Fall Days on the Radar

By ROB BREEDING for the Flathead Beacon

It’s been an odd year weather wise. Every season has misfired. Well, except winter maybe, which got it right with plenty of cold and even more snow. Early spring lingered into June, and this was one of the rainiest summers on record.

Summer finally rolled around about mid-July, and remarkably, has overstayed its welcome. October has felt like summer, albeit the blustery, occasionally chilly summer of September. I grow some herbs in pots so I can bring them indoors for the winter and use in the kitchen. I set them out on the porch in the morning and bring them in every evening. So far this fall, other than a nasty cold spell a month or so ago, I might as well have left them out all night.

The animals have caught on too. Normally, the rattlers on the nearby chukar hills are long put away by now. Just last weekend I heard that distinctive rattle, then watched a small snake slink out from some sagebrush a couple yards away, and slide into an old gopher hole it had commandeered.

Fall will arrive, eventually. When it does I hope it lingers a bit. I’d like more than a day or two of temperatures in the mid-50s before the whole thing pivots to winter and ice fishing.

Actually, fall sneaked its way in despite the flip-flop temps. The cottonwoods have all turned. I suppose even if it isn’t cold, the trees just run out of gas at some point and the leaves have to die. What’s been nice is that they hung around for a while, adding a nice golden hue to the river bottoms. That lasted until a weak cold front rolled through and an evening of bluster unleashed the leaves. They’ve been falling since, adding their distinctive clatter as they motor down the street any time a breeze kicks up.

5010660_sTree litter can be a bit of a problem on the water in the fall. At the height of the drop, leaves crowd runs and accumulate in eddies, occasionally in densities thick enough to make it tough to fish. The colorful backdrop is refreshing and fall fishing can be quite good if you’re willing to put the dry flies away and dredge the bottom with weighted nymphs. Brown trout are especially vulnerable as they can lose much of their famed wariness during the fall spawn. And these European trout are especially beautiful in this season as their flanks glow bright yellow and their blacks spots can be haloed with faint rings of red and turquoise.

The other day after a chukar hunt that included that — fortunately — non-eventful encounter with the snake, I put the upland gear away, broke out the waders and headed for the river. My first brown barely reached 12 inches, but it’s presence in my net sealed the deal on a perfect fall blast-and-cast outing. I got a few bigger browns, and a rainbow, then retired to a local watering hole that makes a fine Manhattan.

The fishing has grown increasingly good as the leaves succumb to gravity. The action’s all under the surface, but other than the inelegant art of chucking lead with a fly rod, there’s really nothing to it. Identify good holding water where browns will tend to congregate this time of year. I like the head of runs, on the inside edge of the current if possible. But the outside can be effective as well.

My arsenal is fairly crude. I’ll pinch a couple pieces of split shot, as much as a pair of AB shot if the current is fast and deep enough, above a big, gnarly beadhead nymph. Stones or any large pattern with rubber legs seems to work. The nymph is your attractor. From that I’ll drop a tiny chironimid pattern. My favorite is a small No. 14 or No. 16 hook sparingly wrapped with red floss. And yes, I use a strike indicator, otherwise known as a bobber. Trapped air technology is your friend.

The big ugly gets their attention, but when trout move in close the tiny chironimid is what seals the deal.


thumbRob Breeding writes an outdoors column for the Flathead Beacon newspaper in Kalispell.  He teaches journalism at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming.