I get pretty darn excited about fall fishing. I mean, when it comes to all the things that I really enjoy about my personal fishing time, the next six week or so is when it really all comes together for me.
As a guide and outfitter, almost every time I am on the water, the focus, of course, is on the paying client. But when the days get shorter, and I get some time on the water to myself, I just can’t think of a season I enjoy more … except maybe for ice fishing, but that’s another story for another day!
Let’s start with the fish. Pretty much every species of fish right now is putting on the feedbag, preparing for long, dark, cold days. Fish that spawn in the fall also have that to worry about, before the caloric needs take over, but that also helps us as anglers. No matter if you are targeting fish on a lake, river or stream, the bite is on and the waterways are very inviting.
On Flathead Lake and in the river as well, when it comes to lake trout and lake whitefish, it is all about the pre-spawn right now. Lots of male lakers are moving in shallow along the shorelines, staking their territory and waiting for the females to show up. This is a good time for aggressive tactics, trolling noisy flashy baits that will make them think they are being invaded. If fishing from shore, or tossing lures up onto shoreline structure, think big, noisy spinners, like the #5 Vibrax and large Panther Martins. Big blades get big bites!
Lake whitefish are really not feeding so much right now, but as they move into the river to stake out the spawning beds, they will protect those beds now through December. When fishing from shore, or by vessel, remember that small baits floated through their beds will get a reaction bite. Small crawdad imitators, tube jigs such as the Gitzits and small, dark colored jigs with a chunk of plastic are the ticket.
Like to fish for perch? You can’t go wrong right now with horizontal crayfish or minnow imitations on lakes such as Lake Mary Ronan, Middle Thompson or Lower Stillwater, to name just a few. Remember, juvenile yellow perch are now in the 1 to 1.5 inch range, so look like that! On lakes where there are abundant crayfish, perch will be gorging on them as well as small bluegill and sunfish where present.
Smallmouth bass your thing? As the surface temps cool, these fighters will begin their trek to their deeper, wintering grounds. Probe these areas out to about 50 feet deep with drop shot rigs, using enough weight to keep your line vertical and your weight just touching bottom. Small tubes, minnow imitators and chunks of crawler rigged 12-18 inches above the weight will put you in the strike zone. You will catch just about anything in the system this way, so enjoy a multi-species day!
Salmon die-hards are right in the middle of snagging season (where allowed), so anglers are fishing mostly for two and three year old fish, smaller but more aggressive now as they are the “big fish” in any given system. Some lakes like Swan Lake seem to have a late spawn as fish need some rain to help raise the water levels in the creeks they spawn in, so concentrate off the mouths and be ready for not just salmon action, but the large predator fish as well. Know the regulations and be ready to release those bull trout unharmed!
These are just a few of the opportunities that await us in September and October. Quiet, relatively empty parking lots and waterways, eager fish and the turning colors of Autumn make this a time like no other. I’ll see you on the water.
— Howe is the owner/outfitter at Howe’s Fishing, A Able and Mo Fisch Charters. Call 406-257-5214 or at www.howesfishing.com