Fall Fishing Bug Guide

The Top Flies and Hatches for Fall Fly Fishing

Fall fly fishing is some of the most enjoyable fly fishing of the year.  The crowds get less in many areas as temps decline and people begin to focus on hunting and football more than the pursuit of trout.  For the passionate angler such as myself, this is nothing but good news as the rivers open up with less crowds and the temperatures cool providing new and often superior fishing opportunities to the previous dog days of summer.  This is the anglers best opportunity to catch colorful brown and brook trout of record sizes as well as fish some excellent hatches and work with many different techniques to catch a lot of fish. 

While spring is full of expectations, I find fall to be full of opportunities.  Everything is slowly turning into winter and going dormant and with this added pressure, trout take risks the angler can exploit.  Everything is on the clock and every week seems to bring lower temps, smaller insects and hungrier trout.  This opportunity is one of the most enjoyable experiences for anglers and is something you only get to explore in fall.  The beauty of fall and the changing colors on the trees is often enough to make a day, but with the hungry and often large trout that are available for sight fishing in low water during the fall, it’s an incredible adventure you aren’t going to want to miss.

The key to fishing in the fall is keeping your fly selection and presentations in rhythm with the changing environment.  One day can be full of caddis and hoppers and then the very next day after an overnight freeze brings nothing but small midge hatches to the surface. 

In this guide, we’re going to go through the major differences in the fall season and why they matter for your fly selection and fishing decisions.  Then, we’ll go through the major hatches including sizes and colors.  Lastly, we’ll wrap it up with the top 6 flies we recommend for fly fishing in the fall.

Major Differences in Fall Fishing

And Why Those Reasons Matter to Your Fly Fishing Strategy

Fall fly fishing in many ways is similar to spring fly fishing in hatches and what to expect from trout feeding behavior.  However, there are many differences that create a unique feel and strategy for fall fly fishing.

1 – Everything is Slowing Down in the Fall

First off, everything is slowing down vs speeding up in spring.  It’s getting colder every day and as temps begin to freeze at night, the variety of insects decrease.  Hoppers and other terrestrials fall off when night time temps begin to freeze and larger insects like green drakes, and stoneflies play a less dominant role for trout.  The flows are also slowing down if you get snow where you live.  The mountains produce snow instead of rain which doesn’t melt into the rivers until next spring leaving the low summer flows to persist through fall months and while lower water temps help bring fish back into activity, the low flows can make for easily spooked trout in certain parts of the river.  

With everything slowing down, you need to adjust your rigs and fly selection as well as your locations.  Extending your leaders to 9ft – 15ft can help greatly in keeping fish un-spooked and lighter tippet can help your flies drift more naturally and spook fish less as well.  Fly selection gets more narrow and imitative in general vs the large attractor patterns in summer (forget about streamers for now, we’ll talk about them later).  Your location on the river needs to change up too as the fast riffles that held the coldest water is less desirable for fall trout and the slower runs and holes will begin to hold more trout. 

Keep this change in mind as you are fishing and you’ll find a lot of opportunity as this transition occurs. 

2- There’s Some New Fish on the Block Ready to Spawn

Fall is the time of year brown trout and brook trout spawn vs rainbow and cutthroats in the spring.  With this change in species dominance, there are new techniques.  Streamers play a big role in fall as browns and brook trout are more predatory in nature than bows and cutts.  The bows and cutties can still be caught in great numbers and size in fall too, but with egg patterns, midges, and baetis patterns more often than streamers.  

We’re not advocates at any time of fishing to spawning fish on redds, but finding the redds is an important clue to finding good fish.  Find the redds, then go downstream to the next hole or run where fish are not spawning and you’ll find a lot of trout holding below these areas waiting for eggs and insects to float down.  Nymph these holes and you’ll find a lot of fish including browns and brook trout who have yet to take to the spawn.  Big fish are caught with big streamers in these same spots as well.  

Watch for the spawn and fish below capitilizing on the opportunity this change brings while leaving the spawning fish alone to do what they need to for future trout populations.  Remember, 3-5 years from now, those will be the trout you will want to be catching, don’t hook a spawning fish now and miss out on the 30 kids of his or hers you could catch in a few years.

