Woolly-Bugger fly

Eastern Spring Creeks in Autumn

The Keystone State’s fabled limestone streams are within a couple hours drive of several major East Coast cities. So, pack a lunch, grab your tackle bag, and fill your fly box with these time-tested patterns. Get ready to enjoy some of the best fly fishing of the year.

[by Ed Shenk]

THE FLIES WE USE FOR FALL FISHING in spring creeks are the same ones we used in late summer, with a few additions. My favorite local streams in south-central Pennsylvania are the LeTort, Falling Spring, the outlet of Children’s Lake in Boiling Springs, and Big Spring near Newville. I also fish

Spring Creek near State College.

My favorite autumn streamer flies are the Shenk White Minnow and Shenk Sculpin, both in black or olive. I also use a Woolly Bugger and a small white marabou streamer. My nymphs include the Cress Bug and a mink-fur nymph that suggests a shrimp. My top dry flies are the LeTort Hopper, LeTort Cricket, and Poly-Wing Trico.  Early in the fall when the ants mate and grow wings, I fish a black ant with a tuft of cul de canard and a smaller cinnamon ant with the same type of wing. In addition to these flies, I carry the Adams and Joe Humphrey’s Flying Beetle.

Fishing Streamers

Cast a streamer upstream and retrieve with short, bouncy strokes. The White Minnow suggests a dead or dying minnow; fish it with a dead drift and slight twitches to simulate a dying baitfish. Trout always seem to be looking for dying minnows. I once landed a large rainbow trout at Big Spring that spat up a dead white sculpin. I picked up the dead fish and tossed it six feet into the stream, and it was immediately inhaled by a monster brown trout. I took my largest LeTort brown trout, a 30 ¼-inch male, in a steady rain when he sucked in what he thought was an almost-dead White Minnow. Fish a little White Marabou like a standard wet fly, across or down-and-across stream with twitches as it swings through the water.

Trout always seem to be looking for dying minnows. I once landed a large rainbow trout at Big Spring that spat up a dead white sculpin

I use dry flies meet different situations. Cast the Poly-Wing Trico to rising trout. The male Trico hatches at night; I’ve seen them all over the screen door on my motor home on numerous western trips. In the morning, as the temperature rises, the females hatch and fly in droves above the water’s surface, where they mate with the males. In the late morning in the fall, they descend and cover the water. Trout sip the floating insects rhythmically. Time the rises and present your fly a foot or so ahead of a rising fish; time the drift to meet the next rise. Do not cast the leader over the fish; your position should be to the side of the rising trout. The drift must be timed perfectly; it often takes numerous casts before your fly meets the open mouth of the fish.

Terrestrials for Autumn Fishing Success

Cast the Jassid to sipping trout, dropping it a foot or so upstream so the fly drifts to the fish. If the fish doesn’t strike, recast the fly and try again. There is no need for a long drag-free float; that’s a waste of time.

Use the Beetle, Cricket, and Hopper when the fish are not rising. You might also want to cast one of these patterns to trout rising to Tricos or midges; I’ve done this successfully many times. Otherwise, cast these patterns so that they land with a plop.

Cast terrestrials along the bank, near logs, or any other place you feel there should be lurking fish. Do not make more than one or two casts to any location. There are times, however, when a longer drift is effective, such as when casting broadside to a nice run. As drag sets in, lift the rod so the fly twitches on the surface, then lower the rod tip so the fly floats freely again. This extra motion of a struggling insect will trigger an explosive rise.

The Adams and Humphrey’s Flying Beetle are searching patterns. Cast them perpendicular to the drifting current. Twitching and lowering your rod tip works well, but in all cases follow the drift with the movement of the rod; as soon as the fly hits the water, begin moving your rod to match the speed of the current.

How to Fish the Cress Bug and Shrimp

Drift the Cress Bug and Shrimp into the face of trout that are visible but lying deeper in the water. Cast the fly upstream of the fish and let it drop to the depth of the trout. I sometimes drift the Cress Bug adjacent to undercut banks or the edges of weed beds when I don’t see the fish, and I select a slightly larger pattern. Sometimes, when the water is clouded from rain, the shrimp seem to line up along the edge of the stream; under these conditions I choose a shrimp imitation. Let the fly swing into the edge and retrieve it back upstream tight against the bank in a jerking manner.

One other idea comes to mind: with no visible insects on the water, check streamside spider webs for trapped insects. This is often key to understanding what has been available to the fish. Try matching what you find in the spider web.

