I slide open the glass door to head to the car. It’s dark, but the bright moon gives off enough light that I don’t need to reach for the light switch in the breezeway. Opening the garage door activates the overhead light and I slowly blink my eyes to help me adjust to the brightness. At 4:15 AM my brain is at about 60% of its best, and its best isn’t what it was 10 years ago. Lessons learned from past trips remind me to double check that I have packed everything I need. Waders, wading boots, sling pack, more fly rods and reels than I will use, my sunglasses and hat are all there. I should be good to go.
Driving through the darkness builds a sense of earning the fish I hope to catch. The feeling is like when, while training for different running events, I would go for long runs in heavy rain or snow. Giving up sleep or comfort adds to the pride of achieving whatever challenge I am facing. That may be an old fashioned, hyper-masculine ego story I tell myself, regardless, it makes my smile bigger when I catch a fish in a new or distant location.
This morning I was determined to explore new reaches of a stream I have fished only a few times and in only a few spots previously. I studied my notes from previous trips, and I researched the stream reports from TCO and Orvis. As I drove through areas of farmland, I thought through my fishing strategies and ideas, occasionally my thoughts were interrupted passing a farmhouse, with lone windows lit. I imagined a farmer sitting under the light in a kitchen, with a hot cup of coffee and a folded newspaper, ready to start their day before the sun rises. Ideally it seems like a satisfying life to me, where almost all the actions show a response within a season if not sooner. The dedication, consistency, and broad base of knowledge required to successfully manage a farm is a recipe for success in almost any endeavor or goal, including fishing.
Farmers understand the impacts of changes of the seasons on the land and animals. Understanding these changes also builds the approach of a successful angler. Autumn brings a chill in the air, changing and falling leaves, the fall harvest, and the breeding season of brown and brook trout. It’s the end of one growing cycle and the beginning of the next, with Thanksgiving as the celebration signifying the transition.
Cooler nights always act as a chiller for water temperatures, but as fall changes to winter, the nights become longer and colder. Fish metabolism changes with temperature and the colder nights slow the driver for fish to feed. To breed, trout will utilize a tremendous amount of energy to produce, fertilize, and protect eggs. As temperatures rise during the day, fish are likely to become more aggressive to meet the demands of reproduction.
My desire to hit the water at daybreak was not rewarded with a strong morning bite, just calming time on the water. After having success at the end of the summer in faster, deeper water I clung to fishing that water instead of thinking through the seasonal change. Deeper pools hold on to warmer temperatures longer, and fish are likely holding in these areas of the stream as more shallow areas become colder faster. As the sun rose and heated the water, I began to catch fish. My stubbornness of fishing areas that recently produced caught fish was released as I realized that I was not reacting to the seasonal change.
I caught a handful of fish over six hours of fishing and decided to call it a day. I chide myself for slowly adjusting to the conditions, but the lesson was learned, much like my sleepy minded reminder to check my fishing gear. My time on the river was calming and clearing, the bright reds of maples and gum trees highlighted the beginning of the beautiful color changes of leaves. As I hiked back to my car, I passed an angler I had spoken to earlier in the day. I asked him how he was doing, and he said, “Skunked today, but yesterday I didn’t catch anything until 5pm when things warmed up and bugs started coming off. I’m in it for the long haul.” I chuckled and wished him luck.
The transition to fall will impact feeding behavior of fish including location in the stream, size and type of food, and time of day for highest metabolism rates. Looking for areas of warmer water, using flies that emulate bugs and bait fish active in the water column, and fishing later in the day are likely to produce more fish in the fall. Sticking to patterns of the summer will get you peaceful moments on the water and less fish in the net. I loved my day on the water and appreciated the continued lessons that I learned. I’m in it for the long haul.