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Fly Fisherman Throwback: Fall Feasts

Late-season Midwest and Eastern hatches provide sweet pleasure.

Fly Fisherman Throwback: Fall Feasts

Barry Beck fishes a late­-season hatch on a Pennsylvania stream. (Cathy Beck photo)

Editor's note: Flyfisherman.com will periodically be posting articles written and published before the Internet, from the Fly Fisherman magazine print archives. The wit and wisdom from legendary fly-fishing writers like Ernest Schwiebert, Gary LaFontaine, Lefty Kreh, Robert Traver, Al Caucci & Bob Nastasi, Vince Marinaro, Doug Swisher & Carl Richards, Nick Lyons, and many more deserve a second life. These articles are reprinted here exactly as published in their day and may contain information, philosophies, or language that reveals a different time and age. This should be used for historical purposes only.

This article originally appeared in the December 1988 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine. Click here for a PDF of the print version of "Fall Feasts."


Closing the Keystone Season

By Charles R. Meck

October 4 developed into a cold, blustery Pennsylvania day. At 1 P.M. the air temperature barely reached 50 degrees, and the water temperature was only a bit warmer. If there was a hatch, I reasoned that it would occur near Petersburg, on the lower Juniata River. Mike Camera and I arrived at the river, and within a half-hour I noticed a few stunned Slate Drakes riding on the surface near the far shore, but no trout showed interest in the unexpected, sporadic hatch.


Soon a few smaller mayflies intermingled with the Drakes. The tiny gray insects looked like members of the Pseudocloeon genus and were better imitated by a #18 or #20 Blue Dun rather than a #14 Slate Drake. Slate Drakes continued to hatch in limited numbers, but in about a half-hour hundreds of motionless Blue Duns floated on the water's surface. The pool, which had seemed void of trout earlier, came alive with more than browns scooping up two and three mayflies on each rise.


Who would have predicted this activity in October? Trout, wary throughout the summer, eagerly took a #20 Blue Dun pattern. For more than three hours Mike and I fished over an extensive hatch and responsive trout. We caught more than 20 fish on that lousy October day when no one in his right mind would have expected to fish to a hatch. Some hefty 15-inch-plus browns that had eluded all kinds of hardware and live bait for an entire season readily took those Blue Duns. Finally, both hatches subsided and our tattered Blue Dun patterns no longer resembled the insect they were supposed to copy. Blue Duns still covered the pool, drifting along from miles above. Heading back to the car, we saw hundreds of Blue Duns and Slate Drakes clinging to exposed rocks along the shoreline. Their only means of escaping the water was to crawl onto one of these surfaces.

The Final Hatches

Our experience on the Little Juniata was not an isolated episode. Some of the finest fly fishing of the year takes place in September and early October. Trout almost sense that this is the last feast of the season, so they feed more eagerly and less warily than they did just a few weeks before.

It is critical to locate water that is at the right temperature. The water should be above 50 degrees for a good hatch with rising trout. Cold air temperature can be an asset, slowing the mayfly's escape after hatching. Mayflies that appear in the fall often mimic early­spring hatches like the Blue Quill, Quill Gordon, and Hendrickson. If you fish these early-spring hatches when the water is above 50 degrees, cold air temperatures in April often slow down or prevent duns from escaping from their aquatic environment. This same situation occurs frequently in fall.

hatch chart of eastern U.S. fall hatches

Talk to anyone who has fished in October or even early November on Falling Springs near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. They'll tell you that even in early fall the Trico hatch can be spectacular. The later the date, the later in the day the spinner fall occurs. By mid-October the Tricos fall to the surface late in the morning or early in the afternoon.




Anglers who have not tried fall fishing may wonder if only a few, limited hatches can appear on cold, blustery days in early fall. They might also wonder if these hatches are limited to a small number of Eastern streams. The answer to both questions is: No. I've witnessed early-September mornings and afternoons on Big Fishing Creek near Lock Haven in central Pennsylvania when Blue Quills, Blue-winged Olives, and Tricos emerged in the morning, and Little Blue-winged Olives and Slate Drakes hatched in the afternoon. These September Blue-winged Olives were later identified by an entomologist as the same species, Ephemerella cornuta, that began appearing in June.