 

Next, let’s go over the insects to look for in Fall and the sizes and colors you’ll want to imitate.  We’ll mention some patterns that fit the mold and then end with our top 6 patterns and a great assortment to stock your box with at a great price.

The Ultimate Bug Guide for Fall Fly Fishing

Hatches, Insects, Colors and Sizes to Catch More Fish

We normally go over insects in this section, but we’re also including eggs and streamers in this go around.  We know they aren’t insects, but we use specific patterns to imitate baitfish and eggs of spawning trout, so they are included in the bug guide portion so you have a complete set of flies to catch more fish.

Midges

midge-hatch-1

Midges play a huge role during the fall months in nearly every river trout live. Make sure you have several colors and sizes as they are likely one of the top 3 insects you’ll want in your boxes in all stages.

  • Stages: Nymph, Emerger, Dry
  • Sizes: #18-24
  • Colors: Any Color Imaginable (Black, Olive, Red, Purple are my favorites)
  • Time of Day: All Day, Later in Day When Colder
  • My Favorite Patterns:
    • Nymphs: Zebra Midge, Mercury Midge
    • Emerger: Foamback Emerger Midge, Top Secret Midge, Smokejumper Midge
    • Dries: Smokejumper Midge, Sprouts Midge Emerger, Griffiths Gnat, Renegade

Caddis

An October Caddis Tied by Tightlines Productions
An October Caddis Tied by Tightlines Productions

Caddis are less important in fall as temps get colder, but the October caddis, a large orange caddis makes an appearance and is worth imitating especially where hatches are prolific.

  • Stages: Nymph, Emerger, Dry
  • Sizes: #12-18
  • Colors: Orange, Tan, Olive
  • Time of Day: All Day, Later in Day When Colder
  • Patterns to Use
    • Caddis Nymphs: Soft Hackle Hares Ear, Hares Ear, Buckskins
    • Caddis Emergers: CDC Caddis Emergers in Olive and Tan and Orange
    • Caddis Dries: Goddard Caddis (#14 – 18) and the Above Listed October Caddis (#12- 16)

Scuds

Fall Bug Guide

Always an important part in a trouts diet where present, scuds will be an option on many tailwaters and spring creeks year round.

  • Stages: Nymph
  • Sizes: #12-18
  • Colors: Grey, Pink, Orange, Olive, Two-Tones
  • Seasons: Year round, late fall to early spring most important
  • Time of Day: All day with importance on early morning
  • Patterns:  Beadhead Scuds and Hotspot Scuds

Annelids (Worms)

Even Damselfly nymphs eat annelids!
Even Damselfly nymphs eat annelids!

Always on the menu, these protein-packed insects seem to be a favorite in the fall as trout try to pack on the pounds in preparation for the winter.  

  • Stages: Nymph
  • Sizes: #8-16
  • Colors: Reds, Pinks, Browns, Tans, Purples
  • Seasons: Year round, Anytime water rises or gets off color
  • Time of Day: All day, Anytime
  • Patterns: Beadhead San Juan Worm (Red is my favorite), Squirmy Worms

Eggs

trout-eggs

Once the spawn begins, fish eggs behind spawning fish giving plenty of room to any fish sitting near or around the redds.  Just cause a fish isn’t on a redd, doesn’t mean it’s not trying to spawn.  Fish the hole or run below the spwaning riffles and egg patterns will produce very well.  As the spawn ends, the eggs will still be very important.  When fish are on eggs, you’ll know it by the success they bring, and vice-versa when they aren’t on the eggs, you will catch very few on them.  

  • Sizes: #12 – #16
  • Colors: Orange, Chartreuse, Red, Pink
  • Patterns: I like to peg my eggs when possible, otherwise clown eggs are great patterns too. 

Mayflies

bwo-male-mayfly-dry

Early in fall you’ll see some tricos and pmd’s, but as it gets cooler, nearly all the mayflies will be Baetis/BWO (same bug different names). Midges and BWO’s in your box is often all you’ll need in fall and are among the most prevelant and important insects to have in your box.

