October Fishing on the Smith River

October weather, streamflows, and summary

The ability to enjoy a fly fishing trip on the Smith River in October is entirely dependent on weather. If the second week of September is the ideal time for a fall trip on the Smith River, then the first weeks of October warrant discussion as a very close second. With hatches of Blue Winged Olives, the potential for some very large pre-spawn brown trout, and a backcountry canyon float mostly to yourself, an October fishing trip on the Smith River can check many boxes. 

Early October is often a dry time of year, but cold fronts can bring rain or even snow. With average daily high temperatures in the mid to high 50 degrees F, for a Smith River fishing trip in October, it pays to watch the weather carefully and make sure to bring cold-weather gear based on the forecast. 

There is slightly less rain in October than September with an average of 1.3”inches and the possibility of snow increases with an average of 0.4” inches. Quality fishing opportunities can occur in these variable weather conditions, and often the lousiest weather produces the best October fly fishing on the Smith River. With an average of four days of measurable precipitation, anglers experience cold but not always wet weather. 

Early October can be a great time to enjoy some high-quality dry-fly fishing if you are lucky enough to catch the river at the right fall flows—anything above 150 cubic feet per second (cfs). If flows drop below 150 cfs, floating becomes difficult because as much time is spent dragging boats across shallow flats or boulders as it is spent fishing. 

Unlike the long and sunny days of June, October’s days are short and nights are long and cold. If planning a float  fishing trip on the Smith River in October, anglers should plan for no less than four nights on the river—covering the near-60 mile floating and camping trip in less than four nights at low streamflows makes for an impatient trip. In October there’s limited hours of daylight so proper planning is crucial to ensure camp is set-up and struck at appropriate times. 

October fishing: what to expect

Despite streamflows being low, they are usually consistent and clear. Anglers on the Smith River can expect a river devoid of many other anglers or river users. Gone are the warm and sunny days of June but also gone are other anglers and river-users. For anyone committing to the adventure of a Smith River trip in October, the reward for camping in the cold weather is a river and a beautiful canyon mostly devoid of other people. 

For many anglers October and the regular occurrence of fall-like weather means a commitment to fishing streamers for aggressive brown trout. The Smith River is prime for targeting large trout with large flies. Choose large streamers as the adage of “big-fly means big-trout” is very true on the Smith River in fall. For targeting the Smith River’s large brown trout on streamers, choose black or olive streamers or Wooly Buggers in sizes 4 through 8.

In October Blue Winged Olives (BWOs) are the primary hatch on the Smith River. A few October caddis are spotted but they are not consistent and emerge in small numbers, usually one or two at a time compared to the thousands of insects during a BWO hatch. The cool, overcast days so common in October are perfectly suited for a strong emergence of BWOs. For Blue Winged Olive dry flies, choose high-floating patterns in size 16 and for tandem nymph rigs it is a good idea to fish size 14 to 18 beadhead mayfly nymphs. 

The Smith River can experience a sporadic emergence of October caddis, but planning to fish an October caddis hatch is more speculative than expected. Similar to being able to fish terrestrials in October, October caddis will be most active when air temperatures are above 60 degrees F. 

Where to find October trout on the Smith River

Trout on the Smith River in October can be easy to find…if stream flows are high enough to float and fish. If flows are above 150 cubic feet per second (cfs) floating and fishing becomes viable. Below 150 cfs a trip on the Smith River is more about survival than enjoyment—more time is spent dragging a boat across shallow riffles and flats than it is spent fishing. 

If a strong hatch of Blue Winged Olive (BWOs) mayflies occurs, look for trout in slower currents and “softer water” such as the inside of river bends, seams behind rocks, and slower runs below riffles. If adult insects are not seen on the water, BWO nymphs are active throughout the river. Fish a tandem nymph rig through the usual holding lies—drop-offs near shelfs, seams along the limestone canyon walls, and around structure.

Brown trout can be found in the usual predator hangouts—deeper water near shallow water, hiding near structure, or along a cut bank. Many brown trout will begin to spawn in October. These spawning fish may be found on their redds on shallow gravel bars. Please avoid targeting spawning trout when they are encountered.

If sunshine is abundant and the air temperature hovers near 60 degrees F or higher, the slight possibility exists for a few trout to still target terrestrials. Trout will expend vital energy and take the risk from deep cover for a morsel as large a grasshopper, ant, or beetle. These large offerings may not pass by again that day. Fishing grasshoppers in October is a rarity but it does happen. 

Important October hatches

Compared to late May and June on the Smith River, hatches in October pale in comparison. But the Smith River is home to healthy populations of stoneflies, mayflies, and caddis and these nymphs are active year-round. In October trout may feed on any of these species, but the main hatch is Blue Winged Olive (BWOs) mayflies. 

On the Smith River, fall season BWOs are slightly smaller than their spring season cousins. Ranging in size from 16 to 22, these insects will emerge by late-morning or early afternoon and provide a few to several hours of dry fly fishing opportunities. Overcast, rainy or snowy days see the strongest emergence and in the Smith River canyon, the light winds can mean the dry fly fishing can be quite reliable. 

October caddis can emerge on the Smith River, but they are very sporadic. These large insects—size 8 to 10—flutter above the surface, occasionally landing on the surface to lay eggs. It is rare to see more than a few insects in a day of angling, but an opportunistic Smith River trout may feed on these large dry flies. 

Smith River fly box for October

BWO dry flies sizes 16 to 22

BWO emergers sizes 16 to 20

BWO nymphs sizes 16 to 20

Stonefly nymphs in brown and black sizes 4 to 10

Caddis nymphs in sizes 12 to 18

October caddis nymphs in sizes 8 and 10

October caddis size 8 and 10

Crayfish patterns sizes 2 to 8

Sculpin patterns sizes 2 to 6

Streamers in olive, black or brown sizes 2 to 6

Grasshoppers sizes 4 to 14