You often find multibrood species like Baetis vagans, Pseudocloeon carolina, and others on Eastern waters in September and October. Caucci and Nastasi in Hatches II indicate that Pseudocloeon carolina appears on Eastern waters with three broods per year. I've noted heavy hatches around May 10 on Spruce Creek and in early October on Penns Creek, Big Fishing Creek, and the Little Juniata River. Fishable hatches of Baetis occur into early December on warm days.

At least five species of Slate Drakes appear in the East in fishable hatches. The last to appear, usually in September and October, is Isonychia matilda. In June, July, and August, Slate Drakes escape so rapidly that imitating the dun with a dry fly is often an exercise in futility. But by the time the fall Drake emerges, cool weather often slows its escape.

Recommended


Even warm autumn days can be productive with hatchlike appearances of winged ants. In the fall many of these winged terrestrials perform mating dances similar to mayflies, but the male ant often dies on the water and the female lives. My records over the past 20 years show that ants generally start appearing near August 25 on many streams, but reappear on warm days throughout September and October.

By that time of year the Yellow Drake, Green Drake, and Brown Drake have long since ended their annual appearances. It's fall and time to start thinking of grouse and woodcock hunting. You may think that fly fishing is finished for another year and it's time to place your fishing equipment aside. But you might be missing some of the most worthwhile fly fishing of the year with significant hatches and receptive trout. What are you waiting for?

Charles R. Meck, author of Meeting the Hatches, lives in Pennsylvania Furnace, Pennsylvania.


Housey Indian Summer

By Dale Spartas

September and early October are my favorite times to fish Connecticut's Housatonic River. Reduced energy needs limit water releases; the river is low and clean, and normally it does not rise until one or two in the afternoon. Warm, overcast, windless days produce excellent Pseudocloeon and Diptera hatches and superb fishing.

Fly angler wading in a fast part of a stream in autumn; colored foliage lining the river banks
Pseudocloeon Carolina, Isonychia harperi, and Diptera provide good autumn fishing on Connecticut's Housatonic River, especially during Indian summer days. (Dale Spartas photo)

In the fall I like to rise early and fish the heads of pools, runs, and pocket water with big nymphs and streamers in quest of big trout. Aside from the possibility of hooking good fish, dawn is a special time on any river. The Housatonic, though, is an exceptionally beautiful river regardless of the time or season. Wading her waters at daybreak with the mist rising and the valley awakening into a blaze of color is almost spiritual.

Around 9 A.M. I head back to camp for breakfast and to get ready for the morning emergence of tiny Pseudocloeon mayflies. If it is not excessively cold, the hatch commences around 10:30 A.M. The emergence timetable varies, depending on weather and temperature. For example, if it is a blustery, cold, overcast morning, the hatch is not likely to start until 11:30 or noon. But if Indian summer is in progress, and the morning breaks warm and sunny, the hatch can start as early as 9 A.M.

The Housatonic's three primary autumn hatches are Pseudocloeon Carolina (#22 to #26 Blue-winged Olives), Diptera (#18 to #22 midges), and Isonychia harperi (Dun Variant #12). Pseudocloeon and Diptera provide classic fishing to working fish, while the big Isonychia duns hatch sporadically throughout the day.

Isonychia

These duns emerge throughout the day, much the same as March Browns (Ephemerella vicarium). A #12 Dun Variant fished blind may yield some surprising results. One of the pleasantries of this type of fishing is solitude. The majority of the angling pressure is concentrated on the working fish in the more popular pools. Thus you are apt to find yourself alone on a beautiful stretch of river, fishing a fly you can easily see. Another aspect to blind fishing is that it is less intense and more relaxed than hatch matching with diminutive flies. If lsonychia duns have been active, the trout key in on the large, clumsy, adult naturals.

collage of two mayfly photos on the left; fly angler fishing in front of a red covered bridge on the right
LEFT: E. cornuta (top) and Isonychia matilda (bottom) are just two of autumn's mayfly offerings. (Charles R. Meck photos). RIGHT: Indian summer days on the Housatonic River. (Dale Spartas photo)

A #12 Dun Variant, without wings, tied on a #14 hook, is a favorite imitation of the lsonychia adult. A #12 Dorato Hare's Ear with a medium-dun body, and grizzly and dun hackle clipped slightly on bottom is also popular.