  • Stages: Nymph, Emerger, Dry, Spinner
  • Sizes: #16 – #24
  • Colors: Olive, Brown, Black, Purple
  • Time of Day: During Fall, Mid Morning to Dusk

Trico Patterns – Any black or white spinner or spent wing mayfly.  Trico spinners and angel wing spinners are my favorite

PMD patterns – Sprouts midge emerger in yellow or tan.  PMD thorax mayfly or a foamwing parachute biot PMD.

BWO/Baetis – Foamwing Parachute Biot BWO, Smokejumper in Olive, Thorax BWO

Baetis Nymphs/Emergers – Zebra Midge in Olive, Mercury Baetis, 2-Step baetis

Stoneflies

Fall Bug Guide

You’ll see a few stones flying around including the September stone in some areas, but they are all smaller (#12 – #18) and are dark brown and black. Have a few nymphs and dries in these colors and that should cover you. They aren’t super important for trout in fall.

  • Stages: Nymph, Dry
  • Sizes: #8 – #16
  • Colors: Black, Dark Brown
  • Time of Day: All Day, Later in Day When Colder
  • Patterns to Use:
    • Nymphs: Pats Rubberleg, Euro Jumbo Copper John
    • Dries: Smaller Brown and Black Stimulators (#12 – #16)

Sowbugs

fly fishing entomology course

Like scuds, sowbugs have a year round importance where present and on days where trout don’t seem to be eating the normal bugs, a sow bug can bring in a lot of fish and is often the missing ingredient for anglers as they are often forgotten.

  • Stages: Nymph
  • Sizes: #12-18
  • Colors: Greys, Pinks, Oranges, Olives, Blues, Whites, Two-Tones
  • Seasons: Year round, late fall to early spring most important
  • Time of Day: All day with importance on early morning
  • Patterns: Ray Charles or Hot Head Sowbugs

Hoppers | Ants | Beetles

Fall Bug Guide

Until consecutive days of freezing overnight temps, hoppers, ants and beetles in smaller sizes are a great option for dry-dropper fishing in fall months as trout get hungry and look for high-protein meals.  Hopper dropper fishing is not dead until it freezes 2 nights in a row in my experience.

  • Stages: Dry Only
  • Sizes: #10 – #16
  • Colors: Olive, Black, Red
  • Time of Day: All Day, Later in Day When Colder
  • Patterns to Use:
    • Hoppers: Parachute Hopper, Hopper Juans, Charlie Boy Hopper, Daves Hoppers (#10 – #14)
    • Ants: Parachute Ants in black and red (#14 – 18)
    • Beetles: Parachute beetle in purple, red and black (#12 – 16)

Streamers

Sculpin-Baitfish

Brown and brook trout are ultra aggressive this time of year and single hook and articulated streamers can yield some great results.  People get crazy this time of year with big big streamers, but my experience has shown that medium to smaller sized streamers yield more fish and often the big fish too.  If you are going for the biggest fish in the river, a bigger streamer often finds them, but you’ll miss out on a lot of others along the way fishing too big of a streamer.  

  • Stages: Nymph, Pupa, Emerger, Dry
  • Sizes: #2 – #14
  • Colors: Black, Olive, Brown, Red, White, Yellow
  • Patterns: Wooly Buggers, Egg Sucking Leeches, Autumn Splendors, and conehead muddy buddies and squirrel zonkers do great.

The Top 6 Patterns for Fall Fly Fishing

The Best Flies for Your Fall Fly Box

The Flies in our Fall Assortment

They Are Also Our Top 6 Flies, Sizes and Colors We Recommend

Coincidence? Nope, we built this assortment based on the knowledge and success we have year after year in the Fall months and put it into a simple and affordable fly assortment that ships in 5-7 days (Free Shipping too!)

