Autumn not only turns leaves to beautiful reds, yellows and oranges, it also brightens and accentuates the colors of two of our favorite trout species: brown and brook trout. That’s because they’re fall spawners, and spawning season means dressing up to attract the opposite sex. It’s when brown and brook trout, especially the males, don their most glorious and vibrant colors of the year. The lower jaws of the males also grow and take on the characteristic hook, called kypes.
Fortunately for anglers, autumn’s stunning brown and brook trout also tend to be aggressive and will strike at flies, especially big streamers, and lures with voracious abandonment.
The reasons spawning fish strike so aggressively vary. Some believe it’s because they’re defending their spawning territories, while others believe it’s because the cooler waters of autumn send a signal to feed. Still others believe it’s a combination of both or may be for some other reason entirely. Personally, I’m not concerned with why they become aggressive feeders; I’m just happy the do!
Before you head off to your local waters, check the regulations to make sure they’re still open. In some cases, they may be closed to protect and enhance spawning success. If your waters and seasons are open and you’re a fly fisherman, take along some hopper patterns in case those big terrestrials are still around. And more importantly, take an assortment of streamers including big wooly buggers, flasher buggers, rabbit-haired bunny buggers, and muddler minnows or any of the many sculpin patterns in size 2, 4, 6 and 8. Lastly, throw in a few big nymphs patterns to round out your selection.
I recommend using a floating line and trying both weighted and un-weighted flies depending on water depths. If you’re fishing bigger rivers with deep holes, try a sinking or sinking-tip line. I recommend a 7 or 8 weight rod, which will make casting big streamers easier, especially if there’s wind. And use 6, 8 or even 10 pound leaders.
Remember, you’re hunting big fish, the kind that can take you into your backing while heading for tree roots and underwater obstructions. Try different presentations from dead drifts to aggressive retrieves. And above all, be ready for heart stopping strikes.
I recommend spin fishermen take along an assortment of spinners and spoons and even a plug or two in various sizes. Many times even a small lure will entice a big fish to strike. I like rainbow pattern Rapalas for big predatory meat-eating browns. And I’ve had some very good days using old standbys like Panther Martins and Mepps Spinners. Try different sizes and colors, such as gold, silver, and black to begin with. If they’re not working, experiment with other colors and spotted and striped patterns.
I often replace treble hooks with a single hook because, in my experience, they work as well and make releasing the fish easier. Remember that many catch and release waters call for a single or single barbless hook. Experiment with your retrieves: try both slow and study retrieves and fast and study retrieves. Then try mixing them up by going slow and then fast. Twitch your lure, let it sink, and then reel it quickly, then slowly again. Strikes will signal the best technique to use.
Unless you’re going to keep a fish, be especially careful handling it, and release it as quickly as possible. Defending territories, finding mates and spawning take lots of energy. If you’re going to take a picture, snap your shot and return the fish to the water immediately, making sure it’s revived before letting it go.
An added bonus to pursuing autumn’s big brown and brook trout is that you’ll often find less angler competition. Even those who love to fish often love to hunt even more, and given the choice will head out with a shotgun for upland birds. That means you’ll find many of your favorite waters less crowded or, better yet, you’ll have them all to yourself.
Of course you may see me out there. I’ll be the guy bird hunting along the river with a pack rod tied to my vest and a box of streamers in my pocket. Nobody ever said you can’t do both!