The Many Varieties of Autumn Massachusetts Trout

Ah, autumn; an anglers last chance to target their favorite aquatic creatures before they abscond to their cold weather haunts. For many fly anglers, this means a last hurrah before floating lines and dry flies are left to sit in dusty garages in favor of tiny chironomids and tip ups. Thankfully, nature doesn’t disappoint this season, as many trout fishing opportunities abound across the state and beyond.

Although nearby states have already or are soon closing their trout fishing seasons, we here in Massachusetts are lucky enough to be able to target them year-round. To support the never-ending season, the Mass Division of Fisheries and Wildlife stocks over 65,000 trout in cold water fisheries during the month of October. The hope is that these fish not only provide ample angling enjoyment for countless anglers during the fall, but also during the colder months, and possibly even into early spring when the next round of stocking supplements the depleting populations.

Unlike the spring, only two species of trout are stocked during the fall: rainbows and browns. Both species attain impressive sizes and sport stunning colors this time of year, which makes them a worthy quarry for even the most experienced angler.

I was lucky enough to tango with both types of trout the other day on a relatively nearby stocked river, the Squannacook. Along to join me was my friend Ben, who has been mentioned many times in previous blog posts. Our main goal was to simply catch some of the fish that had recently been dumped in the stream, but we really wanted Ben to land one on fly gear. Last year, Ben caught his first ever trout on a fly rod, so we figured it would be interesting to see how much he improved.

We began at a fishy-looking series of small riffles and pocket water near the entrance. I opted to euro nymph first, while Ben tried his luck with a wooly bugger I had tied earlier. While I fumbled around, occasionally dropping my team of flies into likely looking pockets (but mostly just fouling them around my rod and nearby branches), Ben had a number of follows and a promising hit. This gave us a quick confidence boost, but we decided it wasn’t enough to stay put at that spot. When the anglers upstream of us vacated the relatively large pool they had been fishing, we made a beeline for the spot, hoping to hook into some of the fish they had left behind.

When we arrived at the pool, Ben settled into the slightly calmer tail of the pool, and I began to fish the riffled head. Before I plunged my nymphs in the water, I watched as Ben unfurled a tailing-loop-free cast and allowed his bugger to plop gently near the opposite bank. The fly swung tantalizingly through the current, and as it reached the end of the drift, he began to strip in quickly. Suddenly, a quick shout and a bent rod tip told me that he had a fish on! Having the net on my pack, I hurried downstream to assist in the landing of the rainbow.

When the fish finally did slide into the basket of the rubber net, we were overjoyed; Ben’s technique had improved exponentially over the past year, and it allowed him to catch a fish well before I even received a bite.

Ben’s fly fishing skills improved dramatically, which helped him catch this stocked rainbow trout.

Once the fish was released, I decided it was time for me to get in on some of the action. I switched over to an identical wooly bugger, and quickly caught a nice brown out of some small pocket water.

The next few minutes were fairly uneventful, so we decided to head upstream to a piece of water I had never fished before. Along the way, we met a trio of fly fishermen who explained that the fish were stacked in one of the pools we were heading to, and that they had managed to catch double digits already that evening. This certainly put a little pep in Ben’s and my step!

The pools were slow, somewhat weedy, and littered with woody debris – more like bass water than somewhere a trout would hide – but we took their advice. Before long, I was tied into a small ‘bow that took the same wooly bugger as before.

Though we saw a number of other fish rising, we weren’t able to put any more in the net that day. And that was fine with me; I’d had my stockie fix for the weekend. Now I was ready for something a little more adventurous and a little more wild.

A recent blog post from the Native Fish Coalition ridiculed the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for their focus on stocking nonnative trout and not protecting the native populations within the state. It may surprise some, but here in Massachusetts we too have numerous wild salmonid fisheries across the state. Luckily, Mass DF&W does a pretty good job of not stocking over these fish, leaving us with hundreds of unscathed wild fish populations that anglers rarely take advantage of.

This post on Fishbrain perfectly sums up my feelings about wild trout in Massachusetts. Photo credit: Kevin Mitchell, Fishbrain.

I decided to visit a small stream I discovered earlier this fall. On my first outing to this creek, I not only discovered the wild, native brook trout that inhabited the water, but also some wild but nonnative brown trout. Unfortunately, even though some of these streams are no longer actively stocked with nonnative trout species, a few of these species have taken hold from past stockings because conditions were suitable for their spawning. Since they’re here now, we may as well enjoy fishing for them instead of simply whining about the possible detrimental effects they’ll have on the brook trout populations.

I started off the day with a purple haze (yes, brook trout will still eat dries during the fall), and quickly hooked but lost a couple tiny two-inch fish. Not the target, but promising. I continued working my way upstream, fishing the plunge pools and pocket water with the purple haze, then a partridge & orange, and finally a big, bushy stimulator. When I made it to the bridge that had been the end of my fishing during my first trip, I carried on pushing against the current.

It was obvious that the other side of the bridge was fished and traveled far less than the more easily accessible side. Within my first few casts in a deep pool adjacent to the bridge, I fooled a nice eight-inch brookie, which, after a spirited fight, eventually wriggled off the barbless hook as I reached for my net. Another good sign!

The next small pool also looked promising. I cast my now damp stimi under an overhanging branch, and WAM! A small trout hammered the fly, giving me a good show as it flicked its square tail to return below the surface. The fish cooperated for a quick picture, then happily swam free as I dipped my net into the current.

Within a few more minutes, I landed another brook trout sporting the bright-orange belly of spawning season. The beauty of its immaculate, white-rimmed fins left me wondering why more people don’t target these fish in a state with so many anglers.

A Massachusetts small-stream brook trout in spawning colors.

If anyone out there wants a break from the stocked trout, or perhaps just wants to learn how to catch a new, native species, reach out through the contact page or send me a DM on Instagram (@spencer_b_fishing). I’m offering a collection of 12 flies for $22 that have proven themselves with the wild trout of New England and are perfect for anyone looking start spending some more time fishing the small-stream gems this beautiful region has to offer (more info on the flies here). There are six pairs of flies, including the black-nosed dace, chubby chernobyl, bead head hare’s ear, flashback pheasant tail, elk hair caddis, and purple haze. I’m also more than willing to share some pointers on when, where, and how to fish these flies (without specifically naming any spots, of course).

Reach out to order your collection of wild trout flies!

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