Saturday, October 23, 2021

5 Great Nymph Rigs for Fall Fishing
By Dave McKenna

I live for this time of year. Fall weather ends the summer doldrums with a quick drop in temperature and a sharp increase in trout activity as those rainbows, browns and cutthroats bulk up for winter.

At my fly-tying bench, I look forward to building some unconventional color combinations that look more like a Mardi Gras float than a traditional nymphing box. I do just that because those bead heads, fluorescent hotspots, tinsel braids and UV synthetic dubbings can make a big difference in your fall nymphing success. But why all the added flare for fall nymph rigs?

Here’s why: The biggest challenge that trout and fly fishers encounter during fall is the dreaded leaf hatch. It affects all of us. Nymphers, swingers, and even the meat-chuckers have to contend with brightly colored leaves snagging flies. As these leaves break down they cloud the water with decaying plant matter—trout have to think quick to distinguish food from junk. Think of this as speed feeding. Trout take a mouthful of potential food, spit the junk, and eat the bugs. When fish feed in that fashion, selecting the right “trigger” flies can make the difference between a good day and an unforgettable day.

My approach to this situation is to keep it simple. First, I identify the food that trout are likely feeding on. A seine net is the best tool I have for this. I like one that slips around my net basket. Running this through the water lets me know how much junk is mixed in with active bugs. I make sure to look around the banks for signs of likely food, too—October caddis shucks, ants, blue-winged olives, grasshoppers, and even stoneflies.

Once I know what the trout are eating, I pick the right flies. Generally, the more particle matter in the water the more UV reflection and contrast I want in my flies. I also favor attractor nymphs tied with tungsten bead heads and jig hooks. These reduce leaf snags and punch through debris. These have been a staple in my fall nymphing boxes for many years and they’ve proven their merit over time.

I tie a lot of these nymphs with resin-coated bodies that really capture light and reflection, and mimic the natural color of the insects. These fly combinations compliment each other.



Flashy Attractor Nymph/Small UV Natural

A flashy Rumble Bug may trigger a trout to look at the flies, and a small subtly colored RS-200 may be what they key in on to eat. The RS-200 is a take on the popular RS-2 and uses a wide-gap hook to tether large trout.


Hopper/Ant Dropper

With all the extra wind and falling leaves comes some easy terrestrial meals for trout. They are keyed in on eating and before it gets too frosty, anglers can take advantage of some great terrestrial fishing. Flying ants, beetles and hoppers may provide as much protein as a big sculpin, so the fish are on the hunt. A Guide Chubby or Guide Floater plopped hard against the surface, with a trailing Soft Hackle Ant or a Rumble Pheasant, is a great early fall choice.


October Caddis/Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail

A big, bright-orange October Caddis Soft Hackle, paired up with a large, unweighted Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail, is absolutely deadly on fall trout. I like to dead drift a #12 Tungsten Bead Head Pumpkin Caddis with a #10-to #12 Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail trailer. Finish up with a nice downstream mend and swing. This is a great setup when fished along big rocks and deep banks.


Prince Nymph/Rubber Leg Stone Fly

This combination is an old reliable for many guides who like to keep it simple. My favorite version of this combo is my tungsten Guide Prince paired with an OG Rubber Leg Stone Fy. The synthetic UV Straggle String body to the Prince, paired with an extra-buggy Rubber Leg Stone Fly in black or golden stone, is just too much for a fall trout to turn away from.


String Leech Jig/Egg

Steelheaders who utilize big indicators to dead drift Egg Sucking Leeches in holding water will recognize this combo. For trout, I use a 4.8mm slotted fluorescent-orange Tungsten bead head to act as the egg, and a thin, synthetic body leech, made of marabou or rabbit tail to trigger the reaction. This can be especially effective in the late season or as a single fly rig when leaves are heavy in the water.

Photography by

Dave McKenna