Through most of my memory the conclusion of the busy fishing season was as sudden and final as closing time in the local saloons. For decades the Labor Day holiday marked the end of visitor dominance on the Henry’s Fork and other waters in the Yellowstone region. For locals, September was the beginning of at least two months of relative quiet before winter’s decent upon this mountain community. This began to change about a decade ago when a growing number of traveling anglers gained realization that fall is perhaps the best time to enjoy a quality experience in one of the most attractive fishing destinations on the planet.
Today, early morning in the fly shop bustles with the same excitement as would be found in June when the glory hatches of Drakes and Salmon flies are at their peak. Though polite and enthusiastic as ever, I can tell that the guides are tired from six months of unrelenting demand for their services. By October, many will have logged more than one hundred days on the water, and for some the number of off days can be counted on the fingers of two hands. The upside to the final weeks of working the oars is a generally higher skill level among their clients whom also understand the risk of weather far less than comfortable.
While cold temperatures and even snow can mark a day of fall fishing at high elevation, the productivity of uncrowded water is fair compensation for any physical discomfort. Whether lake or river, the water conditions are the best of the year and trout enthusiasm for the fly may be at its highest point.
Perhaps the strongest testimony to the charm of fall fishing is the number of visitors traveling from distant countries for the challenge of the small Baetis and midges that characterize dry fly fishing at this time of year. Refined to the point of extreme the skills needed to accommodate requirements of size twenty and smaller flies, 6X or 7X tippets, and trout that can exceed twenty inches are not for the faint of heart or unpracticed. Though other less demanding choices are available, this is the option most often selected by foreign friends determined to test themselves against the most exacting proposition the Henry’s Fork has to offer.
For the most part, I am intrigued by the dry fly but in October I am almost equally drawn to magnificent still waters like Henry’s and Sheridan Lakes where the largest residents seem unusually vulnerable to a submerged fly.
Streamer fishing in the fall typically yields the most impressive brown trout of the year on the Madison and lower Henry’s Fork. And of course, I am weak for that temptation as well.
The marvelous diversity of available waters and ways of fishing them in the fall makes it easy to understand how this shoulder season is no longer the exclusive domain of those who do not leave. Here in the mountains we are proud of our homeland but selfishness is not part of the culture. We willingly share the best and final days of the year with like people regardless of their home address or nationality. That is just our way.