On the Fly: Fall fishing techniques for the wary trout

Christian Hill and clients float along the Roaring Fork River.
Shannon Outing Photography/Courtesy photo

If you’ve been casting flies on local streams lately, surely you’ve seen a few looks (followed by refusals) from those wary trout.

When we see the fish refusing naturals in addition to our offerings, we should take note as anglers and up our game a bit. We would counsel changing your presentation before switching out to another fly pattern in most cases. 

If a fish is showing interest, you’re halfway there. The fish is recognizing the offering as food; they just may not like the way it’s being presented to them. Usually the “problem” is drag on your fly, and this can be easily corrected with an up or downstream mend of the line as the situation dictates. Keeping your line off the water and your leader and fine tippet above (upstream) of the fly usually helps as well.

This especially applies to the fall streamer fishing we’re all enjoying on the freestones. If a trout is following your big fly, you’re on the right track. We all know to carry many colors and sizes of these bigger flies, but most days, it is all about the retrieve versus throwing the “right fly.”

There are many ways to strip a streamer through the water: low and slow, high and fast, up, down or across stream — the possibilities are endless. The main takeaway is to keep playing around with your retrieve until the fish start eating the fly, not just reacting to it.

It’s time to switch the fly if all else fails. Usually, going down in size is the answer — but not always! On rivers like the Fryingpan, the fish certainly become more distrustful of large dry fly presentations as summer hatches of PMDs and caddis continue in to fall.

The moral of the story here is to show those fish your fly in the water type and manner they are accustomed to, especially if you know your hatches. Be safe out there, and enjoy the spectacular fall fishing!

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or