Summer’s demise signals the approach of some of the year’s best trout and salmon fishing, when browns, ‘bows, brookies, lakers and kokanee head shallow and strap on the feedbag.
Depending on your latitude and altitude, the action could be mere weeks away. Which means it’s high time to gear up for the fall reap.
To speed your prepping endeavors, veteran salmonid stalker and ace guide Bernie Keefe offers his hit list of must-have tackle, organized by species, for epic fall battles.
Late-summer salmon frequent deep water, where they’re suckers for a well-placed Reelbait Plane Jane spoon (tipped with white shoepeg corn or waxworms, where legal). “As September progresses, salmon start cruising shorelines and inlets,” Keefe says. “Early morning is best.”
Light spoons, like an 1/8-ounce Clam Leech Flutter Spoon, are hot in the shallows. So are panfish-sized tube jigs such as Berkley’s PowerBait Atomic Teasers, suspended under small slip bobbers.
“A long-casting, 7½-foot, medium- to medium-light spinning outfit spooled with 6-pound monofilament is a proven salmon slayer,” Keefe says, noting the same setup also works for a number of other fall trout scenarios.
Keefe also recommends keeping a fistful of Plane Janes handy, since fall salmon often drift into deeper water later in the day.
Brown trout are aggressive and vulnerable in windy, nasty weather and at night. Under such conditions, Keefe favors bite-sized stickbaits like a Berkley Cutter 90 or 110. He recommends stocking up with catchy color combos like silver-and-black or gold-and-black.
“To make these patterns more appealing, I use a Sharpie to add red and black dots on the gold-and-black baits, to make them look like little brown trout, and add a red stripe down the side of the silver-and-black baits, so they look like rainbows,” he confides. “Stock options are great, but marked lures always seem to work a little better.”
If you plan on chasing browns or rainbows during the day, Keefe advises beefing up your bottom-dragging arsenal with a healthy selection of 2½- to 4-inch Berkley Havoc tubes in crawdad-imitating shades of olive and brown. Six-pound mono is fine for fishing tubes on clean bottoms, but Keefe upsizes to 8 in snaggier environments.
“Also stock up on 1/8- to ¼-ounce spoons in metallic finishes,” he adds. “Because rainbows are like guys, they can’t resist shiny things.”
When lakers gravitate toward their spawning beds, Keefe relies on the same Havoc tubes and ReelBait Plane Janes previously mentioned. But he also adds ½- to 1-ounce Fergie Spoons (in white, chartreuse-and-white and koi patterns) plus 2- to 3-inch Power Grubs to the mix. “Add an assortment of ¼- to ¾-ounce Eagle Claw leadheads to your jig box and you’re set,” he says.
When fishing lake trout, Keefe recommends a 5-foot, 9-inch, medium-action Fenwick Elite Tech Walleye Rod, spooled with 14-pound FireLine tipped with an 8- to 10-pound Trilene Fluorocarbon leader. “A 5-foot leader is perfect,” he says. “The lake trout aren’t too fussy in the fall, they just want to eat.”
Stocking up on this tackle now can prepare you for fast fishing to come. Rest assured, Keefe has plenty of advice on specific locations and tactics, but that’s a story for another day. For now, concentrate on collecting the gear you’ll need to enjoy your best fall yet.