You can fish upstream or down with a natural-drift presentation, but a twitched or skated fly often provokes a savage rise. I fish each pocket with a natural drift several times before skating or twitching the fly. If you don't move any fish after six or seven casts, move on and keep moving. I have found the tails of pools or the holding water just below the head of a pool to be excellent Isonychia water.

Pseudocloeon and Diptera

Classic dry-fly fishing is provided by Pseudocloeon and Diptera hatches. Often these hatches last throughout the day, and it is not unusual to find pods of working fish feeding all day long. Sand Hole, Church Pool, and Long Pool provide excellent fishing during the fall Blue-winged Olive and midge hatches. These are popular pools that receive fishing pressure due to the presence of constantly feeding trout. There are numerous areas where you can find equally good fishing, but you must do a little exploring.

Fishing the Pseudocloeon and Diptera hatches on the Housatonic is no different from fishing "small stuff" to extremely selective trout anywhere else in the country. It calls for accurate, delicate, drag-free presentations with the right fly at precisely the right moment.

If you can cast and present the fly correctly, the key to success lies in the fly pattern and timing. First, determine what the fish are taking. Is it the nymph or dun? Study the water and riseform carefully. Bubbles in the riseform indicate duns or spinners are being sipped off the surface. Slow, porpoising riseforms void of bubbles indicate subsurface feeding-so, a nymph or midge pupa in the film or just below the surface should work. Trial and error is another way to solve the puzzle. So, if a Pseudocloeon nymph does not produce, try a midge pupa or vice versa.

Selection of the correct fly pattern, especially the correct fly size, is very important in duping the Housey's sophisticated sippers. Pseudocloeon duns on the Housatonic are sizes 24 and 26. A size 20 or 22 will not do the job. Certainly you may take an occasional fish, but better and more consistent results can be achieved if you knot a #24 Thorax, Compara-dun, or No-hackle Dun onto a 40-inch, 7X tippet. While all three patterns work, I reserve the No­ hackle for particularly difficult fish.

Timing is also important. Trout get into a feeding rhythm. If you can present the fly so it is an inch or two in front of the trout's nose when he is ready to take, your odds for a hookup are substantially increased.

Fishing during November and December on the Housatonic can be superb, but come early October my interest turns to the upland and waterfowl pursuits.

(The River Rap tape Fishing the Housatonic is available from Dale C. Spartas, 1120 Nelson Road, Bozeman, Montana 59715, (406) 587-4575, for $12.98 plus $1.50 postage and handling. Twenty percent of the profits made on these tapes goes to the Housatonic Fly Fisherman's Association Conservation Fund. THE EDITORS.]

Dale C. Spartas, a freelance writer and photographer formerly of Darien, Connecticut, now operates the Last Cast bed and breakfast lodge in Bozeman, Montana.


Falling for ''Beamoc'' Trout

By Art Lee

The reputations of New York's Catskill streams are rooted in "sight-fishing" to rising trout. The common perception is that this fishing begins in early April and is largely finished by the Fourth of July. Not so. I've been lucky enough to live in the Catskills for 13 years and have taken Beaverkill and Willowemoc river trout, "Beamoc" trout, on dry flies during every month of the year. If the rivers are not iced over, I can find trout rising somewhere.

Fly angler wading and fishing with a slack line in a calm river, colored up foliage lining the river banks
The Beaverkill River in New York's Catskill Mountains offers year-round fishing, but fishing to fall hatches has the added bonus of spectacular autumn colors. (Kris Lee photo)

Early fall through early winter is one of my favorite times to fish. Water levels and temperatures generally remain excellent, fishing pressure is minimal, and the fall colors are a sight to behold. Trout are hungry as they prepare for spawning and winter. The rivers and surrounding terrain cooperate by providing abundant food. Though we may not recognize most of the bugs by their Latin names, take it from me, they are here.

