By Nick Simonson
With the approaching chill of fall, an underutilized fishing opportunity materializes in the deeper prairie lakes of North Dakota. Those waters with depths of 40 feet or more which were stocked with trout in the spring provide an exciting fishery in fall as summer survivors that holed up in the depths and made it past the blitz of post-stocking anglers move shallow again with cooling water temperatures. Being there to intercept them in this seasonal shift can result in fast fishing for some seriously sizeable specimens. What follows are some quick tips to take advantage of and get geared up for these unique opportunities found around the state.
1. In Stock. Now, while waters are still warm, is the ideal time to scout out a possibly productive fall trout lake. Visit the North Dakota Game & Fish Department’s fish stocking page (https://gf.nd.gov/fishing/stocking) to see where rainbow and brown trout have been stocked and identify those lakes that are nearby. Next, check out the depth contour maps of those lakes that were stocked with catchable-sized trout this spring and identify those that have deep spots of 40 feet or more on the NDG&F lake map page (https://gfapps.nd.gov/reports/fisheries/WebpageFishingWatersCountyName.pdf).
Typically, the more bottom area in that 40-foot-and-deeper range, the better likelihood that trout survived the summer, tucked out in the middle of the lake or in cold waters adjacent to the dams that form some of the state’s trout reservoirs. From there, simply pick a day between mid-September and ice up and give it a shot. Those 10-to-12-inch trout from spring may be as big as 16 inches now, and the possibility of holdovers from last season is also likely, meaning fish of 20 inches or better can’t be ruled out.
2. Look Shallow. The nice part about fall is that trout can be as shallow as just a foot of water, so both shore and boat fishing are good options. Focus on that area of water between shore and depths of ten feet and out along any developed weedlines that are starting to fade back with the seasonal transition. Trout will be readily feeding in anticipation of the colder days ahead and will take to bright, flashy lures and flies this time of year. Work them in fan cast-fashion in these shallows to trigger a bite. While structure doesn’t necessarily mean strikes with roaming fall trout, targeting areas around shifts in the bottom, shallow rockpiles and other odd places can provide clues as to what fish are relating to in this time of transition. Casts can be worked quickly to locate trout, so no area should go unexplored – but do it fast! The days are getting shorter, after all!
3. Simplify. A simple tacklebox gets things done for fall trout, and lure selection for a day should fit in the pocket of a fishing vest or cargo pants. Start with jigs and twisters as they are easy and effective lures for searching out fall trout in the shallows and through the water column. A handful of eighth-ounce ballhead jigs in bright colors like orange, pink and chartreuse and curly tailed grubs in whites, yellows, browns and pinks tend to elicit strikes when jigged quickly through open water. Add a few in-line spinners like the Mepps Aglia or Worden’s Roostertail, and some three-inch Daredevle, Kastmaster or Swedish Pimple spoons in bright colors, silvers and bronzes will fill a tacklebox nicely.
For fly anglers, keeping it simple also breeds success. As these bigger fish are becoming hungry with the seasonal shift, match their appetite with a selection of favorite streamers in both natural and bright colors. Woolly buggers are a solid staple in black, olive and brown, but don’t forget those brighter ones in pink, purple and orange with flashy beadheads and tinsel to catch the attention of active trout. Bead-head leeches, larger nymphs and small minnow imitators are also worth adding to the fall stillwater fly box.
On standard tackle, angle for trout on 10-to-14-pound superline with a fluorocarbon leader to adjust to the clearing waters of autumn or use 6-pound test monofilament on a light rod and reel for an extra challenge. A five-weight fly rod rigged with a reel loaded with floating line or gradually-sinking Type-III line and a tapered leader down to a 5x tippet will suffice for those looking for late-season action on the long rod.
By putting in some preparation now and getting a spread of jigs, spoons and streamers ready to hit those shallows that trout will rush in just a few short weeks, the discovery of a virtually untapped autumn angling experience will be one to remember.