Warm Water Fly Fishing In The Fall And Off-Season MonthsNathaniel Treichler
Are you a bass fisherman who loves explosive action?
How about a fly fisherman who wants to try a different experience than tempting wary out?
Do you live in an urban area with smaller ponds and lakes, but with out of the way trout streams?
If you fit any of these categories, you may find a new love with fall fly fishing on warm water lakes. Bluegill, other panfish, and largemouth bass are among the most popular sportfish for good reason.
A variety of fly patterns all will work in the autumn:
- Small nymphs or poppers that match fall insect activity
- Streamers and bucktails to imitate forage fish
- Frog and mice patterns – and just about any other terrestrial animal imitator
Understanding Fall Fish Behavior
Fly fishing on warm water lakes is a joy in the fall. As the temperature moderates and the beautifully painted leaves come out, one of the best fishing seasons begins.
The long hazy summertime is often associated with fishing – but let’s face it, summer time fishing in a warm water lake has some drawbacks. For one thing, It may be scorching hot out. The fish are affected by these temperatures also, spending the bulk of the day in deeper cool water, or submerged in a weed bed.
In fall, the fish again move into the shallows. Activity all along the food chain is evident in the fall after a relatively slow paced summer. The shallow water warms faster on these cooler days, and the more active fish will be located there. The fish have an intense prey drive at this time which lets them fatten up before going back to deep water for winter.
Tiny insects and all the warm water lake fish species will be there in the shallows. This includes smaller fish such as herring or alewife along with sunfish, bass, and pike. The cooling weather signals the fish to eat voraciously and fatten up for winter. For predatory fish, this means patrolling the shallows for baitfish, insects, and other small animals. Fly anglers can find some exciting topwater opportunities with matching patterns.
Nymphs and Poppers for Panfish
Bluegills, pumpkin seeds, and other sunfish will find flies imitating insect species to be irresistible whether they are nymphs or poppers. Panfish are very forgiving compared to trout as far as matching a particular hatch in nature. However, I have found three specific autumn phenomena helpful in fly selection. The action will be in the shallows, near cover such as brush piles and overhanging trees. Try any of these with a floating line and a 3-6 size rod.
Large swarms of tiny midges and exploring swarms of flying ants emerge for the last time in the fall after a smaller steady hatch all summer. Little nymphs that mimic these small insects are a sure bet for lots of strikes. A bigger fly that works is a wooly worm type dry fly that mimics the iconic fall wooly bear moth caterpillar with black a black, red, orange, brown mix and a fuzzy appearance. As the weather gets cool, bees and wasps start to slow down and many die or get blown into water. A bee pattern or anything with black and yellow can be really effective here too.
For more explosive action, you can use similar color patterns but with tiny poppers. Panfish will hit best on small poppers which are also quite powerful. A large gurgle with a profile of a small prey item is the ideal. Remember that the fish may be hungry, but the water is still a bit cold. So do not race the lure across the surface – instead give it a few hard pops, then let it rest.
Streamers and Poppers for Largemouth
Largemouth bass are very aggressive and in fact, are willing to eat almost anything at times. But in fall, bass will prefer to chase smaller prey fish into the shallows, making a streamer the best option. Minnow imitations are the primary patterns, but here is where frogs and mice flies can also be used. And if you have a really unusual looking fly that doesn’t seem to be match anything in nature, a hungry bass may be the best chance to get a strike. Hey trout fisherman – if you don’t frequently go bass fishing, you may be truly shocked at just how indiscriminate these fish can be!
Largemouth most often invade the shallows chasing long thin fish such as shiners, herring, or shad. Streamers that match the size and color of your local baitfish will be the ideal match. Use a floating line with a 5-8 weight rod if you are targeting largemouth. Retrieve the streamer slowly through the shallows by stripping a few pulls, then letting the streamer sink slowly.
You may also have success with top water poppers. However, this is slow top water fishing – not like a baitcaster ripping a buzzbait in the summer. When the bass are not looking around for fish, they will be looking up to the surface right near the bank to see what creature has stumbled in and may become the next meal. The frog, grasshopper, mouse, and many other poppers will work well – and often it is just a matter of getting the retrieve speed and cast location correct.
Warm Water In The Winter
When winter begins, you need not give up fly fishing. However, there is a set pattern that will only work. The setting should overwhelmingly favor a small pond – very small is even better. Finding deepwater bass in a large area with a slow-moving fly is not easy. The angler will need to slowly work a streamer on a heavy sinking line.
As it gets truly cold out, anglers may do much better fly fishing small ponds. Sometimes, a pond can be so small that a routine cast lands right in the middle of the deep water. Larger lakes have vast areas of deep water, and slow fishing these depths with flies is quite difficult. The only real winter pattern that proves effective is slow retrieving streamers or other nymphs on a sinking line. Winter bass will not move far and want a maximum meal for little energy output – you need to get the fly in their face, sometimes repeatedly.