Fall fishing is now on everyone’s mind

MFO Season is winding down, the kiddos will be back in school soon and the last long weekend of summer is right around the corner.

So for now fishing opportunities remain the same as before except water temps are slowly falling and fish are beginning to perk up a bit. The East Outlet has seen an increase in flow from 1000 cfs to 1500 cfs. And the photo above is of a customer, Mike Cannington, with a big handsome, hook-jawed male landlocked salmon caught a few days ago on a Nancy’s Prayer wet fly at the West Branch of the Penobscot. It was his first ever salmon. It’s the nicest salmon I’ve seen all season.

We don’t like to wish away summer but cooler nights and days over the last week has us leaning toward thoughts of fall fishing. Water temperatures peaked out at 72 degrees but with the cooler nights over the last week water temps are already back to the mid-60’s, a good start. And weather predictions for the next few have highs in the low 70’s with nights in the low 50’s. It would be nice to see this trend continue.

Wonderful fall fishing requires two key ingredients; rising water flows and lowering water temperatures. Both conditions are needed to begin spawning runs. Two falls ago cooler temperatures showed up the last week of August and water flows were increased Labor Day weekend. By mid-week after Labor Day the East Outlet and the Roach River were full of fat, salmon and brookies. Last year cooler temperature didn’t show up as soon and even though water flows were increased it was bath water and fish didn’t respond very well and it was slim picking to start with. This year we have plenty of water in the lakes so water flows shouldn’t be an issue and if cool fall weather continues the stars should all line up for some fine fall fishing. We’ll learn the proposed increases in flows on all of our rivers sometime next week. There are a lot of factors to be considered… the most important being current lake levels and how the water people can make increases and have them last throughout the remainder of the season. Our fisheries guys and water the folks will go over the details next week and come up with game plan. Our next report should have all the details.

The other day we were discussing the evaluation of fall fishing. Thirty years ago all everyone used where big, brightly colored streamers. I could tie on a Montreal Whore the first day of September and leave it the entire month and be happy as a clam and catch plenty of fish. All you needed was one small box of a few different fall streamers in a couple of different sizes. The belief was fish don’t eat anything when they are on their spawning run. We were keeping fish back then and always had a look at what was in their stomachs and hardly even found at thing … case closed, they don’t eat in the fall. Then one day, maybe 20 years ago I was fishing with a Jim Lapage from Orvis, he asked how the nymph fishing was in the fall. I said “You can leave your nymphs in the truck. Fall spawners do not eat, they have their mind on other things. All they’ll grab is a streamer, you have to piss’em off with a big, bright fly.” Jim politely asked if he could bring nymphs along to try anyway. They were new and had brass beads attached. When we got on the river Jim suggested I fish the pools first with my streamer and then give him some time with their new nymphs. I would catch a few fish then turn the pool over to him and watch as he would dredge up just as many as just as big as my streamer would. This went on in every pool all day. Discussing it over a beer later it was decided that there were fish in the pool that didn’t care about my streamer. Maybe they had been hooked a time or two on and streamer and were done chasing them. But when a tiny pheasant tail, that looked like a tasty mayfly nymph, came drifting by along the bottom fish may decide to pick it up only because they had eaten plenty earlier in the season so why not grab one more. That changed the face of fall fishing for me and gave us another trick to put in our bag and more fish in our net.

For years we were happy with our two methods and life was good. Then late one season we knew where every fish was in the pools, we had hooked’em all and they were sick of whatever we were offering so we started thinking of what else we could try in an attempt to fool now wise old fish. In the fall you rarely see a fish come to the surface to eat something on the surface. Bug season is pretty much over so there is nothing for them to come to the surface for. At least that’s what we always believed. And we’d tried dries plenty of times with little or no success. So we brought along our soft hackle wets, which we had been using with great success during the entire hatch season. We discovered that even though fish weren’t being seen coming to the surface anything they were eager to take a tiny soft hackle wet fly presented just below the surface. After all, like the many crippled bugs they had been eating in the film of the water all season, why not just one more.

The evolution of fall fishing continues although we now have a much bigger bag of tricks than we did 30 years ago. Between stripping streamers, bouncing nymphs along the bottom and swinging soft hackle wets you should be able to hook some of your biggest fish of the season.

We will be closed Sunday, August 25th to Wednesday, August 28th for a few days at camp to enjoy a bit of down time off the grid before the fall rush starts. We’ll reopen for the remainder of the season on Thursday August 29th, in plenty of time for the Labor Day Weekend.