THERE IS a personal paradox that occurs each fall when the weather gets cool, the days get shorter, and the fishing gets better. It would be easy to say that it is my favorite time of year if it weren’t such a clear signal that winter is on its way. As such, I have a hard time embracing it.
Many circumstances combine to make September and October such a great time for catching fish. The water cools off, trout begin to change color, and large fish migrate into new locations where they come into closer contact with my flies.
In addition, there are no black flies or mosquitoes, the air is often cool and crisp, and the landscape that surrounds me has become a beautiful array of color.
There exists a fish that would seem to embody this time of year in both name and behavior. It is a species that is commonly caught but rarely identified and is honestly named the Fallfish. I’m not kidding. Scientifically known as Semotilus corporalis, this large member of the minnow family is found all over New Hampshire and shares habitat preferences of many other gamefish. It is this trait that bring them in constant contact with fly fishermen and, often into the net of a confused angler.
Part of the problem is that the Fallfish is very general in appearance as its silver body rarely has any other color. At times, they will have a deep, reddish hue on their head but most often look like a typical, slightly-boring fish. Adding to a reputation that lacks utility, I don’t know anyone who has ever eaten one … and I hang out with some real savages.
Over the years, I have heard of them referred to as chubs, dace and once by my closest friend as a “roach.”
An interesting fact about the Fallfish is that, during their spawning season, the males will pick up stones in their mouths and place them in a pile creating a large mountain-shaped nest in the middle of rivers and streams. I see them everywhere and it is because of this behavior that they are sometimes referred to as a “stone-roller.”
These structures are so significant that they stand the test of time and, during the low water conditions of August, actually stick right out of the water as if to symbolize the virility of these plentiful fish.
Although rarely targeted, they are frequently caught and these generic fish can be hooked using any method currently employed by New Hampshire anglers. They hit dry flies with the same enthusiasm as a trout and swim aggressively. They reach an admirable size and it is not uncommon to land one over a foot long. They seem to enjoy one another’s company and school up, during which time I often catch several in succession.
The challenge to enjoying Fallfish is that, because they were never the intended target, a feeling of disappointment can arise when landing one. I try to stifle this feeling by recognizing that they are an important puzzle piece in the greater overall picture. Still, when I think I have a nice trout at the end of my line and it turns out to be a stoneroller, I can’t help but smirk and begrudgingly unhook the fish.
The icing on the cake is the noise that they sometimes make while being squeezed. It sounds like a small burp or other intestinal escape, making the beauty of the experience even more elusive.
In my adventures, I have caught hundreds of Fallfish and will most likely catch hundreds more. Perhaps I will try to better embrace the name and spirit of them as this summer turns to fall.