Utah Fall Fly Fishing

WGS long time clients and friends Joe and Mike MehlmannChanging colors are what most people associate with fall.  Oranges, yellow, and reds mean summer has given way to a new season.  For anglers the bright colors also are a sign of changing seasons.  Not only the vibrant colors of the turning leaves, but rather the bright, vivid spawning colors of brown trout as they get closer to their late fall spawning ritual.  Fall is an amazing time to fish in Utah with beautiful weather and temperatures the norm.  Windy and nasty days are rare since fall usually has long periods of high pressure that translate into sun and very comfortable temps.  Water flows are also at their most consistent levels of the year so fluctuating water levels are not even a concern.

Utah Fall fisheries

Utah Trophy Brown TroutBecause winter doesn’t usually take hold until mid-November, many of the mid to high elevation streams are still readily accessible during the months of September, October, and into November.  September is a magical month if you like to fish in solitude.  Kids are back in school, most vacationers have left for the summer, and many local sportsmen have traded the fly rod in favor of rifles, shotguns, and bows.  As a result, while many sportsmen are storming the hills in search of deer, elk, grouse, etc., you can get opportunities to chase massive fish with nobody else in sight.

Brown Trout and Brook Trout are both fall spawners so this is the time when the aggressive nature of both of these fish peak.  Brown Trout are the dominant species in Utah and the Weber, Provo, Green, Strawberry, Logan, Diamond Fork, Duchesne, Ogden, Price, and Sevier rivers all have the potential to grow trophy sized Brown Trout.  Because of their aggressive spawning behavior, fall is the prime time to target these monsters. When targeting big fish, keep in mind their habits during the fall season and focus your efforts on strategically selected areas.  Stretches of rivers immediately upstream of lakes are a prime place to start your search as many fish move out of the Stillwater into moving water to spawn.

Many of the higher elevation lakes in Utah contain brook trout or “brookies”.  The Uinta Mountains are a great place to start since this range has over 1,000 lakes, of which somewhere around 600 hold trout.  Brook trout are the predominant species here and with the sheer amount of lakes, several can be fished in the same day.   Down in the southern portion of the state, there are also numerous high elevation plateaus in which Brook Trout thrive.  Because various factors such as food source, elevation, lack of winter kill, etc., these lakes (most specifically Thousand Lakes Mountain and the Boulder Mountains) grow immense Brook Trout.  Some of the largest brookies in the country can be found here.

Utah Fall Hatches

For the most part, the sizes of insects during fall are usually much smaller than their summer counterparts.   The primary hatches during the fall season are caddis, Blue Wing Olives (baetis), Pale Morning Duns (PMDs), and midges.  There are actually two subspecies of PMDs you will encounter.  Ephemerella Inermis and Ephemerella Infrequens are their latin names, but all an angler needs to know is that the smaller ones are most common in the fall.  These smaller PMDs are usually a size 18 -22 with coloration more of a pale cream with a slight olive tint. These late season PMDs are most common from early September through late October.  When flow regimes out of Jordanelle Reservoir are higher through the summer,  PMDs hold off from hatching throughout much of the summer months.  Once these flows are dropped, typically around early September, this triggers massive amounts of PMDs to hatch all at once throughout the month of September, offering far and away the best dry fly fishing of the year.


Provo River Rainbow TroutAs PMDs fade away as fall progresses, fall Blue Wing Olives (baetis) begin to take their place.  The presence of these mayflies is much more important on tailwater fisheries as opposed to freestone streams.  Many anglers use the term pseudocloeon or “pseudo” for short.  These mayflies are tiny, averaging in size from #20 to #24, although much smaller at times.  For what they lack is size, they make up for in numbers.  Some rivers such as the Green and the Provo, these hatches can be so thick that they form solid mats of insects on some windblown eddies.

Of course the early part of fall is also a great time for terrestrial fishing. Grasshoppers are at their highest numbers at this time and a myriad of other terrestrial insects is also available.

Fall Fishing Techniques

One of the great things about fishing in the fall is that all techniques of fly fishing are effective.  Whether you enjoy big or small dry fly fishing, hopper-dropper fishing, nymphing, streamer fishing, or swinging soft hackles, all can and will produce during the autumn months.

Fall Streamer Fishing

Weber River Brown TroutStreamer fishing is a favorite of many fly fishermen during fall as spawning behavior can bring out the aggressive nature of brown trout.  As Browns enter their pre-spawn stage, they become very territorial and willing to attack almost anything that comes close to their position.  While old school patterns such as mickey finns, woolley buggers, matukas, and muddler minnows have caught countless fish over the years and are still very effective; there are many more modern flies that will do a better job enticing strikes from predatory fish.  With various types of flash, built in articulation, dumbbell/tungsten heads, and extensive use of synthetics and natural materials that move well in the water, these modern streamers are almost irresistible to big fish.

The biggest key to effective streamer fishing is to change up the retrieve.  Strip fast, slow, erratic, and everything in between until you find what the fish respond to best.  The best streamer fishing coincides with the window in between summer hatches ending and fall hatches starting up.

Fall Dry Fly Fishing

Until the first couple hard freezes of the year, terrestrial fishing is still usually fantastic. Fish are very opportunistic at this point and will respond to a variety of terrestrials such as hoppers, crickets, ants, beetles, etc..  Fishing a beadhead dropper can be highly effective at this time, but a dropper can make it more difficult to fish your fly tight to the bank so keep this in mind.  If fish are very tight to cover and surface oriented, then cut the dropper off and you can fish your dry fly more effectively.

Fall Nymph Fishing: To egg or not to egg?

Dusty Kenner with a Trophy Green BrownThere is no doubt that egg patterns are the most effective way to catch fish once actual spawning takes place.  Some anglers are all for it and some are very much against it and it is basically up to you whether you choose to fish with egg patterns. The biggest problem with fishing during the spawn is many anglers inadvertently step on “redds”, or spawning beds.  As an angler you can ethically fish during the spawn if you use certain precautions.  Number one, ALWAYS watch where your feet are.  Redds can be identified as patches of lighter colored gravel dug down lower than the stream bottom surrounding it.  If you are to step on one of these places, in all likeliness you will be crushing thousands of eggs.  Also, it is best to try and avoid actively spawning fish so that they can repopulate the stream, so aim your efforts in other areas.

Fishing Beads

As far as setup goes, it is hard to beat the Alaskan style bead rigs during the spawn.  These are built by securing an egg colored bead an inch or two above a larger scud hook and fishing it like a regular nymph rig.  Beads usually outfish classic yarn eggs by at least 2 to 1, sometimes more.  There are several advantages:

1. Beads have a perfectly round silhouette, just like the real thing.

2. It is much easier to match the color of the bead to the real thing.

3. A larger hook away from the bead holds much better.

4. Heavier tippet allows a faster release of fish.  Our personal favorite is Maxima in #6 to #10 lb.  it is stiff and very abrasion resistant.

Whatever fly fishing method you choose, there is some awesome fall fishing to be had in Utah. Get out there and take advantage of it and have a great time!