I live in a place with four distinct seasons, and for many reasons I am glad for that. From a fly fishing perspective each season brings new hatches, and a new approach to the rivers and lakes I love to fish. It seems that every time the seasons change I catch myself saying "this is my favorite time of year to fish." The changing seasons and their effects on our favorite fishing waters have a way of keeping things interesting. And it is true that each and every season is my favorite one for fishing. If asked to pick one, I will pick the current season.
Now since we find ourselves smack in the middle of the fall, and around here that means BWO's in big numbers I figured I would touch on something I have notice this fall in fishing the small baetis patterns. It is fairly common knowlege amongst fly fishers that some of the worst fall weather is prime time for fishing these bugs as they seem to emerge in prolific numbers during those more adverse weather conditions. If you are lucky enough to be able to pick and choose last minute the days you are going to fish, it may be no problem to wake up, look out the window, see perfect BWO conditions and make the decision then and there that you are going to hit the water. But for others that may not be so lucky, it will invariably happen that the day you can fish is the brightest sunny day of the fall, and is not so ideal for a large BWO emergence. However BWO's still hatch on these days it just may require a little more effort to find them, and to find the fish up feeding on them.
It seems that the hatches are a bit shorter lived on those sunny days, but they do exist. From my experience it may happen a little earlier in the day than it would on the nastier weather days, but not always. It will require a little scouting and moving around, but often the bugs and the fish rising to them can be found. When I get to the river on those bright sunny fall days the first places I will look are the portions of river that will be the first to be shaded by the afternoon sun. I don't necessarily know if the sun is an aversion to the bugs themselves, but I do think that the fish will be more likely rise for the bugs if the glaring sun is not beating down on the water.
For example on a recent trip to a favorite fall river in the area on one of these sunny days I drove into one of my favorite fall holes, that fits the description I am talking about. It is a perfect BWO run. A nice moderate riffle, a perfect place for a BWO nymph to live it's pre-dun life feeds into a long, slow, and deep run with a lot of scattered boulders and structure. The bugs hatch up in those riffles then the sailboat profiled duns drift slowly along the slower stretch attempting to dry their wings enough to be able to take flight. The fish will often be here picking off duns, but also looking for any of those less fortunate bugs that have had difficulty emerging. Helplessly they too float along the current, powerless against the river, or the fish that lurk below. These cripple and stillborn bugs provide an easy target and the fish know it, and will seek them out.
This run also happens to but up against a steep hill side that casts a shadow on the river very early in the fall afternoon. On this particular day as I arrived at the run I jumped out of the truck and pushed through some bank side brush to get a peek at what was happening on the river. While I knew with the bright sun overhead there was a chance that not much would be happening I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed several fish feeding near the far bank. As I sat and watched them for a few minutes it became clear to me there was a distinct pattern to where the fish were feeding. The pool was half in shade, half in the sun and a large pod of fish were feeding, but they never fed out in the sunny portion of the river. As the sun moved slowly overhead, and the shadows moved down river, so did the feeding fish. Big trout would feed right up to the edge of the shaded section, but no further. There were plenty of bugs on the water in the sun, but it was clear, it was the fish's preference to avoid that sun.
In the fall many of our rivers are also at lower flows, and the water is usually very clear. The low, and clear fall water conditions, means fish have to be especially mindful of the threat of predators from above. The fish will be very careful to avoid the revealing light from above, and will try and stay close to deeper holes, and structure as they come out to feed. Finding places like this run is the key to finding fish up on BWO's even on sunny days.
On this day I landed several smaller fish in that shaded section of the pool, but as the hatch waned, the pool quieted, and the river that had just seemed loaded with fish, looked deserted. But I knew there were still opportunities there. I carefully waded up the now completely shaded side of the river, tight against the bank, pausing to examine every little pocket, exposed rock, tiny current seam or other structure along it. Suddenly my eyes were drawn to a dark spot that barely made a ripple in the lazy current, just to the right of a small exposed rock. The naturally broken current as if flowed along the rock disguised a well hidden fish, sipping the scraps of dead, spent, and half hatched bugs being congregated along the bank, and then funneled off the current seam this little rock created. The rises were methodical, but so subtle they could easily be missed. This is when I often catch some of the larger fish during a hatch. After the frenzy has subsided, and the bigger fish come out to snack on the easy prey that the buffet of helpless scraps presents. They take the best lies and sip subtly to their hearts content.
I waded into position and made sure my CDC Wing Sparkle Dun was ready to go. I Checked my knots one last time, and stripped out several arm lengths of line. Hoping to time things just right I waited for the fish to rise again before making my cast. His dark nose appeared once, then twice, and I knew it was time. A couple false casts to work enough line through my guides and I let it go. The line straitened perfectly dropping the small fly just ahead of the feeding trout. Sure enough as the fly pushed off the side of the rock floating with the current that gentle sipper took it just like he had been taking the naturals. Bringing up the rod I felt the heaviness of a big bodied trout that immediately bolted for the middle of the river. Slugging it out there and hoping to not let the big fish get downstream of me where it could really use the current to it's advantage I put a bit of extra pressure on. The fish was strong and surged against that pressure, but I managed to keep it under control. As it slid closer to the net I admired a hefty fall fish that would easily go over 20 inches. Exactly why fall is currently my favorite fly fishing season. But winter is on deck.