Fall colors are slowly ebbing and soon the trees will be bare. Waters are cooling with lower night-time lows and lower daytime highs. Hours of daylight are shrinking, helping the cause. It's a great time to be a fly fisher!
Browns are gearing up for spawning right now as are brook trout. Fly anglers can cash in on the spawn in our area in a number of ways, but keep in mind the general trout season closes on October 15th. The Catskill rivers are a great place to take advantage of spawning browns. Male browns tend to get very aggressive as they near the spawn and will strike at big streamers. Ideal conditions are when the water is up and colored. It helps to experiment with color, size, and type of streamer but when the fish are really keyed up it often doesn't matter. Retrieve is typically a fast strip and in some cases as fast as one can strip line, but again, it pays to experiment. Casting up and retrieving across river assures the fly is presented to a greater number of fish. Typical tackle includes a heavier weight fly rod such as a 6 or 7, sink-tip line, and short 0X to 2X leaders. Other area streams and rivers, such as the Lackawanna River in the Scranton area, the upper Tioughnioga River and upper Chenango River can also produce well.
Browns and Landlocked Salmon will also be moving up the Finger Lake tributaries to spawn. This can be a hit or miss run - all dependent on flows and temperatures - but when conditions are right, a good fly angler can tangle with some truly trophy-sized fish. The fish will start staging in the Finger lakes at the mouths of the tributaries, ready to spawn, and then will move up in response to strong pushes of cold water. Fresh fish will typically aggressively hit big streamers in white, olive, black, or purple. But as the spawn matures, these same fish, including big rainbows and even lake trout, will shift over to nymphs and egg patterns fished dead-drift.
With the influx of cooler temps and water, smallmouth bass will be increasing their feeding in anticipation of winter. All of the local warmwater rivers are great places to fish for these wonderful gamefish. However, right now, rivers are a little high and off-color. Smaller rivers, like the Tioughnioga, Chenango, and Chemung, or the upper Susquehanna are best bets. As mentioned in previous posts, if fishing water that has color and/or is high, fish big patterns with either dark or very bright colors. Another option is to fish poppers, particularly big, cup-faced poppers that move water and make sound. Keep in mind that once water temps drop below 50 degrees, smallmouth will drop back to deep water winter holding areas. While they can still be caught, their feeding activity will slow significantly.
Walleye are another possibility for fly fishermen as the fall cools down. Many smallmouth anglers will pick up a few of these, particularly if fishing deep with dark-colored streamers. Walleye will be found in the deep runs and pools and the bite really turns on with the first hard frost. Many times catching one means there are more about as they do school.
Fall is certainly a great season, if no the best season for Southern Tier fly anglers. Make sure to get out now and take advantage of our great fisheries. Remember to dress for the weather and always bring towles and an extra change of clothing in case of an accidental dunking. Also, with colder water and potentially high water, always bring a wading staff and if fishing alone, let family or friends know where you are going and how long you expect to be out.