Water flow is likely to be at its lowest of the year and with that lack of water comes clarity.
Unfortunately, that clarity is not in the way you perceive the correct way to fish. The clarity comes in the form of water in the creek that likely is gin clear. There have been many October days when I've been convinced the trout saw me step out of my vehicle, even when it's parked a quarter mile from the water. By the time the rod is together and the waders on, those fish have long ago found a rock ledge to burrow under.
Indeed, peering down at an October trout stream, one might think he has stumbled into a Lewis Carroll tale and is about to step through the looking glass.
The low and clear water is the defining factor when approaching the fishing this month on freestone or limestone flows. The angler's job is first to figure out where the trout are likely to be in the creek under these conditions. Then tactics are needed to fool those fall trout.
Let's have a look at a few tips that might make answers to those questions as clear as the water in which we are fishing.
FINDING THE FISH
Finding where the fish hold in a small stream would seem to be an easy task. In many cases it comes down to "enough water to cover their backs." Unlike a big free-flowing river or tailwater, smaller creeks offer fewer options to the trout. That makes the angler's job of reading the water a bit simpler.
Indeed, October's lower water table can make finding the holding areas even easier. The trout have fewer hiding places that offer the food and security they need. The conditions also mean that a lot of water may not hold fish. Just blind casting on the stream wastes time.
The obvious answer to the riddle of where the trout are holding is look for deeper water. But just hopping from hole to hole on the stream does have some drawbacks. "Deep" in this context is a relative term. The pools with the most water may still be shallow and clear enough to make spooking the fish problematic.
I've approached pools in the fall that were 8 to 10 feet deep only to realize that I could clearly see the trout — and they also were aware of my presence. Occasionally such pools held so little bottom structure there was no place to run and the trout held their position. But, due to my hovering presence above, they also were not interested in feeding.
Another concern with targeting deeper water, particularly on low gradient streams, is simply the lack of such pools. Sharp bends in the stream bed always provide some depth, but without drops and plunge pools, deeper holes are in short supply.
For that reason, you don't want to ignore any riffle areas in the stream. While this water may be shallower, the topography of the streambed can make the areas deceptive. Quite often the moving water has scoured out deeper troughs or runs between or downstream of rocks or logs.
While these may not be much deeper than the surrounding flow, they usually don't have to be in order hold a trout or two. That's because of the broken surface of the water that provides a bit of security to the fish. Predators, including anglers, can't easily see the trout beneath the ruffled surface, thus the fish are content to remain in the shallower areas.
HOW TO CATCH THEM
Having determined the best places to target on the stream still leaves you only halfway to reaching some angling success. Even if you can pick out all the places that hold trout in low water, there remains the problem of getting them to take your offering. Your best bets for achieving that goal depends on where those fish are holding.
In the deeper pools you may want to first try for some surface action. But, unless you get lucky and stumble upon a hatch in progress, you most likely will need to throw some large attractor flies.
The fish are going to be feeding ahead of the coming winter. Having a big, buggy-looking fly drift overhead can prove too tempting for them to ignore. Such big mouthfuls offer more protein for less effort.
The downside of such a tactic is, again, clear water. If your casts are too splashy and drifts not natural enough, the pool may be ruined without giving up any trout. If you're not having any success on top, then it's time to probe the depths with a nymph.
Here again the trout may be tempted by a large fly, sticking with the theory that bigger can be better at this time year. You may even find some success with Woolly Buggers in this scenario. But, regardless of what you tie on, getting it down to where the fish are likely to be holding near the bottom is important.
A good tactic for the shallower riffle troughs and runs is to present the big attractor flies. That's based on the same premise for tossing them on the pools. They offer a worthwhile morsel to the fish. Those can be the traditional Wulff patterns, Trudes or Irresistibles, all of which are quite buoyant and easier to see on the choppy surface.
Another option is try terrestrial patterns. Hopper patterns can work well on low-water October trout, as do beetle patterns.
Now we come to what often is the most important part of October trout fishing in the confines of smaller waters. How you fish will make or break your day on the water. There are four tenets to pay attention to if you plan to catch some trout.
First, you need to slow down. Obviously the faster you move both in and out of the water, the more opportunities you have to spook you quarry. Conditions are optimal for the trout to spot you in October, so don't do anything to make that prospect easier for them.
The second feeds off that need to slow down. You want to spend more time planning your approach to a casting location. Take advantage of any concealment offered by boulders or streamside vegetation. The first cast you make into a low-water hole is your best chance to catch a fish. Make it a good cast.
Next, you want to tread softly. Vibrations travel through the ground, into the water and can be detected by a fish's lateral line. Again, avoiding heavy foot falls goes hand in hand with a stealthy lack of speed.
Finally, simply stay out of the water whenever possible. Creating wakes in calmer water will alert the trout to your presence and, to some extent, even in the riffles.
THE BOTTOM LINE
October can provide some beautiful weather and great scenery on the streams. And, if you use the right tactics, the trout fishing on smaller streams can be just as awesome.