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Fall brown trout

James Buttermore holds a fat brown trout he caught in the fall. Streamers are a great way for fly anglers to entice large browns to strike.

The majority of Wyoming's hunting seasons are now open, or soon will be. Deer, antelope, elk and moose as well as waterfowl, and upland birds are fair game in many areas. With so many folks afield hunting, anglers have a lot less competition.

Fall fishing can be some of the best all year for a number of reasons. First off, the waters have begun to cool down so that the fish are more active. Water temperatures in streams may have dropped 10 degrees or so since the end of August. Small streams may have temperatures in the upper 40s or low to mid 50s. Even the larger streams have temperatures in the upper 50s or low 60s. In short, the fish are more active and feeding at all hours of the day.

Most lakes and ponds have cooled down so that the fish in them may be occupying shallower water than they were just a month or so ago. Bass, walleye and pike are on the prowl trying to store up fat reserves for the winter ahead.

Lake trout, brook trout and brown trout spawn in the fall. Brook trout in mountain streams and lakes are already spawning. If they are living in lakes and ponds they will be moving up into the feeder streams to find decent spawning gravel. If the brook trout haven't spawned yet, they will be congregated at the mouths of the feeder streams and will be looking for food to fuel their metabolic furnaces.

It is a good bet that streamer flies such as a Mickey Finn, Woolly Bugger, Pine Squirrel Leech or a Silver Spruce Fly will produce quite well on the congregated brook trout. Wet flies such as a Carrot Nymph, Black Marabou Leech, or Black Gnat will also get the job done.

If you like to spin fish, standard spinners such as Panther Martins, Mepps, and Vibrax in gold, silver or yellow with red spots will work very well. Of course, small spoons in silver, red and white, or yellow with black spots are worth a try.

Lake trout spawn in shallow shoals and can be targeted with standard gear, albeit a little beefed up. I recall that my buddies used to do well in Jackson Lake by casting quarter-ounce silver spoons and letting them sink for a two to 10 count depending on the depth. They would then reel, sweep the rod about 2 feet and let the lure flutter back and repeat the process. The fluttering lure had an almost irresistible attraction for lake trout.

Brown trout in lakes that have no inlet stream will cruise the shoreline in search of flowing water. Shore anglers can have good luck pitching spoons or spinners.

If a lake or reservoir does have an inlet stream, brown trout will move upstream to find suitable gravel to spawn on. One of my cherished memories of fall fishing involved the Green River in southwest Wyoming below Fontenelle Dam. The brown trout from Flaming Gorge Reservoir would swim many miles upstream to spawn. The biggest brown trout I have ever seen was on a spawning redd that looked like it had been carved out by bulldozer blade (slight exaggeration). The big brown must have been 30 inches long with an 18-inch girth. The monster absolutely ignored my 4-inch long multi-colored Marabou streamer and slowly slid back into a deep hole below the riffle it had been in.

Many anglers target big browns in the fall before and after the spawn. Spin fishers can do well with spoons and Rapalas. Fly fishers can connect with streamers that are fairly out-sized.

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I recall a story that Dave Whitlock told me about his fishing the Missouri River in the fall for big browns. He said, “I was using a large multi-colored streamer and swinging it across the water when I hooked into a large brown trout. The fish took off to the middle of the river and then I lost it. This happened to me three or four times in the course of an hour or so: I'd would have a fish on, it would go on a run, and then it would come off. I finally figured out that the male browns attacked my streamer as a small brown trying to horn in on the spawning that was going on. The big male brown would grab the fly by the middle, swim out into the middle of the river, and then let go; I was never getting the hook into the fish.”

Whitlock recommended that I use a hard strip strike whenever I was fishing for large brown trout in the fall. I must admit, I haven't ever had any fish that big mess with my flies.

Suffice it to say that rainbow trout will stage below brown trout spawning areas as well as brown trout that are resting. The upshot is that a nymph fly fisher using orange Scuds or Glo Bugs can have a lot of action. Please realize that the spawning redds are off-limits to wading and intense fishing. Wading on the redds can crush the fertilized eggs.

So fall fishing is on. If you have gotten your elk or other big game, perhaps you should go back to fishing. After all, it is a great time to be out of doors and the fish will be biting.


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