The autumn season is right around the corner. While I could not wait for warmer weather to arrive this past winter, this summer’s oppressive heat has me looking forward to some cooler weather. Autumn has always been my favorite time of the year, and it is one of the best times to be on the water. The fish seem to sense winter’s advance and feed more aggressively in an attempt to prepare themselves for the leaner times cold weather brings. Cooling water temperatures also cause weed growth to begin dying back. In many watersheds, this opens up new waters to anglers, that have been weed-choked for many months. Before I list my favorite fall patterns lets discuss our options.
My favorite way to catch panfish is on top. During the dog days of summer, many panfish, especially the larger ones, seek refuge from the heat in deeper waters. When the water begins to cool these larger fish often enter the shallows again in search of food. Despite the cooling air and water temperatures, panfish will still feed on the surface for most of the fall season depending on where you are located. I realize that fall comes in with a vengeance in some parts of the country. In those are your season will be shortened. For those of us in the central and southern part of the country, we enjoy a more extended fishing season.
My favorite topwater flies are bees, terrestrial patterns, adult damselflies, and dragonflies with small poppers thrown in for good measure. Of course, the Triangle Bug remains a favorite this time of year as well. The topwater bite will continue to be good until the first killing frost when these larger insects die off. After that, you may still enjoy some great topwater action, but you may have to downsize your flies. When things begin to cool off midges become the predominant active insect and bluegills, and other panfish will feed on them with abandon.
Nymphs are an important food source for bluegills and other panfish year-round. All the usual patterns will still be effective, but my method of fishing them changes. I prefer to fish them as part of a popper/dropper system early in the season when large amounts of subsurface weeds are still present. I can set the depth of the dropper to present the nymph right over the top of the weed beds. This technique often results in large numbers of fish. Once the aquatic vegetation starts dying back, I switch over to traditional stripping and hand twist retrieves when fishing nymph patterns.
With all of the young of the year fish swimming around streamers can be very effective in the fall. Big panfish often include small fish in their diet. Streamers probably catch more fish in late summer and early fall than any other time of the year. Keep the flies on the small side, and you will catch plenty of big hand-sized panfish. Keep a tight grip on that rod as you are likely to attract the attention of larger predators like bass and pickerel as well!
If you have read the pages of this blog for any length of time, you will know that wet flies produce more fish for me than all other patterns combined. The weedy waters of summer often prevent me from fishing these patterns. The coming of autumn and the dying off of aquatic vegetation means I can once again fish wet flies without having to clear snagged weeds off my hook on every cast. Late in the season as the water really cools down, I will switch over entirely to wet fly patterns and fish them with a painfully slow hand twist retrieve.
The Top Five
I list these flies in no particular order as one may fish better than the other on any given day depending on conditions. I’ll start off with two topwater patterns since I will be throwing topwater bugs at every opportunity. With winter around the corner, these days fishing topwater flies may be my last until next spring.
1. Yellow Jacket/Bee: Although I mentioned large terrestrials, damsels, and dragons earlier in this article, the first pattern I reach for in the fall is usually a bee pattern. Yellowjackets become very active in my area at this time of year and often find their way into the water. Even though they have a nasty sting fish seem to relish Yellowjackets and other bees when they find themselves in the drink! You read more about bluegills feeding on bees and get a recipe for one of my favorite bee patterns by clicking the button below!
2. Poppers/Sliders: When I want to suspend a nymph below a floating fly, I usually reach for a popper. These high floating patterns can support the weight of a nymph hanging under them with ease. Poppers also often attract the attention of larger fish, and that keeps things interesting. Poppers can be store bought or easily made yourself using a variety of materials like cork, balsa wood, foam even deer hair! The simple popper body in the photograph above was made in seconds using the Gary Krebs Popper Jig Set.
As I mentioned earlier to keep things interesting, I like to fish a slightly larger popper than I would typically fish for panfish. By larger I mean something in the area of a size six. A popper this size can still be easily taken by larger panfish put is also big enough to attract the attention of larger predators like largemouth bass. A larger popper also does a better job holding up a subsurface pattern if you plan on fishing a popper/dropper rig. A long time favorite of mine have been poppers created with Flymen Fishing Company Surface Seducer Double Barrel Popper Bodies. These bodies allow you to easily create great looking poppers. Better yet, these poppers are now available as a finished popper, perfect for the non-fly tying angler!
I put sliders into this same category and use them when I want a more subtle presentation. A slider is a floating popper type pattern that lacks a flat or cup faced leading edge. They can be purchased commercially or made yourself by using preformed bodies. The Surface Seducer bodies mentioned earlier can be made into a great slider pattern by simply reversing the body on the hook.
3. The Bream Killer: I chose the Bream Killer as a nymph pattern because it is one of my favorite flies to suspend under a popper or other topwater bug. The fly sinks slowly and seductively often taking fish on the drop. Those rubber legs quiver while the fly is at rest suspended beneath a topwater bug, proving to be irresistible to big panfish. I fish this bug in several sizes, fishing larger flies early in the autumn season and progress to smaller sizes as the season winds on, and water temperatures drop.
4. The Hornberg Special: I like this pattern for its versatility. I can fish it like a dry fly as the fly will float when dry. After a few twitches on the surface without a strike, I will drag it under and retrieve it like a streamer. I like the Hornberg Special as a streamer pattern because its shape in the water is close to that of young of the year panfish. I tie it in both like and dark colors to match the colors of the most prominent prey species present.
5.: Soft Hackles: My last pattern is a type of fly rather than a particular pattern. I will fish a variety of soft hackle wet flies in several different colors. Some of my favorites are Partridge & Yellow, Partridge & Green, Hare’s Ear, Partridge & Peacock, and Partridge & Pheasant Tail. Wet flies and soft hackle patterns are my go-to flies for panfish. This type of fly catches more fish for me on a yearly basis than all other patterns combined!
Don’t exchange the fly rod for the shotgun or bow just yet. There is still plenty of good fishing ahead of us!