There is more than one way to skin this autumn fly-fishing cat. Don’t be a slave to one technique, but vary your methods to suit the conditions. I must point out that I do not fish to brown trout while they are on their spawning beds. Once they are hooked and played, some of these fish fail to return to those beds, so please leave them alone.


Ed Shenk has been fishing and tying flies for more than 50 years. Ed still ties a few flies commercially, and he freely shares what he has learned over the decades. Ed is a living legend among fly fishers, and we are proud that he is a member of the Fly Tyer family.


Fly Box

Woolly-Bugger fly

Woolly Bugger

Hook: 3X- or 4X-long streamer hook, size 10 or 8.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Black marabou.
Body: Black chenille.
Hackle: Grizzly.

Shenk-Sculpin-Black fly

Shenk Sculpin (Black)

Hook: 3X- or 4X-long streamer hook, size 10 or 8.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Black marabou.
Body: Black sculpin wool.
Head: Black deer hair.


Shenk-Sculpin-Olive fly

Shenk Sculpin (Olive)

Hook: 3X- or 4X-long streamer hook, size 10 or 8.
Thread: Olive 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Olive marabou.
Body: Olive sculpin wool.
Head: Olive deer hair.

Shenk-Sculpin-White fly

Shenk Sculpin (White)

Hook: 3X- or 4X-long streamer hook, size 10 or 8.
Thread: White 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: White marabou.
Body: White sculpin wool.
Head: White deer hair.


White-Marabou fly

White Marabou

Hook: 3X-long streamer hook, size 12 or 10.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Body: Flat or embossed silver tinsel.
Throat: Small patch of red feather.
Wing: White marabou and three strands of peacock herl.

Joe-Humphreys-Flying-Beetle fly

Joe Humphrey’s Flying Beetle

Hook: Dry-fly hook, size 14.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Brown deer tail.
Underbody: Tan Superfine Dubbing.
Body: Deer hair.
Hackle: Mixed brown and grizzly.


Harvey-Beetle flly

Harvey Beetle

Hook: Dry-fly hook, sizes 16 or 14.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Body: Black deer hair.

Cress-Bug fly

Cress Bug

Hook: Mustad 3906B, size 12.
Thread: Gray 6/0 (140 denier).
Body: Muskrat belly fur.


Wingless-Adams-fly

Wingless Adams

Hook: Dry-fly hook, sizes 16 or 14.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Grizzly hackle fibers.
Body: Gray muskrat or gray dry-fly dubbing.
Hackle: Mixed brown and grizzly.

LeTort-Hopper fly

LeTort Hopper

Hook: 2X-long dry-fly hook, size 14 or 12.
Thread: Yellow 6/0 (140 denier).
Body: Yellow Superfine Dubbing.
Wing: Mottled turkey.
Head and hackle: Tan deer hair.


Shrimp fly

Shrimp

Hook: Mustad 3906B, size 12.
Thread: Brown 6/0 (140 denier).
Body: Mink fur dubbing with the guard hairs.
Rib: Gold wire.

Jassid fly

Jassid

Hook: Dry-fly hook, size 18.
Thread: Black 8/0 (70 denier).
Body: Black Superfine Dubbing.
Hackle: Brown.
Wing: Jungle cock eye feather.


LeTort-Cricket fly

LeTort Cricket

Hook: 2X-long dry-fly hook, size 14 or 12.
Thread: Yellow 6/0 (140 denier).
Body: Black Superfine Dubbing.
Wing: Black crow, or turkey wing dyed black.
Head and hackle: Black deer belly hair.

Trico-Spinner fly

Trico Spinner

Hook: Dry-fly hook, sizes 22 and 20.
Thread: Black 14/0.
Tail: Three strands of white bucktail.
Body: Cream Superfine Dubbing (female) or black Superfine dry fly dubbing (male)
Wings: White polypropylene.


Flying-Black-Ant fly

Flying Black Ant

Hook: Dry-fly hook, size 18 or 16.
Thread: Black 8/0 (70 denier).
Body: Two clumps of black Superfine Dubbing.
Hackle: Black.
Wing: White cul de canard.

Flying-Cinnamon-Ant

Flying Cinnamon Ant

Hook: Dry-fly hook, size 18 or 16.
Thread: Brown 8/0 (70 denier).
Body: Two clumps of cinnamon Superfine Dubbing.
Hackle: Dark ginger.
Wing: White cul de canard.


Shenk-Minnow fly

Shenk Minnow

Hook: 3X- or 4X-long streamer hook, size 10 or 8.
Thread: Yellow 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: White marabou.
Body: White Sculpin Wool.