Cool­ing temps and ris­ing stream lev­els mean one thing—trout and land­locked salmon are on the run

Field and Stream - - CONTENTS - By WILL RYAN

Cool­ing temps mean big brook trout are on the run. By Will Ryan

THE YEL­LOW CONEHEAD Woolly Bug­ger whis­tles by my ear and plunks in the river on the far side of a white plume. At the end of the swing, it glides into the slack wa­ter around my feet. A crim­son blur flashes to­ward it—a brook trout try­ing to chase an in­truder from the eddy. But then the trout sees me and van­ishes into the clear flows of Maine’s Ken­nebec River.

An­other 15 min­utes of cast­ing and tur­tle-hunch­ing in the wind. Should I

switch flies? I won­der, strip­ping in the conehead. Sud­denly, a salmon is in the air, skit­ter­ing across the rapids. My line snaps through the guides. I con­nect the dots—bingo!

Ten min­utes later, a 20-inch land­locked salmon comes to net, glit­ter­ing and strong. I know the fish re­sulted from my fly end­ing up in its path al­most in­ci­den­tally, but the early-morn­ing salmon gives me a charge nonethe­less. Luck and pa­tience are big parts of fish­ing the fall mi­gra­tion, no doubt.

Dur­ing this time of year, cool­ing tem­per­a­tures and ris­ing wa­ter lev­els ac­ti­vate the largest brook trout, land­locked salmon, and brown trout, draw­ing them up­stream to pro­cre­ate. Since food is not the point of the jour­ney, bright stream­ers, like a yel­low conehead, make a good choice for brook­ies or salmon. Other top pat­terns on the Ken­nebec in­clude the Mon­treal Whore, the White Marabou, and the Mickey Finn Marabou. A sim­i­lar streamer for­mula holds true for brown trout, though they pre­fer col­ors and im­i­ta­tions of crea­tures found in na­ture, such as leeches, sculpins, and ju­ve­nile trout. In each case, weight mat­ters. You want your streamer to get down there, walk into the bar, and pick a fight.


Hours later and a mile down­stream, my friend Jim and I loll on a sunny ledge eat­ing sand­wiches. The shore­line glows with yel­lows and or­anges, ren­der­ing the river vi­o­let blue in con­trast. As pleas­ant as it is, Jim likes this spot for other rea­sons—among them the cartwheel­ing, 5-pound salmon he landed while tee­ter­ing on the ledge a few years ago.

But he hasn’t for­got­ten about the ones that got away, either. “I wouldn’t have minded land­ing that big brookie I had on last year,” Jim says. “She took my conehead into her lit­tle cave and wouldn’t come out.”

Jim isn’t the only one who has lost out. Sev­eral years ago, two pools up­river, our friend Shawn tus­sled with a big brookie for more than 20 min­utes be­fore it snapped the tippet on a head­shake. A year be­fore that, Jim’s English buddy Charles was grin­ning as he played his first ever Amer­i­can salmon, al­beit a small one, un­til a huge brook trout floated up and snatched it away. Land­ing fish can be just as hard as hook­ing them at this time of year, but that’s part of the ap­peal.


Af­ter story hour, Jim grabs his vest and rod and heads down­river. “I’ll be back so we can hike out in the light,” he says over his shoul­der, “and avoid get­ting stomped by a moose.”

I creak to my feet and start roll cast­ing a pair of No. 14 and 18 bead­heads out along a foam line, still mulling sto­ries of big fish landed and lost.

Over the years I’ve learned that the smallest nymphs of­ten ac­count for the big­gest fish, es­pe­cially as au­tumn wears on. Bead­head Princes or Hare’s Ears, weighted stone­flies and, in par­tic­u­lar, No. 16 to 18 Pheas­ant Tails dead-drifted in the right place seem to of­fer fall spawn­ers a quick bite with­out their need­ing to stop or chase. Some­times on the East Out­let, I use an in­di­ca­tor, a yel­low conehead, and a No. 18 Pheas­ant Tail on a 5X drop­per—an odd con­coc­tion, sure. But fall is like that. Dan Legere of Maine Guide Fly Shop (maineguide­fly­, a top re­gional out­fit­ter, has floated the East Out­let some 1,500 times, and I’ve heard him say, “In the fall, it may take 10 dif­fer­ent flies to catch 10 dif­fer­ent fish.” Af­ter all, fall spawn­ers don’t know what they want; food is a pe­riph­eral con­cern.

Since au­tumn salmon and trout stay on the move, an­glers must do the same to find them. The fish end up in rest­ing places and fa­vor side cover, such as fallen trees and ledges. They also tend to move at low light, and this is surely the case on the river now, with the black boul­ders cast­ing shad­ows over the flow. Roll cast­ing along the ledge, I glance up­stream and watch as Jim, 200 yards ahead, plays a fish. My yel­low in­di­ca­tor, mean­while, bobs through the cur­rent like an aban­doned life raft.

I hike 50 yards up­river and butt-slide down to a toe-scrunch­ing ledge over­look­ing a run. I bal­ance my­self and start drift­ing my nymph rig. Just as I lift the rod to cast again, a fish is there. It bores into the deep wa­ter be­neath the ledge, pulling in slow, heavy tugs. I ex­tend my rod to get the fish into the open river, but that’s not hap­pen­ing. I raise the rod tip high. But just as sud­denly as the fish was on, it’s off, and the weight re­leases into noth­ing. In a sense, I fol­low suit, de­flat­ing, and stare at the tippet float­ing in front of me. With the angling sea­son in its twi­light, I won’t have many more chances at a brook trout like that. Jim and I will soon hike out for the last time un­til spring. The fish, mean­while, will con­tinue up­river, an­other one lost for next year’s story hour.


Make a Move Cover wa­ter to find more fish.

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