By Miles Nolte and Joe Cermele
Excited for the fall streamer bite?
Well, that makes one of us.
I’m sorry to break this to you, but you’ve been had. Yes, I know, nearly every fly fishing magazine, website, gear company, fly shop, and angler under 30 will tell you that now is the time to get out and huck meat. They’re not completely wrong, but they’re not completely right either.
I’m not saying trout won’t eat streamers in the fall, or that big browns aren’t caught on streamers when their flanks blend with the falling leaves. They will and they are, but I would argue that a significant contributor to all the big fish caught on streamers in the fall is that people have been convinced to fish streamers in the fall. You know when you catch fish on streamers? When you fish them often and with confidence.
The stoke is just as real in March as it is in November.
The narrative that, between September and December, trout all over the northern hemisphere “strap on the feed bag” to “fatten up for winter” unravels under scrutiny—trout put on the vast majority of their annual weight as water temps are warming in spring, not falling in autumn. And though anglers flock to promises of God sent bites like Boomers to Florida, magical donkey unicorns don’t suddenly appear every fall in every juicy pool or run where you’ve never seen a fish over 16 inches.
The claim about brown trout is particularly shaky, since during the fall months members of the salmo genus are busy doing other things. During the spawn, brown trout, like just about every other fish, tend to get irritable and territorial. Spend some time watching trout on redds (watch, don’t cast!) and you’ll notice they do a lot of chasing each other around, playing ongoing games of grab-ass (or bite-ass) as the males jockey for position. If you float a long enough section and cover good water, chances are you’re going to put your streamer in the vicinity of a few spawning beds, and when you do some of those males are going to chase your artificial fish, not because they want to eat it but because they want it out of their love-nest. Browns tend to spawn in deeper water than bows, so even when you’re being careful you might not see them.
Though I happen to believe it’s utter horseshit, I think the fall streamer myth persists because the people telling it genuinely believe it. Fall isn’t a bad time to fish streamers, it’s just not the magic window you’ve been led to believe. Trout eat streamers pretty well under overcast skies, and fall weather in many places offers a decent chance of cloud cover. Additionally, trout eat streamers when water temps reach their optimal active range—mid 50s to low 60s—and fall temps often hover in that window. So yeah, if you have great streamer fishing conditions in the fall, then you might luck into one of those days where there’s a fish in every likely spot waiting to crush a swerving Drunk and Disorderly. Throw in the fact that you’re going to rip your line past a few spawning areas (on accident, of course) and you get a fair number of flashes and chases, which makes people think that the bite is on.
If the story of fall streamer fishing makes you believe and that belief makes you fish harder, good on you. Stories do have some magic to them. But I for one don’t think Kreelex gets extra sparkly between Halloween and Thanksgiving. Joe’s going to give you a tip on when streamer fishing really does get magical, and it’s got nothing to do with the calendar.
Joe Cermele sporting the reward of fall fishing.
I like my water green. Not brown. Brown might produce a good streamer bite, but it depends. If it’s Yoo-Hoo brown, meaning no actual dairy product present—basically chocolate-colored tap water—that’s OK. If it’s more like a Wendy’s Frosty that needs to melt in your cupholder for 20 minutes before you can suck any up the straw, that’s a bad deal. When I see green water, I get that tingling in my plums. It usually happens a few days of steady rain, gentle rain, not dumping buckets. The river bumps—but not too much—and the water turns opaque emerald. That’s what I want in the fall.
The thing is, I also want that green water in April. Also July. I don’t mind it in August or May, either, because those are prime streamer conditions any time of year. But do you know when I see it the least? Autumn.
Where I live in the Northeast, the air is crisp, and the leaves are just as gorgeous as they are in that print from Pier One Imports you’ve regifted several times. The water, however, is typically dog shit. Fall fishing is just late summer drought fishing except you need a jacket. Many years ago, I drank the fall streamer Kool-Aid until I figured out that, barring those blessings from the rain gods, my swinging meat was scaring more trout in the ultra-clear, low water than it was enticing. If the feedbags were on, the trout would have to have a hankering for rotting oak and maple leaves, because that’s what I was dragging four out of five retrieves. Maybe that’s what they crave on my beloved East and West Branches of the Delaware, but I wouldn’t know because New York closes those waters in the fall so that, you know…the browns can make sweet love without getting ball gagged by your Cheech Leech.
Fall is magical around here, though. The chow line/flesh-eating-flesh fantasy is very real, you just need to add a pinch of salt to experience the big show. You want a worthy fall road trip with the boys? Skip the Airbnb mountain mobile home and opt into the VRBO dilapidated seaside bungalow. Chase false albacore. See if you can keep it together when they’re blowing anchovies out of the water, and you get one shot. Nail it, you’ll get to wet your backing, which, let’s be honest, has never happened to you on a trout stream. You like the meat, huh? Cast a 12-inch bunker fly for stripers. A 20-ponder could fit your personal-best brown (which you caught in the spring) in its mouth without the adipose fin tickling its gums.
Need some musical inspiration for hucking meat to the beat? Check out Joe's Fall is for Winners playlist here.