Trout Season Ends, Time for a Road Trip
by: Bob Shannon
As we enter the month of November fishermen from Vermont are faced with the sad reality that many of their favorite Vermont trout streams are closed until April of next year. In order to satisfy the fix of feeling a fish tugging on the end of your line many opportunities are afforded to anglers, both in Vermont and the surrounding states. In December I will discuss the increased opportunities on Vermont’s waterways for anglers as we enter into the 2014 angling season, but in the meantime let’s tackle opportunities that are within a short drive of Vermont’s Green Mountain State. Each November for the past 20 years I have made my annual pilgrimage to Western New York’s Lake Ontario region to access some of the best Trophy Fishing in the world (in short, the land of giants). For spin and fly fishermen alike, this region offers World Class fishing opportunities of a variety of species.
As the daylight hours shorten in the fall, Pacific Chinook and Coho Salmon migrate up Lake Ontario’s tributaries for the annual fall spawning run. Hot on their heels is a strain of Western Steelhead introduced to the Great Lake Region and reared in the Salmon River Hatchery located in Altmar, New York. The Steelhead start entering the river systems in mid to late October (depending on water levels) each year to feed on the millions of Salmon eggs and decaying flesh of the spawned out fish. The Steelhead is entering the river to FEED. As the fall water temperatures cool these giant Rainbows are susceptible to a variety of fishing and fly fishing methods.
The most effective and commonly used method of Steelhead fishing is to use egg sacks or egg fly patterns to entice a strike. However, what most fishermen visiting this region don’t realize is that these fish can be caught with a variety of techniques to satisfy any fly fishing method you wish to use. Only recently have I shared with my clients the opportunities of targeting fall migrating fish with dry fly, streamer, and traditional nymphing methods. Over the last five years I have hooked several fall Steelhead on dry flies, much to the surprise of the region’s most seasoned fly fishing anglers. Prime fall water temperatures for this opportunity range from 55-42 degrees. While water temperatures fall within this range, fly anglers each day can target fish with these three methods. In the fall, steelhead will generally be in faster pocket water or riffly water. Productive Steelhead water can be found along the banks of the Salmon River from the Pineville Bridge at the Mid-River point upstream to the Altmar fly fishing zone. This section of the river provides excellent spawning habitat and thousands of Salmon each fall use this gravely section of the river to perform their spawning rituals.
I typically start and end each day in pursuit of aggressive feeding Steelhead with dry flies. Steelhead are more likely to respond to surface flies at low light levels. As the day progresses and the light levels increase I switch my tactics to mid-day streamer and nymphing methods.
So for those looking to pursue all three approaches lets first begin with our dry fly fishing methods. Fall fly patterns include Parachute Adams, Stimulators, Caddis Patterns, Wulfs, Bombers, and traditional salmon wet flies, (Silver Doctor, Green Butt Black Bear, Green Highlander, and Blue Charm are some of my go to salmon flies) all fished on the surface. So for any fly fishermen tying their own flies be sure to use hooks of a heavy wire gauge over the use of traditional dry fly hooks since Steelhead can straighten or break hooks easily. Prime lies for targeting fish with dry flies would be the heads of each run and all current seams surrounding fast water sections of the river. With the warmer fall temperatures Steelhead require heavily oxygenated water and prefer faster current regions where food is funneled to them. If dead drifting your fly doesn’t produce any interest, consider skittering or skating your dry flies across these prime lies. Steelhead have not entered the fall waters to feed on dry flies so sometimes a waking fly catches their attention and produces a violent surface strike. Except for the last few days of spring these are the only time of the year that steelhead anglers can pursue these fish with surface flies.
Fall Streamer fishing for Steelhead will produce for many anglers the most aggressive strikes you’ve ever experienced. Steelhead gain lots of protein from the nutrient rich salmon eggs and decaying flesh from the graveyards of the spawning areas. Flesh fly streamer patterns tied with bunny zonker strips in natural brown and white color patterns produce excellent streamer fishing opportunities. Various colors of Marabou Tube flies provide other options as well. Remember if fishing on the Salmon River a single hook point only regulation applies in that region.
Nymphing patterns for the mid-day down n’ dirty anglers include Hares Ears, Prince Nymphs, Black Stone Flies and a variety of Caddis Larva imitations. No fly box is complete without bringing a variety of egg patterns to complete your nymphing fly box selection.
If you’re too busy preparing your deer stand for this upcoming deer season, don’t panic, river Steelhead fishing that begins in mid-October will not end until the spring spawning migrations is over. Great lakes Steelhead fishing is a winter sport as well, but is generally limited to nymphing methods only. However, if standing in liquid water during sub-freezing temperatures with frozen guides and numb fingers is not your idea of a fun day of fly fishing, you’ll have to wait until the warm days of late April to see Steelhead poke their noses out of the water to eat your dry flies.