Fly fishermen always complain about the problems of fishing in the fall with all those leaves on the water. Hooks are constantly catching on the floating leaves, fouling a perfect cast; it’s impossible to sight fish for trout under all those leaves; you can’t see bottom structure; and all sorts of other complaints. However, I feel that you can actually use those fall leaves to your advantage–let me give you an example of just how it works.
A number of years ago I was stalking native brookies in one of my favorite Shenandoah National Park streams. It was mid-October and leaf fall was heavy with a layer of leaves in every pool. I couldn’t see the fish but I knew where they were based on past experience–the big one’s we’re hunkered down at the tailouts where they could grab passing insects, or up at the head of the pool where they could grab whatever drifted in.
I crept up to one large pool, slipped in behind a large white oak on the left side of the tailout, and watched for a few seconds for any signs of feeding fish. The pool was about 30 feet in diameter with a layer of leaves about a foot wide all around the edges, sort of like a layer of ice around a pond in the winter. The main current ran almost straight from the head of the pool to the tailout leaving a lot of pretty dead water elsewhere. Since I didn’t see any signs of fish I had to cast blind. I decided to cast a #14 elk hair caddis out into the current and let it drift downstream towards the tailout. My fly landed just about where I aimed for, about 6 feet above the edge of the leaves and right in the middle of the current seam. What looked like a great cast soon turned into a disappointment as my fly got caught in the eddy of a large rock about 3 feet above the tailout. While my fly sat there making big lazy circles in the eddy I had to make a quick decision–let it ride a for a while or pick it up for a quick re-cast.
Just as I was about to lift the fly off the water for another try I noticed some movement out the right of my eyes–I instinctively froze! A large fish was moving forward from just under the edge of the leaves. For what seemed an eternity, I stood rock still and watched as the fish slowly finned his way upstream towards my fly still making those big lazy circles in the eddy. As he slowly made his way towards my fly the big brookie also was slowly rising in the water column, looking like a submarine coming to the surface. Finally, he came up right under my fly and with a quick parting of his lips sucked it in–I immediately lifted the tip of my rod and the fight was on. Alas the big boy was no match even for a 6X tippet and he soon was in my hand. I removed the hook from his lip letting him slide back into the water and he disappeared back under the leaves at the tailout.
So the next time you’re out on a mountain stream in October keep in mind that those trout are hunkered down under those leaves and they can’t see you any more than you can see them. Use the leaves to your advantage and you’ll catch more fish instead of just getting your fly stuck on leaves–Larry