By Jeff Samsel
Feeling a bit like I’d been placed in a jigsaw puzzle scene, I took a moment to take in the Crayola-bright treetops and their reflection the next pool upstream. Of course, I wasn’t just leaf-peeping. I needed to study that same pool and the shallow run it gave way to in order to strategize casts and a stealthy approach.
While brown trout do become a bit less wary at times during fall, they are still brown trout. Cautious and easily spooked. Because browns sometime abandon their deep dark lairs during fall, I decided to cast to the lower end of the pool and swim my lure through the shallow tail-out before I walked through it. That turned out to be the right choice, as the cast resulted in a modest-sized but spectacularly marked brown trout that hit in a nothing-looking, shallow spot.
Autumn delivers magical days on brown trout streams. To be clear, the action isn’t always good. Mature browns can be finicky fish at any time. Still, the opportunity to encounter big, brilliantly colored, hook-jawed males increases during autumn, as the fish become driven by spawning urges. And on just the right day – usually a dark, damp day just before or after most fish have actually spawned – the fishing action can be as spectacular as the color saturated mountain stream backdrops.
Brown trout generally move up streams to spawn, and the best concentrations will be in the upper ends of river systems or just downstream of dams that block the fish’s upstream travel. Like all trout, they form redds in moving water, usually over gravel, for spawning. The best fishing isn’t usually around the redds, though. While males may hit lures around reds to protect eggs that have been laid, they aren’t typically feeding at that time, and it’s largely considered best to leave those fish alone so they won’t abandon their tasks. The best fall bite typically occurs when fish are on the move and feeding in preparation for the spawn or to replenish calories after the spawn.
A key to autumn success is working waters thoroughly but efficiently. The fish are unusually mobile, meaning they could be almost anywhere. Use a calculated approach to thoroughly work pools, pockets, bars and runs, with care to pass your lure close to key pieces of cover, current seams and eddies. Don’t stay in any given spot long, though. Brown trout either react and attack or get spooked and shut down the first time they see an offering and are highly unlikely to be coaxed into feeding through repeated presentations.
Stream stealth is also critical. Unless swollen by a tropical remnant or early, wet cold front, streams tend to run low and very clear in many areas during fall. If an adult brown trout detects your presence before you cast, the game is usually over before it starts for that fish. Dress in drab colors, move slowly, stay low, work from stream edges when possible and use in-stream cover for concealment.
More so than other types of trout, browns like real meals. Instead of simply sipping small aquatic insects, they commonly feast on things like crawfish, sculpins, suckers, salamanders, large insects such as dobsonfly larvae and displaced terrestrials, including grasshoppers or cicadas. Therefore, using large lures like minnow baits, spoons and crawfish-imitating crankbaits increases your odds of prompting attacks from quality brown trout.
Finally, watch for redds, which just look like clean spots in the gravel, sometimes slightly indented. Watch for them not for the sake of finding spawning fish to target but so that you can avoid walking through them.
5 Great Lures for Fall Brown Trout
Smithwick Suspending Rogue
Rebel Ghost Minnow
Lindy Quiver Spoon