On the fly: Hungry fish, fewer people

Scott Spooner
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Scott Spooner, A brown trout caught on a streamer in the Roaring Fork River near Basalt.

BASALT – Want in on a little secret? This time of year can offer up some of the best trout fishing in this valley.

As most of us who fish realize, trout behave and feed quite differently in the fall and early winter. Gone are the complex hatches of PMDs, green drakes, and caddis of late summer and early fall. These fish are now looking for baetis and midges, with brown trout and whitefish eggs being the most prolific and protein-packed food source available.

Most of us fish a “peg egg” system this time of year, utilizing a complex array of available colors of various “trout beads” either looped or pegged with weedwacker cord just above a barbless hook. Most fish are keyed in on yellows, oranges and mottled variations of these colors. I do well with glow-in-the-dark beads on some days, as well.

Nymphing these brightly colored eggs can teach you to be a better fisherman, as you can actually see the fly all the way down through the water column and where the egg is in relation to the fish. Some folks have a tough time hooking up while nymphing because they really don’t know where their fly is once it sinks below the surface, and the fly is usually nowhere near where they think it is in the water column. These bright flies take a lot of the mystery out of this equation.

Besides eggs, baetis, midges and streamers are also on the early winter menu. Baetis, also known as blue-winged olives, just love to hatch on cool, cloudy days. I’ve personally seen BWOs hatch even in the middle of a snowstorm. Be sure to carry various colors of duns, with gray, olive and darker body colors in sizes from 20 down to 24. Nymphs comprise of plain pheasant tails, black or gray RS2s, or dark STDs in sizes 20 and 22.

Midges actually hatch every single day on our river systems, and this time of year they are a huge part of a trout’s daily intake. I carry a selection of duns in cream, gray and black in sizes 22 down to 26, with nymphs like rojo midges and jujubees in dark, light or “zebra” colors in the same sizes.

Streamers can be extremely effective on larger trout, especially when stripped under cut banks and around larger boulders. Many of our bigger fish almost exclusively eat these larger flies, which are imitating sculpins and trout fry. One big meal can be much more nutritional to a larger fish than eating hundreds of midges, with much less expended energy.

Leaders and tippet can be big and strong when fishing streamers, and be sure to twitch and strip these flies with the rod tip. Most folks move these flies by simply pulling the line toward them, and the action of the fly falls a little flat. Utilizing the flex of the rod adds a life-like quality to these presentations. When it comes to the smaller flies, 6x and 7x fluorocarbon tippets are simply a must. The lower water levels and bright sun can make presentations slightly difficult; smaller tippets can eliminate some of that difficulty.

The main reason this is such a great time to fish is the lack of crowds on the water. On my last day off, I fished the Roaring Fork from the tree nursery access all the way to upper Jaffe Park and never saw another soul out fishing. I personally don’t have a problem fishing around other people, but it makes for a great day when you are the first person to cast at a big, wary trout.

Everyone needs to be aware of spawning fish this time of year, though, making sure not to harass pairs of brown trout on beds. They are vulnerable when they spawn; many do not have the energy to right themselves in the current after a hard fight.

Cooler temperatures, fewer people and hungry fish packing on pounds for the long, dark winter make for a simply incredible day of fly fishing. So get out there, folks. It simply doesn’t get any better than this time of year in my book.


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