Top Trout Flies for Fall Fly Fishing: Selection and Techniques

Before the winter months, the trout move into deeper pools and start feeding hard to put on some pounds before the cold water temperatures of winter ensue meaning more trout and big trout are on the menu.

Fall fishing is a blast and if there is one time of year I urge fly anglers to be on the water it’s during the fall season.

Another great thing about fall fly fishing is that the trout’s diet consists of everything from hatches of dry flies to nymphs and streamers, so can catch good fish using your favorite techniques. But, to be successful on fall fishing trips you’ll need the best trout flies for fall fly fishing in your fly box, and here they are.

Best Fall Trout Fishing Flies

Zebra Midge

zebra midge

The zebra midge pattern is one of the best flies to have in your fall fly box and it should stay there over winter too and this is because it imitates a midge pupa.

Most trout use midge pupae to make up almost 50% of their diet when the cold spells arrive as midges hatch all year round in most rivers, and the zebra midge looks just like them.

Experienced fly fishers will fish this fly as a nymph on a double rig through late fall and into winter and once you start doing so too, you’ll catch more fish almost instantly.

Be sure to grab a few of these flies in sizes 18-22. Red and darker colors work best and be sure to get some different heads too with brass beads and tungsten heads for extra weight. You can also see our recommendations for the best flies for winter trout fishing.

Hare’s Ear

hare's ear

Hare’s Ear nymphs are classic fly fishing flies and they generally work in spring, summer, and fall. The reason these flies work so well in the fall months is that they imitate almost everything that hatches during the fall season including isonychia mayflies, October caddis, black stone fly and stonefly larvae too.

You’ll want a great assortment of these flies in different sizes and weights. I’d pack your box with sizes 12 through to 20 and with different heads from none to tungsten. For fishing in the fall, stick to the smaller patterns of sizes 16-20.

You should fish the weighted versions of this fly as nymphs and try fishing the unweighted versions under a dry fly as they imitate emerging insects too.

Pheasant Tail Nymphs

Pheasant Tail Nymphs

The pheasant tail nymph is awesome for the same reason as Hare’s ears, they seem to imitate anything that’s hatching and in all weather conditions, which is ideal for fly fishing in the fall months.

Fly fishers should fish these flies on all trout streams and any river during the fall in the smallest sizes possible 16-22. This allows the fly to be mistaken by trout for everything from a caddis to a mayfly and a midge.

Make sure to keep the color natural and brown and be sure to get some heavily weighted versions of these patterns as the trout, especially the big fish, will be holding deep.

Sow Bug

Sow Bug

This is one of the specific patterns a lot of anglers seem to forget about even though it has year-round importance and is the top trout fly on some days on the river.

Sowbugs are always present in the river but trout don’t tend to rely on them in summer, they gorge on larger insects then and save the sow bug for fall through to early spring. If you have tried all your favorite flies and the trout are just saying no, tie on one of these flies and you might see your catch rate go up twofold or more.

The patterns that best represent these bugs are a Ray Charles and a Hot Head Sowbugs. Be sure to get them in every size from 12-18 and in a lot of different colors including greys, pinks, oranges, olives, blues, and whites.

You fish these just like you would. nymph, so it’s also worth getting them in various different weights too for the fall.

Egg Pattern

egg pattern

During the fall is when all trout from rainbow to brown trout and even brook trout spawn, fall is spawning season in fact. Spawning trout lay fish eggs in the bottom of the river and any loose eggs that get washed downstream are not wasted, the rainbow and brown trout gobble them up.

Thus some of the best flies for trout fishing during the fall are egg patterns and the subdue big trout as well as small, as they are such an easy meal and that no fish will let go by when putting on weight for winter.

You should get a few egg patterns in sizes 12 -16 and in a few colors including orange, red, pink, and chartreuse. These are best fished as the point fly on a double nymph rig as the heavier nymph will help the egg sink and it acts as an attractor fly for your more natural-looking nymph too.

I would suggest fishing an egg, to begin with, and if you don’t hook any trout after a few hours, take it off. When trout feed on egg flies, they feed properly and you will know about it.

San Juan or Squirmy Worms

San Juan or Squirmy Worms

The san juan worm fly or Squirmy Worm fly fishing flies can be used for trout fishing all year round and they should be in your fly box all the time. These flies mimic aquatic worms which are an easy meal for trout and they love them in the fall as they are high in protein and help them put on lots of weight for the winter.

You’ll want your San Juan or Squirmy Worms in sizes 8-16, in a few colors including red, pink, and purple, and in a few weights so you can fish them deep in the fall.

The best time for fishing this fly is when the water has risen or is off-color as this is usually when a lot of worms will be washed into the system. Here are tome tips on how to tie a san juan worm.

Woolly Bugger

Woolly Bugger

Wooly Bugger, one of my favorite things about trout fishing in the fall is that the trout get super aggressive and start eating fry to put on the extra weight they need for wintertime and this calls for streamers.

If you’re going after the biggest trout in the river then using a huge streamer is a good way of doing it but you’ll catch more fish and big fish too with small to medium-sized patterns between sizes 2 and 14.

Make sure to load your box with different colored woolly buggers too including black, olive, white, red, and even yellow.

Trout can often mistake a woolly bugger as a large stonefly nymph too so don’t be shy about fishing your buggers with a nymph on a dead drift as it will either look like a nymph or an injured baitfish.

Muddler Minnow

Muddler Minnow

The muddler minnow is another streamer fly you should have with you when fly fishing in the fall. The reason this fly is so effective is thanks to its clipped deer hair head which gives it buoyancy. This allows you to fish this fly across the surface as it ripples and attracts the already aggressive trout.

