By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist
Fall is here—we have snow-covered mountains, low and cold rivers, and local license plates filling our fishing access sites. Fall means the fishing opportunities are looking up. The next few weeks are some of my favorite of the year, as my fall client list is carefully vetted to include longtime clients who’ve become close friends over the years; or new clients who understand we’re not leaving at dawn nor fishing much past 5 o’clock. This is the season I get to drop my kid off at school and be home in time for dinner, all while experiencing some of the best fishing of the year.
By October, my kit bag is a potpourri of disorganized fly boxes and half-full spools of tippet. Fortunately, these days my fly selection is pretty simple. Here’s a look at my favorite six patterns for the next month of fishing on our local waters.
Sprout Beatis Emerger. I first fished this fly on the Missouri River when the Craig Bridge was one lane and breathable waders were a twinkle in the eyes of manufacturers. This fly is tied to imitate an emerging mayfly. It sits just below the surface film, where the hatching insects are easy pickings for trout. Incorporated into the fly is a piece of white foam. The foam holds the body of the fly in the surface film and allows the angler to see the fly. The most common hatch in fall are small mayflies, Blue Winged Olives (BWOs), and this fly can imitate an emerging BWO or an adult.
Sparkle Minnow. A few years ago, I switched from a traditional Woolly Bugger to the Sparkle Minnow. The beauty of this fly is how simple it fishes—there are no articulated hooks to get tangled and its conehead makes casting easy. The ice dubbing pulses when stripped or puffs when dead-drifted. If you have not yet discovered the Sparkle Minnow, well, that’s less fish you’ll discover too.
Beadhead Zebra midge. If I had been exposed to this fly earlier in my angling, I would have caught many more trout. At its heart, it’s a fly tied to imitate a midge pupa or emerging midge. However, the Zebra Midge is not just for imitating midges. It works very well for a mayfly nymph. BWOs are most active on cool, cloudy days—which we often get in fall. The low and clear water conditions can make trout more selective, therefore the sleeker Zebra midge is quite effective.
Tie: Zuddler and Sculpzilla. Both of these patterns are intended to imitate baitfish and larger food sources, such as crayfish. They can be fished with action or dead-drifted under an indicator. As brown trout grow more aggressive and become territorial before spawning, large flies imitating a threat or big meal should be fished. When choosing a color, a widely accepted rule is to choose a light-colored fly on a sunny day and a dark-colored fly on a cloudy day.
Chubby Chernobyl. Yep. I said it. You don’t need to read it twice. A fly more frequently associated with stoneflies and terrestrials is also an ideal fall pattern. October caddis can hatch in small numbers on all of our rivers. The natural insects are large—often an inch or 2 wide—so trout do not ignore them. You will not see October caddis blanketing the water, but fish a Chubby Chernobyl as the surface fly and smaller beadhead (perhaps a Zebra midge) as the dropper and you’ll find some success.
Parachute Purple Haze. BWOs could hatch on any given day. A regular Parachute Adams will work fine, but watching thousands of fish eat dry flies on various Parachute dries has taught me that the purple body makes a difference. With two kids at home, I don’t have time to care why. I just know it works. Whether you’re happy or in misery, the Purple Haze will put a spell on you.
Choosing which fly to use is personal, but should be grounded in knowledge and faith—faith in what you are using. For fall fishing in our area, stick to using the patterns above and you will enjoy some success along with some well-earned solitude.
Pat Straub is the author of six books, including “The Frugal Fly Fisher,” “Montana On The Fly,” and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing.” He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky, he is co-director of the Montana Fishing Guide School, and co-owns a guide service on the Missouri River.