The Leaves Are Red

Okay, so the leaves are not actually red, not yet anyway, but the season has definitely changed. Days are shorter and cooler, and the water temperatures have started to drop. Soon the trout will change colour and will be in full spawning mode. So let’s discuss how you can catch that trophy winter trout.

Currently we’re coming out of the longest, hottest summer we’ve had in 30 years, so the trout are still rather lethargic, but that will change as the water temperatures continue to drop. Our trout, originally being from Europe, thrive in cooler waters. They become more active, and as they get ready to spawn, they become considerably more aggressive. However, we aren’t in winter yet. The change of season i.e. the pre-spawn, can offer some crazy fishing. Because the fish in winter are focused on the spawn rather than feeding, the trout will feed heavily and opportunistically prior to spawning.

During this window of opportunity I want you to go through your fly boxes and look for a couple things. Firstly, do you have something big and ugly with a bit of colour to it? A large Pancora Woolly Bugger, a Black Streamer with either an orange tungsten bead or orange tag of sorts – something to this effect. Remember, trout eggs are orange and because they eat each other’s eggs, anything with a bit of orange in it tends to trigger a reaction take. Now, keep in mind that this won’t necessarily be what’s working. The point of these flies is to ‘test the waters,’ no pun intended, and to see how aggressive the trout are. If they’re taking these flies, stick to them. There’s no need to change a winning recipe, but with that said, you’ll sometimes find that you can end up pressuring the water with a particular fly. Fish aren’t stupid, they learn and adapt. So, if that hideous Christmas tree decoration is working at first, but after a while stops working, change your fly. I’ve seen it time and time again how the slightest of changes makes the biggest of differences. The point is, have ‘winter’ flies in your box. If you don’t have any, I’d definitely recommend your standard Pancora Woolly Bugger, or even better, your tungsten Taddy variations. An F/Flapper from Fullingmill, along with your Straggle Damsel are all must-have patterns.

Secondly, go small or go home! If you’ve ‘tested the waters’ with your winter flies and find that the fish aren’t interested, then fish technical. The waters have already started to clear up, with certain dams such as Laverpa being unbelievably clear. In such cases you’ll have to lengthen your leader to a minimum of 12ft, step down on the tippet to 5x and 6x Fluorocarbon, and fish small nymphs. Depending on the wind, you can fish up to three flies, but I wouldn’t recommend fishing less than two. You can comfortably cast two flies in the wind, so try opt for one more than one less. This gives you the ability to cover more water when fishing static, which is exactly what I do. If the fish aren’t taking your flies aggressively, then presenting a team of nymphs to them might convince them to eat; bearing in mind that orange is still your go-to colour. A PTN Hotspot is an exceptional nymph in winter as the profile is natural but incorporates a bit of orange in the thorax. Another great nymph is your Tungsten PTN which is a black Pheasant Tail Nymph tied with a UV orange tungsten bead. The general idea here is to fish your heaviest fly on point and then one or two lighter flies on your droppers. Note, you’re not using a truck-and-trailer rig, you’re specifically using droppers. I believe that this adds more movement to your flies, and allows them to sit more naturally in the water. Once you’ve sorted your leader out you have two options. You can either use an indicator to help you detect takes, or if you’re confident you don’t need one, just use the end of your line as the indicator. Either way, it doesn’t really matter, just make sure you’re able to recognise the takes. If you do opt for an indicator, and it happens to be windy, I’d use a Thingamabobber. It’s very buoyant and unlike a yarn indicator, it doesn’t absorb water. However, sometimes something a little more subtle will serve you better. In that case try the New Zealand “Strike” indicator. What’s unique about this indicator is the ability to choose the colour and size.  So, if you’re fishing crystal clear waters on a calm sunny day, you’d want something smaller and more subtle. The other advantage being, the smaller the indicator the easier it is to identify the take.You’ve tried big and ugly, you’ve tried small and technical, but nothing is working; what do you do now? Well, we’re not in winter yet, so your trout will still be feeding on dragons and damsel, which is great, but in order for those patterns to work you’re going to have to be a little more observant to what’s in the water. In other words, you’ll note that the weed starts to turn brown and die as the season changes. When this happens you’re going to want to use brown flies rather than olive patterns. Fullingmill makes a brilliant Living Damsel, as it’s called, which is a great autumn pattern; that along with a brown Papa Roach ought to do the trick. But to further improve your chances, fish an attractor such as a PTN Hotspot 1 meter in front of your natural.

If none of the above works, then I think it’s time to call it a day, get everything ready for tomorrow and enjoy that glass of wine.

By Nathan Pahl in our Dullstroom Shop