As summer putters out with the occasional warm day, thoughts of fall fishing is almost constantly on my mind. In Iowa’s driftless region, fall fishing is one of the best all-around times of the year to fly fish. Warm sun and cool temps give way to some of the most comfortable fishing all year. Cozy layers allow the angler to stay warm, yet adequately move. I relish a day on the stream with a nice cool breeze and warm sun on my back. Lying in the dried grasses near the stream, knowing that the snow that will soon cover the landscape is on the way, is a treat. Even the drive to the stream is a simple pleasure, looking upon the changing colors of the leaves, wildlife, and the farmers harvesting their crop.
Trout fishing can be phenomenal this time of year in the driftless. Baetis hatches are frequent, and nymphing becomes an effective tactic to land big browns as the season wears on and temperatures cool.
While I love to fish for trout in the fall weather, unfortunately my schedule doesn’t always afford me the ability to pick up and go. When pressed for time, I have found some of the best all-around fly fishing can be found within a mile of home. During the fall, Walleye begin their run up our local rivers, and smallmouth are still to be found. These heavy, hard-fighting fish can provide some of the best fight on a fly rod. Walleye seem to begin to eat as the sun sets in the fall. The fish become aggressively predatory, and much like when a trout takes a fly, the feel of the fight is addictive. Walleye fishing gives me the chance to cast my 8wt and does a great job getting that fly out there, but when I want to have a little fun, I’ll bring along my 6wt. There’s nothing like wrapping your rod over on a warmwater fish- and walleye can feel like hooking into a unhappy log. Do be careful fishing as the sun sets. Casting a weighted fly requires you take your surroundings into account (as well as yourself-ears, eyes, etc.) Find a spot that affords you and others some safety.
Depending on water conditions, a weighted or sinking leader might be useful to get that fly down into a feeding zone for the fish. You’ll want to try various water depths dependent upon temperature. The end of a pool or a run in the river seem to be practical places to find walleye. As far as flies, clousers, buggers, and zonkers stripped in at varying speeds can produce some great fish. I’ve found baitfish patterns work best in the river I fish. These are patterns that readily available for purchase and/or are easy to tie.
I use a non-slip mono loop connection for my tippet or leader to fly connection. This simple knot gives the fly a lot of play in the water and is durable as well. You may have to experiment in your own water to determine what strategy works best to hook into your fish. I cast upstream, pause to allow the fly to sink, and then use short strips to give the fly movement as the current swings the fly downstream. I vary this of course, on river conditions and structure.
I feel one of the best aspects of fishing for walleye or smallmouth is the simplicity. For me, it’s a short drive that allows me to be casting in a matter of minutes, which I consider therapy. I can take along minimal gear- a puck of flies, my mitten scissors or nippers, some tippet, and I am fishing.
We all dream of fishing on these beautiful days in fall, though it’s is a very busy time for almost everyone. Next time the fly fishing fever hits this fall, take a quick trip to the river. A short outing can provide an exciting and inexpensive experience.