Normally $119 | Now $69 ($50 Off)

Coupon Code: TCTH-FALL-50

Only While Supplies Last

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    Fall Assortment

    $119.00

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    72 OF THE TOP FLIES FOR FALL

    FREE Shipping On All Orders
    • Top producing fly patterns for fall
    • 72 flies | 6 patterns | 3 sizes of each pattern
    • Stock up, or share with a friend
    • FREE shipping, 5-7 day delivery
Zebra Midge

Zebra Midge

Color: Olive | Sizes: #16 – #18 – #20
4 of Each Size | 12 Flies Total
Category: Midge | Stage: Nymph

Zebra Midge

The zebra midge is one of the most productive flies any time of the year, but during fall, midges and baetis (small olive mayflies) play a much larger importance to trout. As fall sets in and freezing tempratures hit during the night times, it cools water tempratures and stops the hatches and lifecycle progressions of most summer bugs. It leaves behind the heartiest of insects and the zebra midge does an excellent job imitating all of them in the nymph and emerger forms.

Though a zebra midge most accurately imitates a midge nymph or midge pupa, it also imitates small free form caddis nymphs and small mayfly nymphs. Olive is the all-around best color to have for this time of year in sizes #16 – #20. Additional colors include brown, black, purple and other darker colors. Lighter color bugs aren’t as prevelant during colder months as the dark colors help them absorb heat. THis is a general rule and olive, brown, black and purple can be used on many fly patterns during spring and fall months.

Beadhead San Juan Worm

Another top fly for any time of the year, the san juan worm needs no introduction.  What makes it so great during fall is that the fish are really looking for high-protein meals during the fall as they prepare for the long, cold winter.  Annelids (aquatic worms) are very high in protein and serve as a great meal for any trout as it drifts through the stream.

Another great reason the san juan worm does so well is it’s color.  Red, Pink, and chartreuse green are my top producing colors in fall in sizes #12 – #16.  These colors are highly attractive and during the fall, even aggravating to trout.  As the brown trout spawn takes place, these colors will attract fish even better and serve as a great pattern in a two-nymph set up.  After the spawn, this fly also does great in attracting browns who are ready to feast and gain back the lost calories.

If you have to pic just one color, go with red, it seems to be the most consistent color for success, and after that I’d do pink.  When nothing seems to work, green seems to work, especially when early snow falls and muddies up the river, green really seems to stand out for the trout.

BH San Juan Worm

BH San Juan Worm

Color: Red | Sizes: #12 – #14 – #16
4 of Each Size | 12 Flies Total
Category: Annelid | Stage: Nymph

Smokejumper

Smokejumper

Color: Olive | Sizes: #16 – #18 – #20
4 of Each Size | 12 Flies Total
Category: Midge/Mayfly | Stage: Emerger/Dry

Smokejumper Midge

As with the zebra midge, the smokejumper midge imitates several key insects for fall trout.  Most note able, BWO (blue wing olives) which are small olive to dark olive mayflies and midges.  These insects are small and spend a good amount of time on the water making it an excellent insect for trout to eat.  The smokejumper is a magical little fly because it sits just below the surface, with the CDC wing above the water to imitate an emerging wing case, or a small adult insect.

The insect profile (meaning the way the fly sits and looks on the water to trout) is one of the most irresistible flies to trout and is one of my personal, top trout flies to have in your box.  Olive is great as it imitates mayflies and midges alike with good accuracy and if you can only have one color, that’s the fly to have.   Most of the time, this pattern imitates small insects, so sizes #16 – #20 is your best all around sizes to have in your box for the fall months.  Look for cloudy days and calm water next to the runs or riffles that hold fish and you’ll find fish actively feeding during a hatch.  It’s almost a guaranteed sighting in fall with the right weather conditions on most rivers across the US.

Goddard Caddis

Don’t forget about the caddis!  in warmer climates, caddis remain an important food item to trout well into the late fall months, but even in colder areas, smaller caddis will be a favorite among trout.  I find that fall fly fishing with caddis is similar to terrestrial fishing in summer.  Often times, you won’t see an active hatch with rising trout, but when there is little visible activity on the water of any kind, trout are still looking up hoping to see something and a few small caddis, like the goddard caddis, is a great imitation to fool a trout into taking your fly.

