Vail Valley fishing report
Vail, CO Colorado
The cottonwoods, willows and aspens are showing their brilliant yellow plumage and for local fly anglers this is the sign that the trout, especially brown trout, will be changing their attitudes.
As water temps cool and days become shorter, trout, just like most wildlife, begin preparing for a long cold winter. To do this they need to accumulate calories as quickly as possible.
For the last month trout have been concentrating on insects and on rivers like the Eagle and Colorado, and in many cases these have been very small insects like midges and blue winged olive mayflies. Trout will continue to utilize these food sources, but will also be looking to capitalize on much larger food sources. The fact is that trout are predatory fish and will hunt and chase down food under the right circumstances.
This is where streamer patterns come into play in the fall and the benefit of fishing streamers is that in general the angler has a better chance of catching larger fish.
The larger the trout the more willing they will be to attack a streamer. In many rivers, once a trout reaches a certain size, somewhere near 20 inches, their diet often shifts focus from insects to smaller fish.
Most of the year, these predators are nocturnal and may only feed once or twice a week. In the fall this scenario changes. Larger fish will be on the move during the day hunting and defending their territory and streamers can be effective at imitating both food and smaller fish invading a predator’s core area. Streamers imitate an array of larger prey items trout are accustomed to eating.
Included on the menu are sculpins, leeches, crayfish, smaller suckers and whitefish and even small trout. A large trout can swallow something one third of its total body length. So a 20-inch brown is capable of cannibalizing a 6- or 7-inch trout.
Big flies can mean big fish.
Delicate presentations are thrown out the window when streamer fishing. Light tippets are also unnecessary. In general, the angler is either going to scare a trout or get them to attack when slamming a 4-inch long hunk of fur and feathers into their house.
Size 2-8 flies are the norm, but flies tied on Nos. 2 or 0 hooks are not too big in some cases. The fish are not concerned about tippet diameter or fly size – 0X-2X are commonly used.
They see the fly and respond aggressively. Heavier-tippets allow anglers to play large trout without worrying about breaking the fish off. Slightly-heavier rod weights like a six or seven are often preferable as well since the angler is better able to cast heavy flies in conditions that are often windy and cold.
Color choice in flies sometimes will make a difference and some anglers will apply the bright day equals bright fly, dark day equals dark fly rule. Often however, when the fish are responding well to streamers, fly choice as far as size and color is not very important.
Some days (usually in fall and spring) the fish seem just plain angry and hungry and will attack any well presented streamer. For fly fishermen targeting truly large trout (think the 30-inch mark) in areas like the Colorado River west of Glenwood Springs it is not uncommon to use a fly that would get some anglers thinking tarpon or pike. Six- to 8-inch long strips of bunny fur on large saltwater hooks and the patience to wait for that one monster brown in a bad mood will eventually pay off.
The best presentation whether wading or fishing from a boat is to cast towards the bank looking for likely holding areas around rocks, logs, or potholes and strip you fly erratically in an across and slightly downstream presentation.
This allows the trout to view the fly’s side profile and makes the fly shoot, dive, and pause (just like a scared or wounded baitfish). Also, bait fish will usually not swim upstream against the current to escape predators, nor would a small prey item swim directly face on at a predator.
Anglers can also dead drift steamers through deeper runs or use the rod tip to jig them through likely spots. Some fishermen prefer a sinking line and on larger deeper rivers or in lakes they have their advantages but floating lines are easier to cast and in most cases work fine for fishing streamers.
When a trout does hit, the angler will feel the take and strip setting with a low rod tip will usually produce better results than raising the rod like a dry fly or nymphing hook set.
There are many choices when it come to available streamer patters.
The tried-and-true woolly bugger in a variety of styles, sizes and colors has probably caught more trout than all other flies combined. This time of year, a favorite is the rubber-legged autumn splendor or tequeely. Think fall colors when choosing your flies. Browns, yellows, and oranges are good choices.
Other patterns we like include the sculpzilla, Platte River special, and slumpbusters. More natural colors like olive, black, or tan also produce strikes and it’s often a good bet to combine a subtly colored smaller streamer with a large gaudily colored pattern and fish two flies a couple feet apart. This often seems to trigger a chase scenario and will prompt trout into striking.
Autumn is one of our favorite times of year to fish. Cooler weather, uncrowded streams, and belligerent, hungry trout make for enjoyable days on the water.
Try some steamer fishing this fall. It can be visually exciting to watch your quarry chase your fly for twenty feet, swirl on it on a couple times and inhale it. You might also land your largest trout ever.
Just remember to debarb your hooks since the larger hooks can be little tougher on the fish. Stop Alpine River Outfitters and check out our huge inventory of streamer patterns.
Brody Henderson is a guide at Alpine River Outfitters in Edwards. He can be reached at 970-926-0900.