I know most of the hunters in the audience are likely to be out tomorrow for the opening of the early dove and Canada goose seasons for some wing-shooting opportunities at those popular game birds. I'm hoping to bag at least a few doves in the coming weeks to acquire the main ingredient for one of my favorite fall cookouts.
That involves marinating some dove breasts in teriyaki sauce, wrapping each one with a slice of bacon held in place with a toothpick, and then roasting them on the grill. I first sampled this recipe on a September fishing trip almost 20 years ago when a friend grilled some dove breasts on a hibachi as appetizers during our lunch break. Since then, that has been my preferred way to cook doves whenever I'm lucky enough to have some.
And speaking of fishing, the next several weeks will offer a marvelous window of opportunity for dedicated anglers as well, so if you typically rack your fishing tackle after Labor Day, you might want to reconsider that move. Without a doubt, if I had to pick the two best all-around months for fishing here in our region of Pennsylvania, they would be April and May, but September and October would place a close second.
Several factors make early autumn a desirable time to be on the water. The first of those is a return to some of the overall pleasant weather we enjoy so much during many days in the spring. Summertime fishing can be good, of course, but dealing with the sweltering midday heat that goes with it is not what most folks consider a great day on the water. As I already mentioned, fishing pressure declines dramatically in the fall as many anglers succumb to watching football, yard work and a variety of other seasonal distractions, and pleasure boat traffic also wanes steadily throughout the fall. Because of that, you will often have prime fishing spots that were regularly crowded during the spring all to yourself on most days during the fall.
Most important, however, the fish seem to enjoy the transition of the seasons as much as we humans do. As water temperatures cool slightly, fishing can remain good throughout the day, rather than requiring a dawn patrol or being on the water just before or even after dark. Favorable water temps also bring game fish into shallow water again, which affords the angler a wider array of tactics with which to catch them. Angling lore also suggests that the bigger fish instinctively tend to go on a feeding spree during the fall, supposedly to put on weight to tide them through the upcoming winter. I suppose that's as good an explanation as any, and I can't dispute the success I've always had during September and October. Last fall in particular produced an exceptional number of big trout for me as well as the biggest largemouth bass I've ever caught in Pennsylvania.
Fall trout fishing can offer wonderful dry-fly fishing, but don't expect the heavy hatches and great numbers of rising fish as is often the case in the spring. Hatches tend to be more sporadic now, and caddisflies are often the most common insects on the water. Many of the fall mayflies and other aquatic insects will tend to be on the small side, so be prepared to fish flies from size 18 down to as small as you can manage. If the small stuff isn't your idea of fun, larger attractor-type flies like Stimulators, Wulffs and Humpies will often take fish quite well during the fall. And if you are hunting big trout, going subsurface with nymphs, Woolly Buggers and other large streamers can be the best bet.
Bass in the fall can be extremely fickle from one day to the next. I've caught 50 or 60 river smallmouths on the day before bear season in late November after having struggled to catch five or six of them at the same place on a day back in mid-September. The same is true of lake-dwelling largemouths.
I wish I could offer some magic formula as to why this is, but I've learned over the years it's simply easier to accept that the fish live in a world all their own. My experience is basically that bass are more affected by the changing weather patterns and fluctuating water temps that come in the fall. One day can seem like there isn't a fish left in the lake, and a few days later, you can't keep them off your line.
Don't let one slow day make you believe the fishing is over until next spring. Be willing to try new spots and different lures and techniques, and enjoy the best fall fishing has to offer.