A trout stream is a wondrous place to be anytime of the year, regardless of whether you're a trout fisherman or just someone who appreciates the marvels of nature. In the springtime, of course, fly anglers delight in the unfolding array of aquatic insect hatches that provoke robust feeding activity from the trout they seek. The game changes as spring transitions into summer, and the presence of waterborne insects wane in favor of so-called terrestrials, land-based bugs like ants, beetles, crickets or grasshoppers that become an important food source for the trout. The onset of autumn brings another transformation with cooler days that reinvigorate the trout themselves amidst a backdrop of flaming fall foliage.
I became captivated with fall trout fishing many years ago for several worthwhile reasons. One of those was our prohibition of Sunday hunting here in Pennsylvania. In my younger days, any day off was one usually spent fishing or hunting, depending on the season of the year, so the Sunday hunting ban sent me back to the water in search of some trout action. Fortunately, we are blessed with good populations of wild trout, as well as a few stocked waters where a reasonable number of the fish planted each spring tend to hold over into the fall. Another benefit is that fishing pressure during fall on most trout streams will be practically nil, leaving you to enjoy the glorious autumn scenery and have the trout all to yourself.
But the scenery and the solitude only enhance the overall quality of fall trout fishing. Trout seem to enjoy the cooler water temperatures as much as we like the crisp, autumn air. While not nearly as prolific as in the spring, hatches of aquatic insects once again factor into the trout's feeding routine and will produce reasonable opportunities for dry-fly fishing well into November, depending on weather and water conditions.
Caddisflies tend to be the most important bugs in the fall on most of my favorite streams. A tan or brown Elk-Hair Caddis in size 14 or 16 usually covers most of the caddis activity I encounter during the fall. Another important dry to carry would be some Blue-Winged Olives in sizes 18 to 22. These tiny mayflies tend to hatch on overcast days on most trout streams, and trout will methodically pick them from the surface of large, flat pools. A Parachute Adams is an effective all-around dry fly any time of year, so if there are no caddis about or fish sipping olives, I often try fishing the water with one of those in size 12 to 16.
On days when trout aren't taking dry flies, fishing subsurface with nymphs and wet flies will almost always take some fish. One important tip is smaller nymphs generally work better in the fall, especially if the water is low and clear as it has been most of this season. Many species of nymphs in the fall are often barely half the size they will be in the springtime when they're nearly full-grown and ready to hatch, so downsizing the nymph patterns you use will better imitate the natural food sources the trout are used to now. General purpose nymph patterns such as the Pheasant Tail, Walt's Worm, Hare's Ear or Prince Nymph in sizes 14 to 18 will be a good assortment.
Woolly Buggers and other streamer flies are a great choice to tempt larger trout. These flies tend to work best in high, off-colored water when bigger fish are more likely to chase down such a meal but can also be useful in skinny flows as well. In low or clear water, a trout will often follow or chase a large streamer or Bugger for some distance and return to its lie without striking the fly. Such behavior is somewhat disconcerting, but knowledgeable anglers will often use it to their advantage to locate a big fish and then resort to more subtle techniques to catch actually it.
Egg patterns are one of my favorite fall flies. Some of the more snobbish fly anglers may wince at the notion of an egg imitation being considered as a fly. To each his own, but I embrace no such prejudice, mainly because egg flies do represent a genuine food source and they are extremely effective. Both brook trout are fall spawners. I have also seen rainbows spawning in the fall on spring Creek, Spruce Creek and Penns Creek. Trout lay their eggs in small depressions dug in the gravel at the tail of a pool or in a shallow riffle. During the act of spawning some of the eggs released by the female trout will be swept out of the spawning bed and drift in the stream currents until they are eagerly consumed by other trout.
Glo Bugs are my favorite egg patterns. They are tied from a special puffy yarn and available in dozens of colors. In clear water, I prefer lighter eggs, such as cream, light pink or pale yellow, while orange, dark pink or bright yellow usually work well in stained water. Glo Bugs in hook sizes 12 and 14 are usually the best for fall trout.