You can also these flies deep while the floaty head keeps it off the bottom and creates an action the aggressive fall trout can’t help but come take a look at.

Grab some of these flies in sizes 2-8 and in a few different colors which usually means tan and orange or tan and yellow. Here is our step by step guide on how to tie a muddler minnow.

Elk Hair Caddis

elk hair caddis

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, fall also brings around some dry fly fishing opportunities as caddis and small olive mayflies (blue-winged olives) begin to hatch.

When you see rising trout in the fall it’s time to whip out an imitation and a great bet is the elk hair caddis pattern.

During the day the trout will most likely be feeding on emerging caddis below the surface and this is when swinging a wet fly version of this fly will have you hooked up. But in the evening, the caddis flies return to the water to lay eggs and this is when the trout go wild.

Make sure you have this fly in sizes 14-20 and fish them on a dead slow natural drift with zero drag from your fly line and wait for the trout to sip it off the surface, they will!

Parachute Blue-Winged Olive (BWO)

Parachute Blue-Winged Olive

Another fantastic dry fly to have in your fall arsenal is a Parachute Blue-Winged Olive. This fly works extremely well when the fish are eating tiny flies that you can barely see such as midges or tiny mayflies.

During a fall evening, you might see trout rising everywhere but you won’t be able to see what they are eating and this means they are eating something very small and it’s time to whip out your Parachute Blue-Winged Olives in sizes 16-22.

The fly will sit on the surface and while it has a parachute for visibility, it’s still going to be hard to see. I’d recommend fishing it below a large dry fly like a hopper or a big elk hair caddis so that you can see where your tiny blue-winged olive is and set the hook when a trout rises near it, chances are it’s eaten your fly.

Smokejumper Midge

Smokejumper Midge

Another great fall fly that imitates both midges and a blue wing olive pattern is the Smokejumper Midge. The Smokejumper Midge is so effective because it sits just below the surface while its CDC head holds the surface film making it look just like a midge or blue winged olive fly that is opening its wing case and trying to take flight.

The trout can not help but get into this kind of insect action and you should fish this fly during the fall when fish are sipping at things you just can’t see on the surface.

Be sure to have this fly in an olive color to match the midges and mayflies of fall and in sizes 16-22. Again, fish it behind a larger fly so you can see where it is and when a fish rises near to it.

Goddard Caddis

Goddard Caddis

The Goddard Caddis is an awesome searching dry fly in fall and it works great at imitating the last caddis hatch of the season which happens in October.

You should fish these flies as a searching pattern close to the bank or in fast water. Even if you’re not seeing much surface action from the fish, they are still looking up hoping for the odd bit of protein to come their way.

You will need to have the Goddard Caddis in a large range of sizes from 10 to 18. When imitating the caddis hatch, a size 14 is your best bet but size 10-14 can work well. When you’re using it as a searching pattern, smaller sizes work best, and that is when sizes 16-18 come into play.


How to choose the best trout flies for fall?

1. Research the local trout population. Look into the types of trout that are native to the area and the type of food they typically feed on. This will help you determine the best flies to use.

2. Consider the water temperature. As the water temperature drops in the fall, trout become less active and feed less, so you should use heavier, larger flies that are more visible.

3. Take note of the water clarity. If the water is murky, opt for brighter colors and more visible patterns. If it is clear, choose darker colors and more subtle patterns.

4. Consider the type of water. If you’re fishing in a fast-moving stream, use smaller, lighter flies. If you’re fishing in a lake, use larger, heavier flies.

5. Choose the right type of fly. Streamers are typically best for fall fishing, as they imitate the natural baitfish and aquatic insects that trout feed on. Nymphs and dry flies can also be effective, depending on the situation.

6. Experiment with different patterns. Different trout may respond differently to different patterns, so try different ones to see which ones work best.

Do dry flies work in the fall?

Yes, dry flies can be effective in the fall. However, they may be less effective than streamers or nymphs, as the trout may not be as active and feeding as they are in warmer months.

Is fly fishing good in the fall?

Yes, fly fishing can be very productive in the fall. The cooler water temperatures can actually make the trout more active, and the changing insects and baitfish are a great opportunity to catch some larger and more active fish.

What colors do trout like in the fall?

In the fall, trout tend to like brighter colors, such as chartreuse, orange, and yellow. These colors are easier for them to see in murky water. Darker colors, such as black, brown, and olive, can also be effective in clear water.

What do trout eat in the fall?

What do trout eat in the fall

Some of these are cheap flies, but as you can see from our selection, trout eat anything they can get their hands on in the fall. The fish are not fussy while they try and pack on those pounds to try and survive the wintertime. But, we are still talking about trout here so they won’t eat anything and are still a little selective based on what is in the river system.

Their diet will consist of nymphs such as midges, mayflies, stoneflies, and snobugs, eggs, hatching insects, worms, and small baitfish.

This is what makes fall fishing so awesome, the range of food the fish are willing to eat and how aggressive and willing they are to eat too!

This allows you to fish with nymph rigs, swing wet flies, use double dries and swing heft streamers for those larger fish you spotted in the summertime and are not looking to fool when they turn on their feed bag.

Photo of author

Jamie Melvin

Growing up fly fishing on trout streams in Kenya and the UK, Jamie has traveled the world in search of fly fishing nirvana. From his time managing bonefish lodges in the Bahamas and running fishing safaris in East Africa, all the way to guiding on the flats of Seychelles, there aren't many species or environments he hasn't experienced firsthand.

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