No-kill stretches on both the Beaverkill and Willowemoc remain open for trout fishing year round. The open waters may also be fished on a no-kill basis after the official close of the season, as most of the "Beamoc" and Delaware River watersheds have no closed season on bass or rough fish. Catching trout is legal as long as you release them unharmed.

Fall weather comes early to the Catskills. The first frost can arrive in late August. This is usually followed by a prolonged period of warm days and cool nights. Beginning in mid- to late October, the weather becomes unpredictable. However, ideal angling conditions appear occasionally through December. Two years ago we had great surface fishing on New Year's Day.

We have found good surface fishing on both pool and pocketwater until sometime in October. Beginning about October l, however, sight-fishing is generally best on big pools and the eddies we call flats. By early November most action centers on the heads and along the banks of the flats. Examples include the Power Enclosure, Hazel Bridge, and Buck Eddy on the Willowemoc and Barnhardt's, Cairns, Wagon Track, and Cemetery pools on the Beaverkill. On clear, warm days during the winter months, trout sometimes roam to surface feed the length and breadth of these pools.

Evolution no doubt provided that fall hatches be substantially longer than those of the spring. Isonychia, the fall's largest mayfly, hatches in considerable numbers from early September through mid-October and sometimes later. During this period, trout seek the nymphs and duns in the shallows, while sipping the spinners midstream. Drys are imitated by an Isonychia Compara-dun (sizes 10 and 12), the classic Dun Variant (sizes 12 and 14), and a Rusty Spinner (sizes 10 and 12). Two olives also abound during this period. One is Pseudocloeon. It has a light-olive body and usually emerges in the afternoon from early September until mid-October. The Olive Sidewinder, Olive Usual, and Blue-winged Olive (light body) in sizes 22 and 24 imitate it well.

The other olive has a darker body and is slightly larger-size 20. I think it's a Baetis. Hatches begin in September and continue as long as the weather holds. I've seen them on warm December days. Standard Olive drys work well for this hatch, but the body of this insect in the spinner stage is rusty­ brown and should be imitated accordingly. Spinner falls often coincide with numb fingers just before dark.

From mid-September to mid­ October, look for hatches of a blonde mayfly similar to the Sulphur that comes off in the spring. I suspect it is a Stenonema or Heptagenia, although to the trout, what's in a name? Imitate it with a Sulphur Sidewinder, Sulphur Usual, or Sulphur Comparadun (size 14).

Standard ant and beetle imitations also work at this time of year. Some of the fastest fishing comes with flights of flying ants that find their way onto the water from mid-September through October. There are two varieties: One is large (sizes 12 and 14) and brown, the other small (size 22) and amber. Trout seem to prefer the smaller ant. A wide range of flying-ant patterns works well. So does an Adams. To really give yourself an edge, try tying one with a light dun Iwamasa-style wing.

A good-sized brook trout hooked with a fly, floats in the water prior to being landed with red and yellow leaves floating nearby
The beautiful colors of a Willowemoc brookie are surpassed only by the leaves of a Catskill autumn. Art Lee has used drys to take Beaverkil1 and Willowemoc trout during every month of the year. (Kris Lee photo)

September and October also have prolific cranefly hatches. They begin coming off in late September and continue until ice-in begins. Larval imitations (sizes 20 and 22) fished in the film are effective during the day when few adults are seen. However, the best fishing lasts from sunset until dark when the adults swarm over and on the surface. Try a gray Compara-dun (sizes 20 and 22).

