By Garrett Blackburn
Chasing Fall Brown trout in and around Yellowstone
Fall is a time of transition. Temperatures fall, daylight flickers to fragments of what we have become accustomed to. A chill lingers long into the morning hours. As cottonwoods along Montana’s riverbanks fade into a burnt mix of yellow and orange, the brown trout in the cooling waters do the same. Their profile becomes thicker. The trout’s colors become a contrast of yellows oranges and blacks. Their teeth lengthen and jaw hooks into a shape designed more for battle than feeding. The mood of these notoriously elusive carnivores becomes a little reckless and even more aggressive.
Fall can be the best time of year to catch the largest and most beautiful browns of the season. Most of the brown trout in south-west Montana will spawn between late-October and mid-November, long after most fishermen have called it s season or migrated to hunting camp. However, a few obsessed…maybe confused, anglers are more excited and aggressive than ever. They are willing to rise before dawn and cast in rain and snow for that moment when a brown trout chases down and attacks their fly.
As water temperatures drop, late season anglers often see the big fish move out of their lairs and become more vulnerable to flies. They become much more aggressive as well. Browns want bigger food than they did in August and they are more willing to chase it down to get it. It may be an instinct to pack on weight before spawning or to attack in defense of their eggs or mates.
Bigger nymphs and egg patterns are a great way to catch fall lunkers but in the spirit of targeting aggressive gator-mouthed brown trout, streamers are hard to beat. Swimming six-inch bright colored undulating streamer patterns through the water may not catch every fish in the river but it can definitely bring the right fish to the party. My favorite technique for fishing them is to find a way to get it right in their face to make them an offer they cannot refuse. Use weighted lines, split shot and heavy flies to force big fall browns to react to your fly. These fish are in a bad mood and the ones that aren’t angry enough to case your fly right to your feet can still often be convinced.
Fish tend to move near tributaries and small streams this time of year. They are getting close to where they are going to spawn and eating in the mean time. Target areas with lots of creeks entering the river and zones where a river empties into a lake. The Madison River above Hebgan and Quake Lakes just outside of West Yellowstone, are great examples. Flash, color and lots of movement are great qualities in a streamer. Cloudy days are going to be the most productive. As long as the water temperatures don’t get too frigid, the nastier days improve your chances of catching a lunker. This is one time of year where being tough can have big rewards. If you can see fish on lighter patches of gravel, they have already moved onto their spawning beds and it is best to leave them alone and let them make a good supply of angry fall brown trout for the future.
Garrett Blackburn is one of the west’s premiere fly-fishing guides. He has guided fishermen on the rivers of Southwest Montana, Western Alaska and Chilean Patagonia. Spring through Fall he owns and operates Hooked Outfitting in Southwest Montana. Where he takes all levels of anglers on the Madison, Yellowstone, Jefferson and Missouri rivers. A day with Garrett Blackburn and Hooked Outfitting is a day of fly-fishing that you will never forget. hookedoutfitting.com (918) 625-3967