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Vail Valley Anglers
Fall Fly Fishing | Low Water + Big Foam Flies
Fly Fishing Colorado Rivers

Low Water + Big Foam Flies

Mike S.

Early Autumn, September to be exact, a time of year when the low flows of late summer begin to turn the warm water temperatures towards a cooling trend creating a unique opportunity to pull the biggest trout in the river to the surface to eat. The low water of late summer equated to high river temperatures for trout to endure, however with the onset of cool nights as we transition to fall, the river temperature begins to fall into a more desirable range. The drop in water temperature causes an increase in trout activity. The previously lethargic trout caused by the warm water temperatures are now actively feeding. Using large bodied foam flies to tempt the biggest trout out of a watershed is easily achieved with the correct approach.

Dwindling numbers of adult bugs flying around and hatching in the river causes a competition for food. Trout will set up on active feeding lanes looking to bulk up for the winter and the coinciding low food season. While a trout is actively feeding on small insects in a repetitive process the importance of large food sources such as terrestrial insects becomes apparent in how far a fish will leave a desirable feeding lane to eat a grasshopper or ant.

The Bugs

Terrestrials are a category of insects that are important to fly anglers for their ability to draw powerful surface strikes. Examples of terrestrial insects commonly found in the watershed are grasshoppers, crickets, ants and beetles. As large protein food sources, trout will move considerable distances to eat one. When a trout eats a bankside grasshopper that inadvertently fell upon the water the resulting strike is meant to kill the hopper at the same time as the fish eats the bug. Trout do not like anything struggling in their gullet. Kicking hoppers and large winged Stoneflies are devoured so that they have no opportunity to kick or clutch ahold of gills. Large food sources such as terrestrials and other food sources like crayfish are eaten with an amount of authority and power unlike sipping miniscule Blue Wing Olives from the surface. Other prime choices for terrestrials would include the Elderberry beetles, stoneflies around the full moon and, this year especially, cicadas.

Why now?

Brown trout develop an aggression that drives their desire to feed. This pre-spawn aggression is apparent in their ability to cannibalize young brown trout and any yellow and brown streamer that happens to swing their way. Combine this aggressive feeding behavior with a compressed water column and you have the components for a crushing surface bite. The feeding party doesn’t just revolve around brown trout. Rainbow trout are commonly found set up along bankside vegetation and under bubble lines actively feeding on the surface. When the water column is compressed by a low water situation a dry fly on the surface is still within the striking ability by close proximity to a trout swimming near the bottom of the river. A dry fly presented in July floats feet above trout whereas now the dry fly is within easy reach and often results in reactionary strikes.

The Buffet

Heavy bankside vegetation is a prime situation where insects like terrestrials, insects that don’t live in the watershed or have a life cycle revolving around water, become desired food sources. Willows growing along the river often drop grasshoppers and ants onto the water especially during our windy afternoons. Trout recognize this large food source is prevalent at this time of year and will seek out areas where they can take advantage of these higher protein insects. When it comes to comparisons one grasshopper equals the protein equivalent of a pile of midges and requires less energy less to obtain.

The energy necessary to feed in a moving current eating size 20 midges must burn more calories than the little midges provide. However a grasshopper the size of my pinky finger provides the sustenance for a fat bellied trout to have some disposable weight during the lean winter months. Find a feeding trout eating tiny Blue Wing Olives in a feeding lane and watch him swim over for a grasshopper that fell splat on the surface just like buffetline attendees when the prime rib is brought out to the buffet.

Mastering Messy Presentation

Fly choices for low water conditions in the Fall season often contain a lot of foam. High riding and with the ability to uphold a heavy dropper in the ever popular Hopper-Dropper, rigging foam flies slide across the surface with an enticing allure. Rubber legs dance seductively with each ripple giving the suggestion of a struggling insect. As an active bug when it falls into the water, a grasshopper allows the angler to fish the fly sloppy, meaning it can land hard and loudly, it can squirm and wiggle, it can be stripped across the surface like the kicking stroke of an adult Grasshopper.

Large foam bodied grasshopper patterns in colors to match the local insects provide the basis for a fun day. Observe the insects bankside or on your walk down to the river and use them as the template for the size and color you want to mimic. Umpqua’s Realistic Foam Hopper rides in the surface film like a real grasshopper. Match the color and size to your local hoppers and hold on!

Foam Ants are a local favorite for our rivers too. Some patterns are very visible for the angler with high riding foam as the main component and brightly colored tags for visibility. Once again rubber legs have the ability to look alive and move with the slightest movement or ripple. Amy’s Ant is a popular selection for an ant imitation. Hippy Stompers, Carl’s Foam Flying Ant and the Hi-Vis Beetle all from Umpqua provide an excellent selection of foam-bodied flies to use during the low water condition of September.

Low water and big foam flies, Autumn is an ideal time to tempt the largest trout up to the surface to eat. Terrestrial insects cause quite a commotion when fished in the shallow water column. Whether used in a Hopper-Dropper presentation or as a single dry fly on the surface, big foam bugs have a special place in any fly angler’s box. Vail Valley Anglers has all the Umpqua foam flies you need to take advantage of the stellar dry fly fishing Fall possesses.

Michael Salomone, Fly Fishing Guide & Content Writer

read more blog posts from Mike S.