Fall and early winter are a midge fisherman's dream. Great balls of Diptera are everywhere, particularly on windless days. Some of the "Beamoc's" biggest trout are confirmed Diptera feeders. My favorite patterns are the Kimball Diptera Emerger (sizes 22 and 24) and Griffith's Gnat (sizes 22 to 28). The autumn period abounds in caddis, the most notable of which (size 14) has a dark brown body and brown, speckled wings. It comes off throughout October and November, sometimes into December if the weather is right. A huge, orange-brown caddis also emerges at night from late September through November. Although I've observed few adults on the surface, a Rusty-brown Caddis Pupa (size 10) tied on a dry-fly hook and fished in the film often takes large trout. Also watch for prolific emergences of micro-caddis (sizes 22 to 28) from September through December. They range in color from cream to dusky dun. The best all­around imitation I've found is a Caddis Ovipositor with a pheasant-tail body and light-dun poly wing.

When you see "Beamoc" trout cutting and slashing from early September through November, they're probably working on a bright yellow stonefly that comes off sporadically (but in surprising numbers) at that time of year. I have not yet identified the nymph. A standard light stonefly nymph (sizes 16 and 18) does a passable job when fished deep.

My greatest success with this hatch has come when fishing small stonefly drys and Bivisibles (size 18). My favorite pattern has a short, yellow hackle tail; a yellow fur or poly dubbing body; an over-body of yellow hackle clipped close to the stem; bright yellow throat hackle as for a standard dry; and a wing of coarse poly tied flush to the top.

Each year thousands of tourists visit the Catskill region only to look at the colorful leaves. Surprisingly few seem to notice the same rivers that attract so much attention in the spring. People should see the Catskills aflame, but why not stop and wet a dry or two as long as you're here? Old finny friends are waiting to rise and wish you "good day."

Art Lee, Fly Fisherman's Northeast field editor, lives in Roscoe, New York.


Michigan's Spring Replay

By Carl Richards

Anglers who pass up the fall hatches in Michigan are probably missing the most spectacular season of the year. For some of the best dry-fly fishing available, combined with the sheer enjoyment of being on a trout stream, autumn offers colorful scenery and great hatch matching with some of the best weather of the entire year.

Insects don't disappear when the summer is over; they continue on and are still with us well into November ... and a few last through December. In Michigan six species of mayflies emerge in September, October, and November, and as a bonus, there are 51 species of caddis that emerge at the same time. Even better, the emergence periods revert back to midday instead of early morning, late evening, or after dark. This means there's no pressing need to arise from a cozy bed before dawn or stumble around in the dark with mosquitos eating you alive. The biting insects have mostly perished and the hatches will invariably occur on warm, pleasant afternoons.

A collage of three mayflies and a caddis
Insects such as Baetis (top left), caddis (top right), Paraleptophlebia (bottom left), and Pseudocloeon anoka (bottom right), continue to hatch on many Eastern and Midwest streams through December. (Carl Richards photos)

In April and May the large, dark species come first in the season and hatch during the middle of the day. This is true of both caddis and mayflies. As the weeks pass, the insects become smaller and lighter in color; hatch times occur earlier and later in the day due to the need for preservation of moisture in the insects, especially mayflies which cannot take in water through their mouths. So, during the hot months of July and August, insects emerge when it's cool, and they are generally small and/or very pale. In the fall the nights become cool, and often the temperatures drop below freezing; the species get larger and darker, and the hatch time changes to the afternoon when the air is warmer. This is really spring angling except the progression of emergence is reversed.

Caddis

With 51 species of caddisflies hatching in Michigan trout streams from September through the fall, I can offer only a general rule about which patterns to carry to match the hatches. Generally, flies in size 16 to 20 will match most species. The natural's color scheme changes from the light-cream wings and light-green and light-orange bodies of August and early September to the brown and olive bodies with brownish wings found later in the fall, to very dark gray, almost black, wings and bodies of late fall.

Stoneflies

I have never observed much stonefly activity in Michigan after August, so they can generally be discounted for fall fishing in this area. Western rivers, however, are a different story. Many late stones are very important in September and October on the Madison, the South Fork of the Platte, the Big Hole, and other Western rivers.

Mayflies

Late mayfly hatches are easy to learn in comparison to caddis hatches. With only six major mayfly species hatching at this time of year, all of them easily recognized, exact patterns needed can be readily anticipated.