Fish them tight against the banks, and in water where fish don’t have a long time to look and inspect the fly and you’ll be surprised how many willing trout you will find to eat this fly well into the late months of fall.  When the weather is actively producing freezing temps at night or winter like conditions for your area in the night time, caddis become less important as they can’t handle much cold and the adults and hatches subside.  The only hatch that will remain is in October, where the October Caddis hatch and are large (size #10 – #16) and flutter around like moths around the waters edge.  A goddard caddis is a great imitation in size #14.  We also recommend a few smaller caddis in sizes #16 and #18 to fish during non-hatch times to attract fish.  A small goddard caddis as the first fly followed by a smokejumper midge is a deadly combination.

Goddard Caddis

Goddard Caddis

Color: Tan | Sizes: #14 – #16 – #18
4 of Each Size | 12 Flies Total
Category: Caddis | Stage: Dry

BH Wooly Bugger

BH Wooly Bugger

Color: Black | Sizes: #8 – #10 – #12
4 of Each Size | 12 Flies Total
Category: Baitfish/Leech| Stage: Streamer

Beadhead Wooly Bugger

Fall is the time for streamers and aggressive brown trout and brook trout.  As the spawn begins, these big fish will get protective of their area and will attack anything that comes in their zone.  A black beadhead wooly bugger is one of my all time top producing flies during the fall spawns.  Imitating a leech, small baitfish or other egg-eating predator, the brown trout will eat and strike this fly without much convincing.

Best in sizes #6 – #12, we’ve found that though lots of people like fishing big streamers, #8 – #12 will consistently catch you more fish as well as big fish throughout the season.  Fish this fly on cloudy days early in the morning or evening or during any transitional period or location in the river.  Before or after a storm, high water from low water, deep to shallow, fast to slow water etc you name it, find transitions and you’ll find trout on streamers.

Autumn Splendor

The autumn splendor is one of those flies that trout love to hate.  They eat it to get a meal, they eat it to get it out of their area, but either way, they get it in their mouth.  Likely imitating a smaller brown trout, it’s a great attractor streamer fished best in the traditional streamer methods.  Fish them downstream against the bank and strip them off and to the other side of the bank through the main part of the river in small twitches imitating a fleeing baitfish.  This fly has also produced well when you fish it like a nymph and dead drift it through a hole without a strike indicator.  Make small lifts in the rod tip to move the fly up and down ever so slightly so it looks like a baby brown trout swimming his last laps and it can produce some very aggressive eats in the big deep holes of your local river.

We mentioned above that sizes #6 – #12 are the best sizes for streamers overall, and that is why we recommend this in #6 – #10.  If you can fish it with a conehead it will get down deeper and deeper is almost always better for streamers.  You can also fish it in tandem with another streamer (2 streamers) and use it as an attractor.  Fish love seeing schools of baitfish afterall so 2 streamers is twice the excitement!

Autumn Splendor

Autumn Splendor

Color: Orange | Sizes: #6 – #8 – #10
4 of Each Size | 12 Flies Total
Category: Baitfish/Attractor | Stage: Streamer

Check Out Our Fall Fly Assortment

On Sale During the Fall Months, While Supplies Last

We write these free guides so you can learn the right bugs to use and catch more fish. Coincidentally, that’s the same reason we created our Fall fly assortment. This assortment was made because after we made this guide, so many of you were asking for use to put together an assortment of flies based on the information above. Well, we did and here it is and an awesome price, but only during Fall.

While Supplies Last, You Can Get 72 Flies for $50 Off (Normally $119 | Now Just $69.00)

Coupon Code: TCTH-FALL-50

  • eagle-river-lower-section-9

    Fall Assortment

    $119.00

    Add to cart

    72 OF THE TOP FLIES FOR FALL

    FREE Shipping On All Orders
    • Top producing fly patterns for fall
    • 72 flies | 6 patterns | 3 sizes of each pattern
    • Stock up, or share with a friend
    • FREE shipping, 5-7 day delivery