Autumn brings the last, best fishing of the year

Labor Day is always a bittersweet holiday for me.

On the good side, we’re about to dive into the best fishing time of the year.

Fish – biting fish with the strength of summer in their shining flanks – are everywhere. There isn’t enough time in September and October – even if you fished all day, every day – to hit all the hot spots.

But all that will grind to a halt in about two months, as fall sloshes toward winter, the days get shorter and colder, fishing seasons end – and the fish themselves slide into lethargy.

In the case of returning salmon, the fish end their elegant life cycle with death, and carcasses fill the streams lucky enough to still get good runs of fish.

So, I’m full of anticipation – and dread.

Right now, pink salmon are still charging into Puget Sound and migrating toward – and up – rivers. The pink run at Dash Point and Browns Point is slowing, but I still found plenty of biting fish during an evening session last Thursday.

I like pinks in saltwater better than pinks in freshwater. Saltwater pinks are bright, hit like sledgehammers and peel line off my fly reel.

Freshwater pinks are still good biters, but they turn color and change body shape very fast, and I can’t help thinking I should leave them alone, so they can spawn and die during the next few weeks.

I plan to fish saltwater pinks until they just aren’t around anymore – but the saltwater coho should still be there. I’ve lucked into a couple of bigger coho while casting a fly for pinks this summer, and these fish are so strong – it feels as though electric shocks are pulsing up the fly line.

This is also the time when sea-run cutthroat trout cram into our South Puget Sound estuaries – and start really walloping flies or lures cast into current rips.

Sea-run cutts are around all the time in our inlets, but I think they tend to stay a little deeper and get a little more shy during the bright sun and warmth of summer. Cutts show up in the shallower water when the nights grow cooler and more clouds arrive.

That said, a warm October afternoon with a good, moving tide just might be the best time to cast a fly – such as an old-school Knudsen Spider, which is my friend Greg Cloud’s favorite fly.

One of my best days fishing last fall was with Cloud. We set out to find chum salmon staging in a South Sound inlet, but we couldn’t find many fish.

But the rips and dropoffs along the beaches were teeming with bright, ravenous sea-run cutts. We caught and released sea-run cutts for a couple of hours – until a big school of chum pushed into the area.

Then it was Chum-O-Rama throughout that warm October afternoon.

Bass in all of our ponds and lakes don’t get a lot of attention during the fall – it seems as though everyone is fishing salmon and trout – but some fat fish are silly for poppers chugged across the surface at dawn and dusk – and all day on rainy days.

Anglers using spin and casting rods can get great bites with Zara Spooks, Hula Poppers and Jitterbugs. All of these lures have been around for almost a century or more, and they’re still-vital links to our parents and grandparents.

Fly anglers can cast fly-rod poppers, and there is nothing like seeing a hungry bass assault something that looks like a creature from Mars.

I also love to fish the rivers of the eastern Cascades, such as the Yakima. Wild rainbow and cutthroat trout tip and sip tiny blue-wing olive flies throughout cloudy October afternoon. A day on the Yakima slips away to the rhythm of a cast fly line, bugs popping to the surface of the water and the gentle rings of rising fish.

I try to stretch out my summer as long as possible, and a warm, early-fall afternoon feels like the best time of summer.

Being on the water on those golden afternoons are among the sweetest moments of the year. The sun feels warm on my back, the landscape is a mixture of the hard greens of summer and the warm, faded oranges, tans and browns of fall.

Labor Day brings the best of the year to us. The fruits of the angling year are everywhere, and it’s time to enjoy them before winter shades the water.

Chester Allen: 360-754-4226