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5 Autumn Destinations for Monster Brown Trout

Reel in a big one this fall. 

By Trent Jonas

5 Autumn Destinations for Monster Brown Trout
Photograph Courtesy of guide Steve Dally of Dally's Ozark Fly Fisher
Rebecca Pedigo with a brown trout on the White River in Cotter.

If you're on the search for trophy brown trout, fall is the optimal time to get on the water. You can chase browns in any season, but if you're hunting for the big ones, it's best to try during fall when brown trout are on their spawning runs. Once brown trout have survived a couple of spawning seasons, they’re usually at the top of the food chain in their home waters. In the pre-spawn, browns become ultra-predacious—attacking fish half their size as they full their metabolisms—and territorial, eating the eggs of competitors. Here are a few of the top autumn destinations for brown trout. 

White River, AR

Some of the biggest brown trout ever caught (35 pounds and up) were pulled from the White River in the Ozarks region of Arkansas. Specifically, it’s the tailwaters below Bull Shoals Dam where the big trout grow. This is because the White River isn’t naturally cool enough to support a breeding population of browns, but the rushing water below the dam creates a perfect combination of water that is both cool enough for trout to thrive and warm enough not to freeze. This means that feeding conditions are ideal or near-ideal throughout the year, while the strong currents help to build up muscle in the fish, making them larger. 

A number of patterns work for catching White River brown trout. Stop into Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher for advice and gear. If you’re looking for deep local knowledge and a guided experience, get in touch with Brian Wise of Fly Fishing the Ozarks, who is sure to put you on some big Ozark brown trout.

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Lake Michigan, WI

In Wisconsin, late fall is the best time to chase big browns in Lake Michigan. During the pre- and post-spawn, browns are running and congregating close to shore, often in easy-to-access places, like marinas in downtown Milwaukee. The brown trout typically start their run in September, and fishing peaks in late November and early December. You can even keep chasing them under the ice when parts of the lake freeze over.

Eric Haataja of Big Fish Guide Service, a guide and world record holder for brown trout, can help to put you on trophy fish in the fall. The Harborview, in Port Washington, is a good lakefront lodging option that is also close to some excellent fishing spots for autumn browns.

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Missouri River, Craig, MT

Every year, the unincorporated, Missouri River town of Craig, Montana becomes a Mecca for brown trout anglers. At least one publication has surmised that the village is home to more drift boats than people. The stretch of the Missouri on which Craig sits has long been a coveted trout fishery, and in spite of its popularity with anglers from around the world, its population of trophy browns (25-inchers are not uncommon) seems undiminished. The autumn run, when the browns are hungrier and more aggressive, is the perfect time to haul a monster out of the Missouri.

Stay at the Brown Drake Lodge, which is located a half-mile or so downriver from Craig and sited on some of the best fly fishing waters on the Missouri. Hook up with Madden Fly Fishing for an in-depth fly fishing experience on the Missouri.

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Lake Ontario, NY

In New York, western Lake Ontario is a renowned fall fishery for big, lake-run brown trout. The areas around Point Breeze, Oak Orchard Creek, and Johnson Creek reliably produce browns that average six pounds or greater. Another spot to consider is Fair Haven Beach State Park, on the lake’s eastern end, where you can shore fish Braddocks Bay or head out onto the water and troll, which is one of the more popular methods for fall browns on Lake Ontario.

Zero Limit Adventure can put you on western New York’s trophy trout in autumn. Make Captain’s Cove Marina and Motel, on the Oak Orchard River at Point Breeze, your base camp.

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The “Miracle Mile,” North Platte River, WY

On the “Miracle Mile"—a five or so mile section of the North Platte River above Casper, Wyoming, between the Kortes Dam and Pathfinder Reservoir—brown trout start to show up big, mean, and hungry in late October. As the season wears on, the high density of browns on the Mile peaks in December, creating incredible late fall opportunities for a trophy on the North Platte. Upriver of the Mile, you’ll also find a good population of big browns, who have moved upstream in October and November near Grey Reef.

Wyoming Anglers will take you out and put you on trophy trout, and they’ll also put you up for the night at their fly fishing lodge or Grey Reef Cabins. 

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As local communities continue to update Covid-19 regulations, local destinations for outdoor recreation may be closed. Please visit official websites for the latest information.