December 07, 2018
By Jimmy Jacobs
Back in the 1970s, troubadour Gordon Lightfoot sang of the Witch of November, when he composed the “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” He was alluding to the storms that kick up that month on the Great Lakes to be the ruin of many ships.
In a less deadly way, late fall and early winter weather conditions have marked the demise of more than a few fishing trips as well. Shorter days, blustery north winds and even snow can make taking to the water for some trout fishing iffy or even uncomfortable.
Strong breezes make for difficult casting, as well as depositing a lot of debris in the water column to foul up your best casts. Adding to those miseries, the lack of hatches and feet that go numb as you wade can prompt one to question why we would even want to be on the stream. As with virtually any question, for every list of cons, there also are pros to be considered.
By the time November rolls around, a lot of other anglers have also noted the problems of trout fishing in the fall. In many cases, that leads to them putting away the fishing gear and beginning the process of developing a case of cabin fever, as they dream of next spring’s action.
Meanwhile, the hardier outdoorsmen have exchanged fly rods for shotguns, bows or rifles as the various hunting seasons open. Either way, there are fewer folks on the water, leaving plenty of streams unmolested.
With regard to the rainbow and brown trout in those streams, despite colder water conditions that slow down their metabolism, they still have to eat. And that feeding takes on a bit of urgency, since they face some very lean months ahead in the winter.
When conditions are right the bite can still be quite good. That’s especially true when we get a few days of warmer weather in a row. Still, fall trout fishing has some nuances that call for different tactics from those employed in the spring and summer.
Three words sum up the techniques called for this time of year to get trout to eat. “Slow,” “deep” and “big” describe how, where and what to present to the fish this month. The trout may have to eat now, but they certainly are not going to expend a lot of energy chasing fast-moving flies. They are in conservation mode, storing energy for the winter. Thus, running after fast-moving prey makes no sense.
Whatever you present to them must, of course, look natural, but it should never outrun the current in the stream. If you can get it to hang slowly in eddies beside the current, your offering becomes even more tempting.
The second factor is targeting deep areas within the stream. November begins the time to concentrate on deeper pools and runs. The riffle water that attracted rainbows in the spring is probably devoid of fish now. Hanging at the bottom of a pool presents less current, which translates to the fish using less energy to maintain their positions. The water down there also is likely to be a degree or two warmer than near the surface.
Finally, this is a time of year when finesse can be less important when picking a bait. The fish are looking for a mouthful of calories on which to bulk up. Giving them a morsel that is too tempting to pass up can be the ticket to a hookup. Big streamers and nymphs bumped along the bottom offer just such temptation. Also keep in mind that a lot of debris deposited in the water by the wind is flowing downstream. Having a bigger fly increases the odds of the trout picking it out of that clutter.
You may have to add some weight to your leader to get that fly down to where the rainbows are holding. It may not be classic fly casting, but it can be effective. On bigger streams and rivers, using a sink tip line may even prove practical at this time.
WHAT TO THROW?
As noted, you need to think a bit bigger than usual when picking a fly for fall fishing. One might naturally turn to the bigger prey species for an imitation to match what the trout eat at other times of the year. Crayfish are a staple of the diet of most larger trout, but that is only when they are available. The late fall is not a time that fish are used to seeing those crustaceans active and moving around.
A better option is to offer minnow-mimicking patterns. For this type fishing there is no better pattern than something designed to imitate a sculpin. Virtually all habitats that hold trout, also are home to mottled sculpin. These fish can reach lengths of up to 4 or 5 inches, but commonly are in the 1- to 2-inch range. Additionally, they are ordinarily found stationary and on the bottom, all of which makes them the perfect prey for trout.
There are a couple of readily available fly patterns that are designed to imitate sculpin, both of which have proven effective over the years. The first of these is the Muddler Minnow. Its deer hair head and slender rear presents the same silhouette as sculpin. Because you want to keep it very near the bottom at this time of year, a weighted bullet-head version works best. That weight overcomes the natural buoyance of the deer hair.
The other good option is Bob Clouser’s original Clouser Minnow in the 03 color scheme of orange and brown. It is specifically designed to imitate a sculpin, and in size 2 can be a good choice for this fishing. With either of these, you want them bumping slowly along the stream bed.
WHERE TO FISH?
Picking a stream or river to fish in the fall is the next step. That decision often is based on exactly what type of weather conditions you are facing. If a warm, mild spell is taking place, virtually any water can be productive. But, of course, you never can count on those conditions.
More normal fall conditions ordinarily rule out heading to the smaller creeks. These are great in the spring and summer, but they get cold quickly in the fall and leaf clutter can render them unfishable.
Targeting bigger flows is more practical. And that is especially true with regard to tailwater fisheries. Demand for electricity drops in the fall, thus the water levels are more favorable for wading and fishing. Additionally, these streams boast water temperatures that usually don’t dip down near the freezing point, so they remain fishable year-round.
SUMMING IT UP
The bottom line is there is no reason to give up targeting trout in the month of November. If you stick to the mantra of slow, deep and big, it still is possible to tempt the fish. Also, it is a good time of year to tangle with some of the biggest rainbow and browns, as they look for bigger prey to get ready for the winter.
WHAT ABOUT SPINNING?
Of course, not all trout anglers are fly-casters. So how do spinning aficionados cope with the conditions for pursuing trout in November? The same factors apply when it comes to spin fishing: Get the lure down deep, fish it slow and offer a sizeable bite to the trout.
But, in fact, spin-fishers have one advantage. Many of their offerings incorporate the ability to entice the fish into a strike. Those take the form of flash and vibration, which can catch the trout’s eye and alert its lateral line sensors. The wiggle of a small crankbait fits those characteristic, as do in-line spinners.
When picking that crankbait, a small to medium version is probably better than a really big one. The best choice is one that has a slow wobbling action. If it moves too fast, the trout won’t pursue it.
A very good option for in-line spinners is the Panther Martin in darker color variations. These can suggest a sculpin. Because the center wire goes directly through the spinner blade, these lures are hard to foul and the blade spins in even the mildest current. They can be held against current just off the bottom, allowing the flash and vibration of the blade to call the trout to them.