Ask the Experts: What Are Your Top 5 Fall Flies?


Angler Steven Meyer basks in incredible foliage on the Nantahala River in North Carolina.
Photo by Jimmy Harris, Unicoi Outfitters

Last year, we introduced a new weekly “Ask the Experts” Column and asked you to pose some questions for our panel of experts. Our latest question for them to chew on is: “What are your top five flies for fall”

Their answers are below. As you’ll see, some of our experts aren’t too good at counting. If you’ve got a question you’d like to ask our panel, write it in the comments section below.

Mike Canady, Ellensburg Angler (Ellensburg, Washington):
That is a tough question,

1. Blue-winged Olive Nymph WD40
2. Blue-winged Olive Dry
3. October Caddis
4. Cranefly
5. Lightning Bug (Purple, size 18)

This is a short list of our favorite flies, but if you had to only have five, these would be my picks for fall fishing on the Yakima river.

Brown Hobson, Brown Trout Fly Fishing (Asheville, North Carolina):
Fall is tricky in the Southeast because our water is generally low and clear. Plus, our fish have been caught all season and are pretty smart. I usually go really big or really small.

1. Olive Midge (size 22): works for midges and any Baetis starting to move around.
2. Pheasant Tail Nymph (size 22): Use nothing but pheasant, so it’s skinny enough to mimic
a blue-winged olive nymph.
3. Squirmy Worm (size 8): They just eat it.
4. Pink Egg (size 8): On late-summer days with no fish or bug activity, bam! They crush a huge
pink egg.
5. Tan Caddis (size 12): Something has to float the midges and p-tails above, plus fish will eat it
opportunistically.
6. Black Lightning Bug (size 20): Very Baetis-like.

Capt. Tony Biski, Monomoy Fly Fishing (Harwichport, Massachusetts):
Well, I fish for a albies, so I only need one: the Mushmouth


Former Orvis Woodbridge store manager Duber Winters found out how great fall dry-fly fishing can be in Yellowstone.
Photo courtesy Duber Winters

Joe Demalderis, Cross Current Guide Service (Milford, Pennsylvania):
First, I’m going to define fall as September and October for my part of the trout world. On my home water, the Upper Delaware River System, the five top fall flies fall into place with what the fish are chewing on that time of year.

Mayflies, such as Isonychia, are still hatching into and through October, along with Cahills, caddisflies, and blue-winged olives. Brown trout have spawning on their mind too, and they become defensive of their territory. American shad fry are on the move from the tribs to the main river and then on to the sea; in the meantime, they are a tasty meal meal for any fish that is bigger than them.

So in list form, with none taking any preference over the other, the top five fall flies are:
1. Isonychia emerger and their related life forms (duns, nymphs and spinners).
2. Cahills and their nymph imitations (Gold-ribbed Hares Ear or plain Hare’s Ear Nymph).
3. Blue-winged olives, from size 18 down to dust specks.
4. Caddisflies: tan and charcoal in sizes 16 and 18; orangey/rusty colors in a size 10.
5. Streamers: olive and yellows. Smaller white to imitate shad fry, which happen to look a lot like a
small peanut bunker (hint, hint).

And since you only asked for five flies we go into:
5a. White flies (Ephoron luekon).
5b. Ants, winged variety and small (size 20ish).
5c. Beetles.

Specific patterns don’t matter as much as what they represent, so if you’re the Drunk & Disorderly type, that would be a good place to start on streamers. The same is true if you favor a Sex Dungeon.

Capt. Chuck Hawkins, Hawkins Outfitters (Traverse City, Michigan):
For trout in the fall, I use streamers and some hoppers, depending on weather. If I still see grasshoppers, I use a Chernobyl Hopper pattern with colors (body and legs) to match the naturals. In addition, in the fall I always carry Chernobyl Hoppers in black with white legs.

For resident-trout water: my number one streamer is a Nutcracker, followed by a Hat Trick. I would follow those flies with whatever streamer patterns you have the most confidence in for the water you are fishing. Fall is big brown time, especially pre-spawn. So fish those streamers that you most believe in; the trout are looking for meat!


