Fall offers ample options afield. Across the spectrum of hunting, fishing and other outdoor pursuits, autumn is truly a time of plenty. And one of the more overlooked opportunities involves the early fall trout bite.
The action often gets lost in the shuffle of activities, and is largely misunderstood by the masses. But the fact remains, September produces fine fishing afoot and afloat for anglers who understand a bit about fall trout behavior.
In early fall, trout are either roaming deep water or buried in the weeds," says veteran guide and avowed salmonid stalker Bernie Keefe. "After the first few hard freezes, though, much of the action shifts shallow."
All three scenarios hold potential for string-stretching excitement, not to mention the reward of fine dining on fresh trout. To help you make this your best fall ever, Keefe offers the following tips to capitalize on each situation.
In Keefe's stomping grounds around the high-country paradise of Granby, Colorado, early to mid-September sees a smorgasbord of rainbows, browns, cutthroats and cuttbows relating to near-shore weedbeds.
"Ideally, you have three to four feet of open water between the weed tops and the surface," he says. "Which makes it easier to fish lures just over the vegetation." Because trout often prowl open pockets in the salad, Keefe keeps an eye out for such clearings, and religiously fishes baits in and around them.
His go-to rig in the greenery is a 1/16- to 1/8-ounce black Eagle Claw jig head tipped with a 2 ½-inch, smelt-pattern Berkley Gulp! Minnow, suspended beneath a small clear casting bubble or float.
Six- to 8-pound-test Berkley FireLine fuels long casts, while a low-vis leader of Trilene 100 Percent Fluorocarbon boosts the stealth factor. "Tie the knot tight to the jighead, so the bait rides horizontally," he notes. "You're trying to fool wary trout, so it has to look natural."
Keefe casts beyond the area he wants to target, then lets the commotion subside before beginning his retrieve, which is a combination of slow reeling and frequent pauses. "You can try twitching the bait, too, but anytime you're over a fish-holding pocket or travel lane, deadstick," he says. "Don't be afraid to let it sit for up to three minutes at a time."
Strikes are often light. "Stick bobbers often just tip over, while bubbles betray bites by rocking and sliding across the surface," he says.
When trout are on a tear, Keefe favors more aggressive tactics. "Small, metallic-finish spoons like the Lindy Viking are great for active trout," he says. "Though I do replace the treble with a single hook, which makes the spoon a little more weedless." He favors fast-paced retrieves laced with rips, flutters and twitches, but cautions to always keep the spoon above the salad. "Lift-drops are dynamite for rainbows and browns in the weeds," he adds.
As autumn progresses and vegetation dies back, trout often frequent languishing weedbeds. Rocky shorelines and points can also be productive. "Anywhere the bottom changes on a point, giving crayfish and minnows a place to hide, can be hot," he says. A variety of presentations hold water here, including tube jigs dragged on bottom, a leadhead and Gulp! Minnow combo fished slightly higher, and a number of slender minnowbaits, spoons and spinners. While close proximity to deep water is a plus, Keefe says it's not mandatory.
Late in the day, another pattern often emerges. "In the afternoons and evenings, trout often rise in the back-ends of bays, in 4 to 5 feet of water," he says. "Wait until a fish rises, then fire a small spoon into to the spot as fast as you can. Trout often strike it immediately, but if not, let it flutter a foot or two and start your retrieve."
On the lake trout front, Keefe follows migratory lakers toward their autumn spawning grounds. "In early fall, though, it's more a matter of tracking trout that are feeding on kokanee salmon," he notes. "Inlets and the mouths of large bays often attract prespawn salmon, and lakers follow." When he spots trout harassing a kokanee congregation, Keefe plies a variety of presentations, including tube jigs, spoons and hair jigs.
While autumn's many opportunities may distract fair-weather trout fans, the season holds options for solid action. Follow Keefe's guide-tested tips and make this your best fall ever.