The Late Season Means Bigger Fish in Smaller Water

Written by: Len Harris, Jr.


This late-season brown was fooled with a Conehead Woolly Bugger in a non-typical lie.
Photo by Len Harris, Jr.

Last year featured our first extended seasons in Wisconsin. Early season here opens on the first Saturday of January, and you can now fish through to the 15th of October. For many years, our season typically ended September 30th, but state fisheries biologists determined that our spawning trout would not be adversely effected by adding 15 days to season, since the actual spawning had not started.

For more than three decades, I have kept log books related to small-stream Wisconsin trout. I compiled my data, and there was a constant to every year: I always stumbled on larger trout in the last week of September. I tried to see if there was a constant factor that could explain this late-season success. I looked at the stream temperatures, but they fluctuated and could not be the reason. The leaves changing colors was a constant.

I talked to a few of my fishing friends, who believe that the bigger trout got the itch to move upstream and do their yearly spawning. An internal clock tells them that it is time to move.


A 20-incher is the yardstick for a large trout in small-stream Wisconsin. I witnessed three anglers lose
the same 30-inch fish in this tiny hole.
Photo by Len Harris, Jr.

These big fish leave the deep, snarly messes they call home and start their yearly trek upstream. Trout will move quite a way to find good spawning areas, and during these transition times, you can find them in non-typical lies, including in amazingly shallow runs.

These trout are out of their comfort zone and their typical feeding lanes. They are opportunists and will eat whatever is in their path. There are no wrong flies to throw during this late season, and terrestrials are still abundant. A hopper-dropper with a bead-head nymph enticed a thirty-incher to show its face during this transition time.

The late season can be blast. The bigs are out, and they are hungry. Get out there and fish these last two weeks–and have a ball.

Len Harris, Jr. is a former fly-fishing guide in the Driftless Area. Check out his blog, The Stream of Time.

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