Fall Fishing Tips for Salmon, Steelhead and Browns

This angler posing with a monster caught by following Jay Peck's fall fishing tips.

The Fall Run

It is that time of the year once again – the fall salmon run. People are still talking about the run we had last year when the water flow was very low. However, this fall will have its own challenges. Being able to adjust your technique to the water levels, temperatures, different species of fish, and other challenges while we are on the water is the biggest factor to being consistently successful, during what is arguably the best fishing of the season. These fall fishing tips for salmon, steelhead and brown trout should help navigate changing conditions to consistently bring in the monsters.

Fall Salmon Fishing Tips

Tip 1:  Fish In The Morning And The Afternoon

Following fall fishing tips paid off for this angler, posing with a trophy salmon.
Fishing early in the morning paid off for Jay Peck with this trophy salmon.

During early fall, water temperatures can be a big concern. Warm water temperatures will slow the runs of salmon and hamper their willingness to take a fly.

Concentrate your fishing efforts in the morning and the afternoon when the water temperatures are the coolest and the light levels are lower not lighting up the pools and making the early run salmon nervous. When the light is lower, the fish are more willing to take.

Tip 2:  Salmon Like Flies With Movement

When it comes to flies, this is one subject that can go on forever. But for salmon fishing I like to keep it simple. Over time I have found that the vast majority of salmon respond best to a fly that looks alive with some movement in it.

Egg patterns are very popular. However, when the salmon first start to run, there are no eggs in the river system. I find that egg patterns are a good fly to use on the salmon when they are actively spawning. Early in the run try using wooly buggers and bunny flies. They are easy to tie and you cannot fish them wrong.

Tip 3:  Try Fishing The Pocket Water

Angler posing with a huge salmon, caught on the Lake Ontario Tribs while following our fall fishing tips.
Big salmon like this one often rest in pocket water.

It is not unusual for salmon to move into the deep water of pools and become inactive for a few days. There may be many reasons for this, including warm water temperatures or dropping water flows. Keep in mind that the salmon may be sitting in the deep, clear water of a pool for a few days.  Heavy fishing pressure from anglers will also slow down salmon activity.

The best solution is to walk by the pools full of fish and concentrate your efforts in the pocket water between the pools. The salmon that are located in the pocket water are often more active and are not experiencing heavy angling pressure, which gives anglers easy access to make a catch.

Tip 4:  Try Sinking Leaders And Sink Tip Lines

We all have had that old saying drummed into us – “if you are not on the bottom, you are not fishing.”  This is not always true, especially if you follow tip 2.

Salmon angling is an “in your face” game. However, dragging flies along the river bottom is not necessary, especially early in the run.  We can back off the weight and not be hanging on the rocks and losing many flies.

When there is room and the water flow is up a little try some of the sinking leaders and sink tip lines. Angling with these lines may sound complicated, but once anglers start using with these lines, they quickly get a feel for them.

Fall Steelhead Fishing

Tip 1:  Early Steelhead Angling is Best Done With A Swinging Fly

Early in the run there are not a lot of steelhead around so it is a numbers game. You will need to fish through a lot of water and around a lot of salmon to find a steelhead. Fortunately the water temperatures are good for steelhead to chase a fly.

Tip 2:  Fish At The Head Of Pools

When there are not a lot of fish around, you need to reduce the amount of river you fish through to find a steelhead.  Most of the time if a steelhead is sitting in a pool they will be likely be in the head of the pool.

 Tip 3:  Use A Strike Indicator

When the steelhead are keying in on eggs, try angling with an indicator.

I also call indicators a drift management device. The whole idea of using strike indicators is to be more precise with your fishing. Often steelheads will set up in a small slot where the eggs will naturally be funneled into. Getting a clean drift down the center of the slots can often result in consistent success with hookups.

Tip 4:  Fish With A Light Drag

Fall steelhead are explosive when hooked. This explosive quality bite is why we fish for steelhead. Once a fish is hooked it can move so fast that it will break heavy tippet or rip the hook from their mouth. The first two minutes when a steelhead is hooked are when most of the fish are lost. By using a light drag and not putting too much pressure on the steelhead, we can greatly improve our landing ratio.

Fall Brown Trout Fishing

Tip 1:  Autumn Browns Love To Eat Eggs

The main run for brown trout comes in early November. By the time browns are in the river, salmon have been spawning for a few weeks. The river bottom is saturated with salmon eggs and the hungry fish will quickly key in on the eggs and start feeding. So use your favorite egg flies to go after catching these monsters.

Tip 2:  Use Nymphs When Browns Get Tired of Eggs

No matter how much brown trout love to consume eggs, it seems like sometimes they get a little tired of a steady diet of large meals of eggs. When you notice the browns getting touchy with your favorite egg patterns, try changing things up with nymphs. Keep the size about the same size as your egg patterns. Also consider jazzing up your favorite nymph patterns with a little flash to catch yourself a nice brown.

Tip 3:  Active Browns Will Be In The Riffles, Not The Pools

We often hear the old myth that the browns are just following the salmon to eat their eggs. Obviously this is not the case. Brown trout are November spawners and they are in the rivers to spawn. Knowing this, we can easily locate browns by concentrating our efforts around spawning habitat. Look for active browns in the riffles and throats of the pools.

Tip 4:  Watch The Water Temperature

Late fall, towards the end of November, there can be a lot of brown trout in the rivers. However, early fall fishing for them can become challenging. The main reason for this is fluctuating water temperatures. It is not unusual for water temperatures drop five or six degrees overnight. When this happens, the angling will shut down. When the surface water temperature is fluctuating, consider concentrating your fall fishing efforts on mid-day, when the water temperature is at its daytime peak.

Pick Your Fall Fishing Tips Based On Conditions

As I mentioned before, we need to be able to adjust to whatever the given conditions are at times we get to fish. Hopefully I’ve given you a few helpful fishing tips that will make your next fall fishing trip more successful and joyful.

Original Article By Jay Peck

About The Author

Jay Peck is a fishing guide on the Lake Ontario tributaries. With 40+ years of fly fishing experience including 30 years as a licensed New York State guide, Jay has been applying his knowledge of the sport and local waters to help anglers in their pursuit of migratory fish, inland trout, and a variety of warm water species. Jay is also an accomplished spey caster and fly tyer. He has developed several fishing techniques and fly patterns for fishing the tributaries and inland trout streams. To learn more, check out Jay’s youtube channel, and get in touch with Jay at jaypeckguidesflyfishing.com.

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