Capt. Lucas Bissett, Low Tide Fly Fishing Guide (Slidell, Louisiana):
1. Mullet Fly: Mullet move into Louisiana’s marshes for the fall and winter.
2. Crab Fly: Crabs are prevalent in our marshes in fall.
3. Popper Fly: Our redfish are schooled up and will take topwater flies in fall.
4. Shrimp Fly: Lots of shrimp move in, and every fish love shrimp.
5. Fast Sinking Streamers: Heavy flies can get deep fast if the fish are a little deeper when the tide
isn’t moving a lot.

Jenny Mayrell-Woodruff, Flyfish Beaver’s Bend (Broken Bow, Oklahoma):
On my home water, Oklahoma’s Lower Mountain Fork River, fall means that the big trout start to move out of the deeper sections of river, where they have spent the summer, and head toward the gravel shoals that will soon be their spawning grounds. When this happens, the chubs, darters, smaller trout, crayfish, and leeches in the river had better stay alert to avoid being on the menu. When big trout are targeting larger prey that swims, streamers are the way to go. Some of my favorites are:

1. Olive Conehead Rubber Bugger: Leggy, buggy and ugly, exactly what you want to entice a
big brown trout.
2. Trash Can Streamer: Life-like action and unique construction lets you fish it in deep or shallow
water.
3. Hot Head Damsel: The smallest streamer I rely on at this time, but it is often just what the trout
are looking for. The bright head seems to trigger a reaction when natural colors aren’t working.
4. GD Sculp Snack: We don’t have sculpins in the Mountain Fork, but it is a good representation of
the abundant darters and crayfish.
5. Conehead Tungsten Woolly Bugger: Extra weight gets it deeper and adds more action when
stripped.

No matter which pattern I tie on, I want to fish it with several short, quick strips and then a pause. I want it to look like something that is struggling and panicking at the same time. It is also important to keep the rod tip right on the surface of the water while stripping the fly to give it the best action and feel the strike.


Large brown trout on the Battenkill go on the feed in fall, as Orvis’s Shawn Combs demonstrates.
Photo by Tyler Atkins

Doc Thompson, High Country Anglers (Ute Park, New Mexico):
Instead of listing specific patterns, I thought it beneficial to consider what makes up a trout’s diet during the fall here in Northern New Mexico. These are in no specific order.

1. Hoppers: There are a lot of hoppers during the fall season. As the grass away from water
begins to dry, the hoppers migrate toward the greener more nutrient-rich grass, which happens
to be along streams, rivers, and ponds.
2. Beetles: Pretty much for the same reason as hoppers.
3. Baetis Adult: A lot of our streams, from the Cimarron to the Lower Red to the Rio Grande, have
a good Baetis hatches in the fall. Depending on water conditions, the fish are looking up,
taking adults off the surface.
4. Baetis Emergers: Baetis are a mainstay on some of streams and rivers in the autumn season. If
fish aren’t rising to adults, odds are good they take an emerger below the surface.

Capt. Dave Pecci, Obsession Charters (Bath, Maine):
My top 5 flies for striped bass on the lower Kennebec River would be:
1. Burk’s Hot Flash (size 1/0).
2. Puglisi Floating Minnow (size 1).
3. Clouser Minnow (size 1/0, olive/white).
4. Lefty’s Deceiver (size 2/0, blue/white).
5. Blados Crease Fly (size 1/0, blue/ silver).

All for the same reason: thousands and thousands of young-of-the-year alewives and river herring leave the ponds and streams and enter the lower Kennebec in September. Striped bass leave the coastal beaches and come into the River to feed before starting their fall migration back to their Mid-Atlantic where they overwinter.

2 thoughts on “Ask the Experts: What Are Your Top 5 Fall Flies?”

  1. I know in the age of being “Angling Correct”, fishing anywhere within 2 miles of a spawning trout could get you locked up for at least 3 years in a bad-angler-jail. But to have a list of “Top Fall Fly Patterns” without one, not one egg pattern is slightly ridiculous. Just my 2 pennies.

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