Don't Go With the Flow

When leaves hit the streams, you should hit the ponds.

Field & Stream Online Editors

October brings a sharp edge to much of trout country. Hillsides blaze with turning leaves, from the reds and yellows of a New England autumn to the flaming gold of aspens in Colorado and northern California. Freezing overnight temperatures often precede stunningly clear days with a cold, cutting breeze. Trout are more active in the cooling waters, giving anglers one last shot before the fishing dwindles in the graying of November.

Oddly enough, the same spectacular foliage that makes fall so enjoyable also makes trout ponds a better fishing bet than many streams or rivers. Tons of fallen leaves are carried by miles of river currents in October, part of an essential nutrient cycle, which means your flies or lures will be constantly snagging leaves as you fish. Trout ponds, on the other hand, will have more uncluttered water and, therefore, less frustrating angling. Here are a few tips that will help you fish them.

The major spring and summer hatches that brought rising trout are long gone. While you might occasionally encounter a late-season midge hatch, most of the pond action will be on nymphs and streamers. Fly design is critical and can radically enhance your success. Remember that trout in ponds move around rather than hold in a single feeding station as stream trout do. This means your pond flies need to attract trout from a considerable distance. The key is action within the fly itself. Stripping a wiggly marabou streamer is usually more effective than fishing a fly with a stiff bucktail wing, for example. Nymph patterns, meanwhile, should have plenty of soft, flexible hackle that moves seductively in the water. The easiest way to tangle with late-season pond trout is to drift a pair of nymphs on a long leader tapered to 5X and fished on a slow-sinking line. Pay out about 60 feet of line, and let the breeze push your belly boat or canoe slowly across the pond. Twitch the flies occasionally, and hold the rod off to the side to absorb the shock of a very hard strike. **SPINFISHING **
Spinfishermen can use a similar drifting tactic with the same flies, using small split shot to gain depth, but there's another method I like better. Small jigs are the simplest and most underrated of all trout lures, and in this situation they can be deadly indeed.

I usually carry all-black and all-white marabou jigs in 1/32-, 1/16-, and 1/8-ounce sizes, using the smallest size that still allows adequate casting distance and fishing depth. My tackle is ultralight spinning, spooled with either 2- or 4-pound-test monofilament.

If you're wading, move out far enough from shore so your casts cover shoreline dropoffs, weedbed edges, and underwater structure along points or inlets. **TROLLING **
Follow these directions precisely, and you will catch pond trout by trolling. Use small Needlefish or similar trolling spoons about 2 inches long, brass- or copper-colored with red heads. Use a 30-foot, 4-pound-test monofilament leader. For a main line, you can flat-line troll at the surface using regular spinning tackle. Conventional tackle with two colors of lead-core trolling line in the water usually works better, however, getting your lure down about 6 to 10 feet. (Lead-core line changes color every 10 yards, so two colors is 60 feet.) Troll at about 1.5 miles an hour, sweeping your trolling rod forward every minute or so. Trout often follow trolled lures for a considerable distance, and your rod sweep can be critical in changing the pace and forcing a strike. The requisite trolling speed can be easily maintained with a small outboard on a light skiff, or even by using a canoe equipped with a small electric trolling motor.

Late-season trout ponds are in some ways a win-win deal. If the fishing is slow, there is at least the compensation of gorgeous scenery. If the fishing is hot, you have a great backdrop to the unbelievable action.