Fall in the Colorado High Country might just be the best time of year for trout anglers, lower flows, colder water temps, aggressive trout, and the beautiful fall colors. I’m not talking about the colors of the foliage but the colors of the fish. Every fall the brown trout begin to color up as they prepare for their annual spawn. The male trout develop kype jaws and become much darker in color with golden hues of brown, red, orange, and even blue. For anyone that has encountered a colored up fish knows how special they are.
Fall is also an effective time of year to target larger trout, the fish become more comfortable with the cooler water temps and they begin to move into shallower areas of rivers making them easier to target. The browns are juiced up with aggression and some extra fat due to the spawn, making them more willing to eat a fly. And don’t forget about the larger rainbow trout this time of year. Which can often be found in the shallower riffles or behind spawning redds gorging on roe making them a viable target for a fly angler. So how do you increase your odds of catching one of these trophy trout this fall?
First and Foremost, Respect the Spawn
While Fall can be a great time of year to target larger fish, it is important to understand and respect the brown trout spawn. It is not ethical to target a spawning brown trout. In order to avoid doing this familiarize yourself with this blog: The Fall Spawning Season. Identifying the spawning beds (Redds) is the first step in making sure you are not fishing for spawning fish and also make sure you are not disrupting these spawning beds by walking through them. Trophy fish can be ethically targetted in the fall especially during pre-spawn when these fish are uber aggressive. Just make sure to use extra caution and do your due diligence, if you see a spawning bed or fish make sure to give it space, educate others, and sit back and enjoy the show!
Tip 1: Fish in Variable Conditions
Variable conditions make fish more susceptible to being caught. Wind, rain, sleet, snow, cloud coverage, all change the conditions of the river, these changes to the river will often move the fish around, make the fish more comfortable, and more aggressive. If the river becomes slightly off-color, it is “go time” as bigger fish will be forced to eat without the normal 20/20 vision and senses they normally have. The cloudy darker weather can also trigger more aggressive behavior due to dropping water temperatures. If you can pick and choose your days to fish in the fall look for warmer rainy days and don’t get bummed out that you don’t have warm sunny weather and make sure to pack a thermos full of coffee or flask full of bourbon for the variable weather.
Of course, the variable fall weather in the high country does come at a price, make sure you are properly prepared by having the correct gear. Check out this past blog, Fall Fly Fishing Gear for Foul Weather to prepare yourself for an unpredictable fall day.
Tip 2: Big Flies, Big Fish
Big flies, big fish seems straight forward right…There is no better time other than maybe spring runoff to fish large flies specifically large streamers. Why? Because in the fall the trout are aggressive. If you are hunting a trophy, you want the fish to see the fly. If that trout sees the fly, more often than not it will eat the fly this time of year. When fishing a larger streamer pattern you are able to sift out the smaller fish and put all your energy on catching a trophy trout. So break out the 6 weight or 7 weight rod, sink tip, and articulated streamer pattern and prepare to hook a fish of a lifetime.
When using larger flies, fish them with patience. You may go a whole day without a take until one 20+ inch trout will make your day. Fish with confidence throughout the day even if you are not seeing results. You will be surprised what awaits a patient angler.
Recommended Flies for Catching Trophy Trout in the Fall: Galloups Sex Dungeon, Wedgehead, Heisenburg, Cheech Leech, Swim Coach, Drunk and Disorderly, Gonga, Double Thin Mint, Goldie, and Sculpzilla. Fall colors like dark brown, black, orange, red, purple, and yellow are effective colors. There are some guides at VVA that will exclusively just throw a Halloween Cheech Leech the entire fall. Now that is commitment.
Tip 3: Use a Sink Tip
When fishing these larger streamers for trophy trout, use a sink tip line like the Scientific Anglers Sonar Titan Taper Intermediate Sink 3 Sink 5 Sink 7 Line. This tapered sink tip line is easy to cast and still will get your flies down. The faster you get your flies into the playing field the higher chances you have of hooking a fish. It is that simple. So to increase your odds, make sure to have a dedicated sink tip streamer setup.
While there are a variety of different “recipes” for streamer fishing setups it all depends on your style of fishing, where you are fishing, water clarity and speed, and other variables. If you are fishing a deeper faster off-color river, a dedicated sink tip line is a necessity. For a shallower river, an intermediate line can be effective. You can also add a sinking leader like the Airflo Polyleader Xtra Fast Sink. This will aid in getting your fly down effectively. If you need assistance in getting outfitted with a streamer setup give us a call at the shop or check out this previous blog, Step Up Your Streamer Fishing: Proper Gear.
Tip 4: Cover Water
Trophy trout can be few and far between in different river systems. To increase your odds of finding one, do your best to cover a lot of water. The most efficient way to cover water in the Colorado High Country is by fishing streamers from a boat. If you are limited to wade fishing, keep this in mind and don’t spend too much time taking multiple casts over the same piece of water like you might do when nymphing. When fishing with someone else, come up with a plan to effectively cover more water. If you have never float fished or don’t have a boat, consider hiring a Vail Valley Anglers float guide for a day of streamer fishing.
Tip 5: Rig for Success and Minimize Your Room for Error
If you are going to go to battle make sure to have the right artillery. When targeting larger fish make sure to come prepared with the proper terminal tackle. When fishing streamers use strong fluorocarbon tippet like the Umpqua Deceiver X Fluorocarbon Tippet 0X. I only use 0X tippet or stronger 10 pound, 12 pound or even 16 pound tippet. Trout are not leader shy when eating a streamer, don’t waste your time using 3X or anything lighter.
Another important aspect of targeting larger trout is to have full confidence in your rig. You may go the whole day of fishing with little to no action only to get one opportunity. Make the best of it by being sure your rig is bombproof. Check your hooks and make sure that they have a wide gap and can hold up to a big trout. Some larger articulated streamer patterns like the Cheech Leech have big wide gap saltwater style hooks that are perfect for targeting big fish. Also, be sure to sharpen your hook throughout the day after the abuse of multiple snags and rock taps. The Umpqua Dream Stream Hook File is a necessity for every angler. Take rigging more seriously to minimize any room for error when targeting larger trout.
Confidence is Key…The Mental Game of Fishing
Finding that trophy trout in the fall can sometimes just be a matter of luck. You threw the fly in the right spot at the right time when the big fish was there. And that is just the beauty of it. But, you definitely can increase your odds of finding these bigger fish by following the tips outlined above.
For some anglers trophy trout fishing is not fun, it can be a lot of fishing and not a lot of catching. It is similar to hunting in that aspect. For many anglers, it is the challenge that we are attracted to and one fish can make the day and even the year. As mentioned earlier, you will be surprised what awaits a patient angler. So get out there this fall and see if you can find a big colored up brown and be sure to do it ethically. No one likes an angler that catches a spawning fish.
Patrick Perry, Content Contributor, and Former Guide @patperry