Pseudocloeon anoka (Tiny Blue­ winged Olive)

This tiny olive mayfly hatches through late September, with emergence beginning any time from 11 A.M. to 2 P.M. As with all fall hatches, the key triggering mechanism for the hatch is an air temperature of 67 degrees F. The nymph of this species has a pale, grass-green body; the dun is light to medium olive, and the spinner is medium reddish brown with white hyaline wings.

HOOK: Light-wire dry fly, #22-#24.
THREAD: Olive.
TAILS: Gray hackle fibers.
WINGS: Light-gray duck quill segments.
BODY: Olive fur.
NOTE: This pattern matches Pseudocoleon anoka.

Ephemerella simplex (Small Slate Olive Dun)

Another small olive mayfly, simplex hatches through late September, and is best imitated with a #20 or #22 hatch­matching pattern. The nymph has a light brownish-olive abdomen and a dark brown thorax. The dun is dark olive, and the spinner has a brownish­black abdomen and dark red-brown thorax.

HOOK: Light-wire dry fly, #20-#22.
THREAD: Olive.
TAILS: Gray hackle fibers.
WINGS: Dark-gray duck quill sections.
BODY: Dark olive fur.
NOTE: This pattern matches Ephemerella simplex.

Baetis pygmaeius (Small Olive Dun)

The parade of fall Olive hatches continues with this #22 to #24 size mayfly, which emerges through late September. The nymph of this species is dark brown; the dun is medium olive, and the spinner is brown.

HOOK: Light-wire dry fly, #22-#24.
THREAD: Olive.
TAILS: Gray hackle fibers.
WINGS: Gray duck quill sections.
BODY: Olive fur.
NOTE: This pattern matches Baetis pygmaeius.

Baetis heimalis (Slate Gray Dun)

This is the largest Baetis species in Michigan, size 16 to 18, and it emerges through the middle of October. It is well known for its late-season emergence, when nighttime temperatures can drop info the 24-degree range. The nymph of this species is dark olive, while the dun and spinner are dark brown. The wings of the dun arc a very dark slate gray.

Paraleptophlebia debilis (Small Slate Mahogany Dun)

The debilis hatches through late October, but the greatest number of insects emerge during September. Like Baetis heimalis, debilis is a larger fly that is best matched with an imitation of size 16 or 18. The nymph has a dark reddish-brown body; the dun is dark brown, and the spinner is red-brown, with the male having a pale section in the middle of the abdomen. The dun's wings are a light cream color.

HOOK: Light-wire dry fly, #16-# 18.
THREAD: Brown.
TAILS: Gray hackle fibers.
WINGS: Dark gray duck quill segments.
BODY: Brown fur.
NOTE: This pattern matches Baetis heimalis and Paraleptopblebia debilis.

Tricorythodes stygiatus (Tiny White­winged Black)

As with Trico hatches in other areas, Michigan trout feed much more regularly on the spinner than the dun stage of this hatch. These Tricos are best imitated with patterns in sizes 22 through 26. Duns have a dark gray body and light cream wings, while the spinner is a very dark blackish brown with the characteristic hyaline wings. Spinners appear in the morning when the air temperature reaches 67 degrees F., with emergence usually taking place between 10 A.M. and 2 P.M. The hatch continues through October.

HOOK: Light-wire dry fly, #22-#26.
THREAD: Black.
TAILS: Gray hackle fibers.
WINGS: Light-gray hen hackle tips.
BODY: Dark-gray or black fur.
NOTE: This pattern matches Tricorythodes stygiatus.

A great many anglers, probably the majority, stop fishing in the summer. If you're one of the many who doesn't appreciate rising before dawn, or fishing after dark, try fall fishing. It's springtime in reverse, only more beautiful. Mix good hatches, midday emergence, late-afternoon spinner falls, plus spectacular fall colors, and you have a season you won't want to miss.

Carl Richards, who lives Rockford, Michigan, has co-authored three fly­fishing books. He and Dick Pobst recently released Super Hatches, a video guide to hatches east of the Mississippi.


image of the cover of the December 1988 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine
This article originally appeared in the December 1988 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine.

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