Friday, October 5, 2012

The Weekend 10: Best of Fall

We had our first hard freeze here in eastern Idaho this week, and my tomato and pepper plants are done after a valiant summer of producing the vital ingredients for fresh salsa. The tree-lined avenues of the numbered streets are sporting some gorgeous autumn hues, and the bright, sunny days that come on the heels of crisp, clearn nights make me long for days on the water when my hunting friends have abandoned the fly gear and headed afield searching for deer, elk and fowl.

So as "football weather" officially arrives, I thought I'd reminisce a bit about some of my favorite fall fishing destinations here in the Rockies, in hopes of both inspiring and compelling my fishing pals to hit the water during this, the best time of the year to find quiet water amidst the splendor of the season. Happy weekend.

Arkansas River brown trout.
10) The Arkansas River. From Leadville to Cañon City, this brown-trout stream really comes alive this time of year. Prolific blue-winged olive hatches pop on cloudy days when, up high, what might have been rain a week ago is now ice pushed from a slate-gray sky. Streamers work, too, on the river's browns, and it's the best time of year to hook a pig.
9) The Bitterroot. Fall might as well be called Streamer Season, and the upper Bitterroot near Hamilton, Mont., could be the best fall brown trout river in America. In addition browns, the river's native west slope cutthroats have returned from their tributary spawning jaunts and are now back in the big water, as are rainbow-cutthroat hybrids and the underappreciated mountain whitefish. Here on the 'root, I've hooked whities on massive streamers meant for monster browns, and browns that sipped in No. 22 BWOs... you never know.
Fall on the Snake.
8) The Snake River near Jackson Hole. As the weather cools and the irrigators finally figure out just how much water they need to start storing in the upper basin, the Snake begins to drop. Big cutthroats that pushed their way upstream in the spring are now back in the river, and they're fattening up for fall. Rumors of big browns in the Snake persist, and there's always a chance that the big rabbit-hair streamer meant for cutties might become a Judas meal for one of these mythical beasts.
7) The Madison, Yellowstone National Park. You need to hit the Barnes Pools at least once in your  fishing lifetime, if for no other reason than to witness the fall run of Hebgen Lake's trout. Rainbows are generally known as spring spawners, by many of Hebgen's rainbows follow massive browns, also from the lake, on their spawning run in the fall--some folks even think the Hebgen lake rainbows were initially stocked from steelhead-strain fish, which could also explain the run upstream. Either way, swinging streamers for big browns or drifting eggs for rainbows makes this a "bucket list" destination in the fall.
Never know who'll join you for a fall day on the South Fork.
6) The South Fork of the Snake, Idaho. Every year, when the irrigation ditches shut off in Idaho Falls, I venture upstream to my favorite walk-and-wade destination on the South Fork. And every year, I come home sated, knowing that I've seen the river at its finest, when the foot-bound angler can really get to know it intimately. It's big water... huge. But in the fall, the side channels become wadable, and the golden cottonwoods light the sky, even on cloudy day. And on those cloudy days, swarms of BWOs make cutties, rainbows and even massive browns look to the surface. It's my favorite time of year on the river.
5) The Henry's Fork, Ashton, Idaho. This river might be the nation's signature trout stream, and it fishes great in the fall, before the snow flies. Frankly, it fishes great all year round, but I love it in the fall and again in the late-spring when bitter cold won't crush your spirits and you can patiently wait for the hatch to find schools of rainbows, browns and whitefish ready to hit the top.
Fall on the Green. 
4) The Rio Grande River, South Fork, Colo. This river, somewhat abused by the yearlong fish plantings from private fishing clubs and ranch operators, comes into its own this time of year, with both wild and stocked fish gearing up for the high-country river at the base of Wolf Creek Pass. Streamers stripped through pocket water will draw anxious strikes from hungry trout--some are downright huge. Enjoy the last of the aspens and the start of the best fishing of the year.
3) The Provo River, Utah. This river gets a lot of pressure, what with it being so close to the Wasatch Front. But in the fall, pressure drops a bit, and you can have some water all to yourself. Again, brown trout are the name of the game, and I'd start with streamers before giving up and matching the hatch. Big browns and some rainbows (and watch for otters, too) will chase streamers on the swing.
2) The Green River, Utah. The Green actually fishes well all year long, but in the fall, the drift-boat hatch slows a bit and the river's big browns come to life. If you can float it, arm yourself with a couple of rods, including one with a sink-tip line, and strip big, furry critters through the deep-green depths. It's something every angler must experience.
Lower Firehole Falls.
1) The Firehole River, Yellowstone National Park. After a hot summer, where water temperatures might tickle 75 degrees, the Firehole is back in shape and fishing well by October. Also, all the fish that scooted up the river's tributaries, like Nez Perce and Sentinel creeks, are back in the fertile, thermal-enhanced waters of the mainstem, and they're good and hungry. Prolific fall caddis and BWO hatches make dry fly fishing a blast, but there's nothing like watching a fat Firehole brown turn on dime and give chase to a big, black 'bugger pulled against the current. You can fish the river right along the Grand Loop Road (but why would you?), or you can wander off the beaten track and find water you won't have to share. Either way, this is one of those rivers you must experience at least once.

It's fall in the rockies... I know what I'm doing this weekend. Do you?


  1. Great list Chris. I was prepared to argue some of your choices but I think this is a fair list representative of the best the Rockies have to offer. I would add the South Platte and the North Platte. I'm off. We'll see what the weekend holds here in Colorado.

  2. The good news, Howard, is that we have a lot of great places to choose from! Get out and fish this weekend, my friend. Hope all is well!

  3. A nice little list of must fish places...I assume that the Poudre was left off by mistake :-) you're forgiven....

    1. I figured you've already taken all the fish out by now ;)