In last week’s post, I expressed my appreciation for one of the Northeast’s most disliked fish species, the fallfish. Often regarded as an unworthy bycatch when fishing for trout, fallfish get little love. Thanks to their poor reputation, people have been lead to believe that they are hideous creatures that litter the depths of our pristine salmonid waters. Despite its ugly sucker-like mouth and occasionally porous nose, I think fallfish are beautiful, and I believe you should too.
Native to the Northeastern coast inland to the Appalachians, fallfish are one of New England’s gems. Similar to trout in their habits, these fish inhabit the medium-to-large sized streams and shallow stillwaters, although they prefer warmer water temperatures than their salmonid counterparts. Also like trout, fallfish live in some of the most gorgeous waters in the country. The places this species can be found will make your jaw drop. The optimal temperature for these fish is 68 degrees fahrenheit-right around where things start to get dicey for brook trout, another native species of the East. I have found fallfish to be structure-oriented occasionally; however, they don’t rely on cover nearly as much as most other species. In fact, you can often find these fish in shallow, wide open water, which makes them prime targets for sight fishing.
Although many people consider these fish to be quite grotesque, I wholeheartedly disagree. The coloration of their scales is very unique; purple, blue, and golden hues accent their otherwise silver bodies beautifully, especially for spawning females. Spawning males display rosey-red faces and orange fins, similar to the fire-orange bellies of spawning brook trout. And the sizes these fish can attain is enough to make any angler giddy; males commonly reach 12-15 inches in my area.
One of my favorite parts about this species is their ferocity. Before the introduction of bass, pike, and muskies in many areas, fallfish were the apex predator. They are known to eat algae, plankton, and insects when young, but as they grow, they begin to develop an appetite for minnows, crayfish, frogs, they’re own fry, and yes, as I discovered a couple weeks ago, even small rodents. In fact, I would now say that mousing for these fish is by far my favorite way to target them. The vicious surface strikes get my blood pumping much more than typical dry fly rises. In the past, I’ve also caught fallfish on texas rigs, jerkbaits, ned rigs, streamers, and, deadliest of all, an inline spinner.
Once you’ve got a hit, it’s time to fight these beasts. And, contrary to popular belief, the fight is much more two-sided than an easy victory for the larger creature. In my experience, these fish bulldog for the bottom, often putting a hefty bend in fairly heavy rods. Truly, their fight is unlike any other fish I’ve caught before. Most species employ a combination of side-to-side motion and sporadic leaps when attempting shake the hook, but fallfish simply dig for the bottom, and often successfully as they go on drag-screaming runs. It can even be tough to control them in some cases as they head for swift current in moving water.
So, maybe next time you’re on a trout stream and find yourself hooking into some of these magnificent creatures, give your hatred a second thought. Besides, if these fish fight harder, are more willing to bite, and are equally as beautiful as the species you’re chasing, maybe they aren’t so bad after all.