For keen freshwater angler Josiah Atkinson, this time of year means one thing: big trout. Below, he offers a few tips for catching trophy fish in autumn.

It’s getting colder at night, the leaves are turning brown and the light is starting to fade. Autumn. The season of beasts! Autumn is such an awesome time to get down to the river and try your luck at landing some quality fish! This year’s summer fishing has been really hard in my region. Little to no rain has kept rivers low and clear and made the bigger, more desirable fish very lethargic. The cicadas also haven’t been as loud as previous years – it was just a bad summer season in and around my area.

Luckily for us, autumn is here and will hopefully bringing some rain with it! We desperately need the heavens to open up and put fresh rain in our rivers and lakes. This will lead to bigger fish being more active, getting out of those deep dark pools and hopefully feeding on whatever we throw at them. Here’s a bit of information that I’ve collected over the years that has helped me nail a few in this season.

Why is autumn the time to catch beasts?

Simply put, they are out to play!
Brown trout tend to be the largest trout species on average and because they spawn early, have been feeding heavily in late summer/early autumn. Before their spawning periods, trout try to feed on everything they can wrap their mouths around. They store all the food goodness for the swim up into their spawning grounds, which for browns can happen anytime from late February onwards.

How do you catch them?

In my experience, there is nothing better than time on the water.
Putting in the effort to figure out where these fish sit and what they are feeding on is key, and this only comes from actually getting out there and doing it. No matter what your technique, whether that be fly or spin fishing, it’s all about finding what works in your specific region. For my home patch (Rotorua), I’ve found different colour flies work in different rivers, even though these rivers are less than a few kilometres apart. A good tip for fly fishers is to lift a rock and then match the size of your fly to the nymphs you find – this can improve your catch rate drastically. If you’re a spin fisherman, look in the water and wade the shallows. You should see small fish darting around. Just as with flies, matching the size of your lure with the size of these fish can improve your hook-up rate. Using the correct line weight is also pivotal. Try and get away with as heavy line as possible. My go to for autumn is 8lb fluorocarbon, but if the river’s clear you may have to go down to 6lb. I discourage going any lighter when targeting the bigger fish as the chance of them snapping the line and leaving with a new piece of jewellery gets too high. It’s also
best to play the fish for the least amount of time possible so you can guarantee a healthy release (that’s if you’re a catch and release kind of fisherman!).

Reading Your River

At the start of every trout fishing mission, I like to thoroughly prospect the river. I fish every piece of water early on and figure out where fish are sitting in the water. It’s important to do so as you will begin to see a pattern, which allows you to be more nuanced in the areas you are targeting and not waste casts in unlikely places. I like to break down the river into four “parts”: the riffles, the eye, the pool and the tail. I would love to elaborate on each part in depth but that can wait for another article. To keep it short and to the point, bigger fish tend to hang in the eye of the pool as that is where the main food source is concentrated. The eye is where the river first drops off into deeper water, and this can usually be found at the head of pool. The “dominant” fish stake their claim here by chasing away smaller fish trying to get a feed in their spot. When fishing the eye, you need to get your fly down quickly. The flow of the river at this spot is usually quite swift so using a heavier fly with a smaller trailing fly can do some damage!

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t catch one of the big guys in this period as it’s not a given every time you go out. It’s all about timing – right place, right time. I’ve put countless hours in over the last five years and can count on one hand the fish I’ve caught that I’d call “beasts”. However, it just so happens that I’ve caught all of them during the
autumn season. My biggest fish is an 8.5lb brown trout caught in April on the Tongariro River, but I have also caught multiple 6-8lb rainbow and brown trout in the Rotorua streams and the tributaries of the Waikato River from March-May. I’m excited for the autumn season and will of course be targeting the bigger fish that show up in the coming months.

Article by: Josiah Atkinson