Fall… It means something different to all of us. To some, it’s a wind down from the peak summer season. A chance to look back to all the beautiful summer days on the water, and a chance to relive some of those heated fish fights. To others, it’s the wind up! *Insert Rocky music* Here in North Carolina, fall is the season where fishing dreams are made. With beautiful 60 to 70 degree days and water chilling evenings, fall is by far the staple season. All of the lower elevation wild trout streams shift back into gear and the NCWRC (North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission) loads our hatchery supported and delayed harvest rivers with over 1 million fish across the state. The freshly stocked trout are eager to eat. Like the wild fish, these fish become a little more picky as they adjust to their new habitat. Challenge accepted! Who’s ready to go fishing? Here are my top ten fall flies for both wild and stocked streams across the state of North Carolina
Like so many other trout streams around the world, North Carolina streams are loaded with these little guys. My go-to colors for fall are red and black. Heck, I will even get funky and tie some red AND black ones. When I am on a wild trout stream, I fish size 20 and smaller as the fish are a little pickier. I pretty much tie a little midge off the back of everything; a bigger dry, or a smaller nymph. I call these midges fish candy.
Pats Rubber Legs/Girdle Bug
I call this fly the “cheat code”. The action this fly has in the water is outstanding and I have had success with it in every color, ranging in sizes as well. The fish find it quite irresistible. Ideally, this fly is used as an attractor pattern or top fly on a multiple fly rig. It is important that your lead Girdle Bug has some lead wraps tied in or that you use some split shot to make sure your rig is getting deep enough.
This one will get some laughs, but hear me out. The Scrambled egg pattern is one of the most productive flies on our hatchery-supported and delayed-harvest streams. They’re easy to eat, high protein snacks. This pattern is a go to on any guided trip simply because it produces fish. Normally, this egg pattern ranges in sizes 10 to 14 and is pink, orange, or yellow. Like the Midge Larvae, this pattern works well as an attractor fly. Be sure to add lead to this rig as this little ball of yarn is weightless in the water.
Blue Winged Olive
With all my experience on North Carolina streams, this is the one dry fly I will not be caught without. The BWO is a great option on some of our wild waters. Hatches are normally popping off mid-day when it is overcast. They can come and go very quickly, so be ready! The one drawback to this fly is that it is super tiny. Normally I am fishing size 20 and smaller. If you can time it right, this little hatch is an honor to fish.
Don’t underestimate the power of the worm! The Squirmy Worm imitates a high protein morsel. It resembles a worm that lives in the water or it could be the unlucky one that fell from a tree just upstream. When I am fishing worm patterns, I like them to have a bead-head tied in. I have found most of my success is drifting the worm through deep slower pools.
This pattern is one of my favorite flies to fish here in NC. It is also a fun one to tie. For me, Trout Crack is a poor man’s scud or sowbug pattern. Fish go absolutely bonkers for it. I am normally fishing it as a dropper, or tail fly on my nymph rig. I like to run the trout crack through shallower, faster riffles. It cleans up. Trout crack can sometimes be tricky to get down deep. I like to pair it with a heavier lead fly or add a couple split shots.
Hot Spot Soft Hackle
Whether euro nymphing, swinging, or indicator fishing, soft hackles are one of the deadliest patterns. I see your dull colored soft hackle and raise you a hot spot, and I’m not talking big and flashy; just a few orange or chartreuse wraps around the beadhead. I love fishing these hot spot soft hackles as my lead fly on wild streams. Tie on sizes 14 to 16 and make sure they have a tungsten beadhead to get to the bottom. On stocked streams, where fish are a little less picky, I will use the hot spot hackle as a trailing fly in a size 16 to 18.
There is a reason why the Wooly Bugger is the most widely used fly around the world. Its diversity has been proven to slam fish no matter the body of water. For trout, I love black, olive, and rust. The saying “bright day – bright fly, dark day – dark fly” holds true. I have found the most productive time to use a bugger is when the water is running a bit high and is stained. In these conditions I would be tying a juicy black or olive bugger on my line. For wooly buggers, I normally dead-drift them. As they start to swing downstream, I begin to make small strips. This action drives the fish nuts and makes the fly irresistible. When the water is clear, I will use a bead-head bugger as my lead fly. A fly around size 10 to 12 will do the trick. I like to fish the rust or white bugger when the water is clear and the sun is out.
The Copper John is a productive fly because it gets down deep, fast! The CJ makes it easier to have longer drifts while spending more time close to bottom in the strike zone. They are made with wraps on wraps of wire. Pair that with a tungsten bead and you’re ready to conquer those tricky 6 to 8 foot deep channels. The Copper John is super versatile, coming in a vast array of colors. I personally think the most productive color is copper. Go figure. I sometimes fish my Copper John as my lead fly, sizes 12 to 16. Ideally I am running it behind the lead fly in size 16-18.
Let’s not forget to give some love to at least one true streamer pattern. I am a huge fan of any trout streamer that uses rabbit. The fur produces an awesome fleeing bait action in the water. Resembling a sculpin, the Bunny Muddler’s most productive colors are black, olive, and brown. There are some similar variations to this fly like the Zuddler and the Zonker. All work well. Ideal times and conditions for the muddler are in the early morning or later in the evening. The lower the light is, the better chance the big boys come out to feed. My personal favorite time to fish the Bunny Muddler is when the water is high and stained. These conditions present the best opportunity to hook into a trophy. In higher cloudy water, fish are confident and become a little more careless. I want to be on the water for that!
With the fall fishing reason just around the corner, inspect your fly boxes making sure you have these ten flies. Doing so, I can almost promise one of your most productive seasons yet. Almost, it’s still fishing. These flies will yield some great catches in NC and across Appalachia in the southeast. While you’re out, take the time to enjoy the cooler temps and beautiful scenes and foliage we have here in North Carolina. Stay smooth!