Fall colors signal fly fishers that it is time to start chasing browns. This is the time where big browns come out of the depths and become a little careless. That simple fact means you’ll have a better chance of catching a photo-worthy brown, but do you have the time and the right pattern?
Timing is everything in the fall. Low light conditions create some of the best times to connect with a trophy brown. Early mornings and evenings are extended as the sun starts head south, allowing photo-sensative browns more time to eat, protect their territory and look for a mate.
Where do you get started when thinking about chasing a fall brown? Well, any river that holds these aggressive trout or lake that is fed by a smaller creek or stream, are both good places to begin. If browns are in the mix, you can be assured the bigger ones that call the area home will appear whether it shows in the form of a hook-jawed 15 incher in a small creek or a double digit bruiser on the Dream Stream or along the Umcompaghre.
If you know of a good brown trout fishery, then the next question is what pattern are you going to use? Streamers, big nymphs and egg patterns will be the best options. Sure that covers a lot of options, but here a list of proven patterns from each category.
For starters, when most people think of big aggressive browns, they think of chucking streamers. I like double bunnies, Umpqua’s Stanley Streamer and the Hawkins Triple Double. I really like rainbow patterns, but a solid olive, green or purple and black will also work. How do I fish these? I throw them upriver, let my Rio Sinktip get my streamer down, then give it one big mend before I start an aggressive rip back across the river. Dead drifting streamers isn’t my favorite thing to do, but a Woolly Bugger can do well twitched or dead drifted.
One trick you can use with a sink tip and a tasty streamer is to dead drift the offering a good ten feet above a holding fish. By the time the streamer sinks to the fishes’ level, you can twitch or make the streamer come alive with some movement. Whether the brown is hungry or just decides to teach the smaller minnow a lesson, it means a quick take and a good fight coming up. I’ve used this technique with that Stanley Streamer on Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Idaho whoppers when they seem to be not interested in anything else.
Deep nymphing with something like a copper John, Prince nymph or bright colored egg patterns will also work. Browns will hit these offerings out of disgust just to clear their territory. They might not hit the offering on the first five drifts, but stick with it, at worst they will hit your nymph rig to just get rid of it.
Lastly, swinging wet hackle patterns in front of bigger browns is always a good idea especially on waters like the Dream Stream or the Madison. These are places where double digit browns pushing 24, 25, and 27 inches will swim into the rivers to spawn. As with any fall outing, if the fish are on a bed or actively spawning, give them a wide berth and target some other fish in the river.
Having fished all over the Rockies, I have seen a lot of different behavior, but two common theme remain certain, the browns will protect their territory and they will really go on the feed after the spawn. They have an internal clock that tells them winter is around the corner and food will be scare, so get your fill now. If your fly is in their zone at this time, you will catch good-sized browns this year.