With a new season comes new challenges for western Colorado anglers

The Lottis Creek headwaters in Union Park above Taylor Reservoir yields plenty of brown trout. When the seasons change, Colorado anglers need to adjust not only flies but their attire. Fly fishing in the fall requires clothing colors that blend in with the fall gold, brown and yellow surroundings. With clear water, you can see fish in area rivers and streams, but that means the fish can see you, too. Fishing in the fall can also mean fewer crowds and better luck catching that elusive brown.

Gone are the torrents of spring. Sweet smells of a summer afternoon rains linger in a recent but fading memory. Soon, golden leaves of fall will glide downward on the fading breeze to the waiting water, visually confusing the cast of hope I have made to the consistently rising brown.

Seemingly there is no insect hatch detectable by my strained but focused vision. Yet clearly I can see the spots on the side of the trout and the white inside of his opening mouth as he comes up with each take. What does he feed on?

Whatever the kind of insect and the stage of its life cycle, one thing is certain — miniature is the size.

My present guess for the hatch is a late season mayfly emerger, so underneath the parachute dry I have been using as a strike indicator, sinks a weighted pheasant tail. But no takes. My presentation has not spooked the brown, so it must be the fly.

Switching to a black midge dropper, my hopes elevate with the first new cast, but wane as the change of fly produces unchanged results. An errant cast slaps the quiet pool surface and the brown rises no more.

But a few upstream pools later, as midday approaches, the combination consistently begins to fool a few slow feeding fish. Anywhere there is slack current on the edge of the faster main chute, a brown waits for his meal. Accurate casts into the seam bring tight lines.

Seasons change. Colorado has all four, maybe more. Fall is splendid. Gone are the crowds, leaving the serene surroundings to the avid angler willing to stretch out the warm weather season.

River water levels are low, granting access to pools and runs that have gone untouched until now. Fish are vulnerable but wary, exposed by shallower water and concentrated in the deepest runs and pools. Driven by nature to add stores of calories to survive impending winter, any reasonable offer will be considered. Water temperatures are just right for a midday hatch as the low-angle sunlight penetrates the clear water all the way to the rocky bottom, yet only warms the surface layer.

Summing it all, a great day can ensue, whether fish are caught or not.

Helping the “are caught” part is a change of tactics imperative to the fall season. Much is made of big-game hunting and the stealth required to see game before they see you. Fall river fishing in Colorado is similar.

Low and clear water not only means you can spot fish, but it also means fish can spot you! So before you go fishing, first go hunting.

Hunting trout requires clothing colors that blend in with the fall background of golds and browns and yellows. A bright colored hat is especially taboo — the first thing a trout sees in its window of vision is your head. Predator weary fish can see you from further away than you’d expect due to the refraction of the light in the water.

Practice stealth. Walk softly, wading is usually preferable to walking the bank, stay back from the target water ahead, crouch if you need to get close, cast sidearm if you can, and approach from the quarter opposite the strike zone. Learn to cast with both hands, mend as necessary, fish downstream to certain lies, and use a long leader if the bushes aren’t a factor.

Be looking ahead. Move slowly. Spot fish in deep water, look upstream for rises, and don’t ignore the shallow holding water for resting fish.

Where? Well, every potential location for fall fishing demands a qualifier called “maybe.” By mid-October, the high country is shut-out, maybe. Early snows may cut off access by road and trail, maybe. Or a warm spell could mean an extended season.

Rivers with paved roads attached are a safe bet, maybe. The pressured days of easy summer access are history and fish can have short memories. But if the weather is good, you maybe will have the company of other anglers.

Low elevation valley flows still have a good water flow, but low water levels can concentrate fish in the deepest water, maybe. Insect hatches tend to continue longer into the waning season at lower, that is to say, warmer elevations, so fish may still be in the shallows to feed, particularly in the mid-day stretch.

Favorite October streams are not secrets. The Roaring Fork, basically anywhere, but best by boat from Glenwood Springs to Carbondale due to the added flows of the Crystal. Wading upstream of Carbondale to Basalt, where the Frying Pan adds the last significant influx, is a good spot to drop a line.

Then upstream of Basalt, lower water means finding sections with good pool habitat as the riffles will be shallow and skinny.

Western Colorado favorites include: the Eagle along Highway 6; the Colorado downstream of Glenwood Springs for big fish using streamers; the Gunnison in the lower Gunnison Gorge section; the Gunnison along the Blue Mesa inlet for spawning lake-run browns; the Taylor just about anywhere; the Lake Fork of the Gunnison at Red Bridge; the North Fork of the Gunnison near Somerset; the Frying Pan downstream closer to Basalt; the White and Yampa where big water of summer now becomes touchable. Any tailwater below the dam such as the Blue, Pan, Taylor, and Uncompahgre.

If you will change with the season, the season will stay open for you. Chasing Colorado trout — there is no offseason!


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