Photo of the Month: Bycatch

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fall Scouting

Having lived in Colorado for just over a year, I'm still learning the rhythms of my favorite trout streams.  One of my favorite aspects of learning new water is scouting.  These may just be the perfect fishing trips since there are no high expectations that can result in disappointment, at least not usually.  Often, I find the stream more generous when I don't expect too much.

One favorite river system has a fairly well-known fall run of brown trout.  Last year I pulled a nice 20 inch brown out along with some other beautifully colored browns.  The best time is while they are running to their spawning grounds.  Their aggression is general and directed at just about anything they see.  Once the spawn starts, these fish are focused and should be left to reproduce.  Most fish that are "caught" during actual spawning activity are snagged and this is not sporting.

Fall is my favorite season and what better way to bring it in than a scouting trip?  Last year, I knew the big fish showed up in early October.  I also knew that on my last trip a few weeks ago, there were only a handful of larger resident fish in the system and no runner fish.  Would the fish be there?

The weather was threatening Sunday morning, but that is how I like it for fall fishing.  Packing a fleece and raincoat along with the regular fishing gear guaranteed I would still be comfortable.  The drive was long but scenic which makes any length of trip a bit more enjoyable.  The highlight of the day was finding fall colors at higher elevations.  The aspen were incredible and not just the standard yellow gold either.  No, many trees had rich orange and even red colors as well which is something I'm not really used to finding here in Colorado.  One clump of trees was close enough to a pullout for me to stop and shoot a couple of pictures.  The threatening sky muted the light, creating perfect conditions for photography.

Driving further, I was soon along the stream I hoped to fish.  The very first access point was wide open with no one in sight.  Taking my time, I pulled on waders and topped everything with my raincoat.  The rain was coming.  Large nymphs and streamers would be my weapon of choice for what I hoped would be large migratory brown trout.

Working my way downstream, I quickly found my first fish in a deep but small run with an undercut bank nearby.  It was a pretty brown with lighter colors indicating it had moved up from the lake.

Then things slowed to a crawl.  Naturally, the stream teased me until I was nearly ready to quit before giving up another gem.  As is normally the case, the lake-run fish were spread out and hard to pinpoint. Things started to improve though as I stumbled upon some deeper runs and pools.  There were even a few redds showing up in the backs of the best holes.

By the time I got another nice fish, the rain was pouring.  Thankfully I had stowed my old point and shoot Pentax and again I blessed its waterproof capabilities.

Eventually the rain passed on, leaving clouds behind to remind me that the rain could come again.

The stream proved to be quite inspirational.  Sweeping grassy banks had me contemplating how good the hopper fishing could be if the nice browns were here throughout the summer months.  I know that there are at least a few nice resident fish although the brookies definitely seem to have an edge in terms of numbers.

Finally, in a series of impressive bend pools, I found some nice fish.  Not every fish I found would eat, but enough nice fish were coming to hand to keep my forgetting my growing hunger.

Finally, with thunder rumbling in the distance, I noticed the rumbling in my belly and decided it was time to eat.  I headed back to the car and drove to a nice spot where I planned to fish after eating.  I heated up some delicious chili and then added some Fritos.  Chili and chips have become one of my favorite stream-side meals when I feel like something hot and filling.  This day was no different.  The thunderstorm skirted off to the south but a few stray drops kept things damp while I ate.

While I was cooking, a gentleman from Kansas came by and asked if I had found a fly box.  Unfortunately I had not fished yet so had not found a lost box.  He looked for a while and was unable to locate his box.  I took his name and email in case I could find it but luck was not with me on this day when it came to finding lost stuff.

I was lucky as a fisherman however.  Working up the stream, I found one particular deep spot where trees had fallen across the stream.  Having spotted nice trout here in the past, I always toss a fly in when I am in the area.  On today, I carefully maneuvered into position and tossed my fly in between the two logs.

When a brown shot out to slam the fly, I was glad that I had 2x tippet on.  The fish tried to run upstream and down, but the stout 5 weight rod kept the pressure on, and soon I was slipping the big net under the fish.

Based on where this fish lived and its coloration, I believe that it was a resident fish instead of a lake-run fish.  I'm also pretty sure I spotted it last spring on one of my early trips to this stream.

At this point, thunder was threatening again.  The sky was ominously dark and the wind was picking up.  I decided to call it a day.  Not long after starting the drive home, the storm broke in its full fury, pounding the landscape with sleet.  The temperature dropped into the low forties.  Further south, I escaped the storm and noted white up high on the mountains above.  The first high country snow of the year had fallen and would continue into the night.  Fall is definitely here!!!


  1. I love fishing the last hour or so before a low pressure system moves through..always turns em on. Since our leaves won't turn until November, and then it's really not all that impressive, Im reminded I need a trip to the high country.

    Have a great fall!

    1. David, the nastier the weather the better as far as I am concerned. I'll be watching for a report from you if you make a trip to the high country. You have a great fall out there as well!

  2. Great post David. I love the fall because the browns are so spectacular when they come from ice water.

    1. Howard, the water is already pretty chilly too. Took a water temp and it was 45 degrees. That went a long ways towards explaining why my hands felt frozen after handling each fish...

  3. Great narrative and pics. Absolutely love fall brown trout fishing! Keep 'em coming...

    1. Thanks Spencer! I hope to have more reports soon...

  4. David
    Those are some nice browns, what was the fly of choice? Was you dead drifting or using an indicator? What I would give to have a place like that to fish. You made the right choice when you decided to move out west. thanks for sharing

    1. Thanks Bill! I will just call it a mystery fly, at least on here. You are welcome to contact me for more info but I do not share this particular pattern online. Glad you enjoyed it. If you get a chance come out this way some fall, and I'll show you around some of my favorite spots...