November fly fishing in Montana is a bit of a wildcard. The fishing is typically very good, but the weather is unpredictable. The threat of cold weather deters many folks from planning trips in November, but it is a very underutilized month for fishing and should be on the radar of more anglers. I tend to do quite a bit of fishing in November as the guide season is coming to an end and I have a chance to do some fishing on my own. November is a great month to target big fish, which is usually my M.O. when trout fishing. In fact, the largest trout I’ve ever taken in Montana, a Brown of over 26”, was caught during the last week of November several years ago. Another thing that I love about November fishing is that the crowds are very sparse. Many of the locals are in the mountains chasing Elk and the visiting tourists have mostly disappeared.
November Fishing Strategies
Both wade fishing and float fishing are productive, but I prefer wade fishing during November. I will often choose short floats so that I am able to make frequent stops to wade and work water. The trout’s metabolism is slowing as water temperature drops, so getting multiple drifts in likely spots is key. The other advantage to wading or doing short floats is that you have the option to head to the truck quickly if the weather takes a turn.
Nymphing is far and away the most effective method to catch trout during November. While you can pick up a handful of fish on streamers and might see a few fish rising to BWO’s or Midges, nymphing is going to be the mainstay. Fly selection is pretty simple during the late fall. I usually fish a two nymph rig with a big/small setup. For my “big” or “lead fly, a Girdle Bug is tough to beat. I generally choose this fly in #8 or #10, a bit smaller than I use earlier in the season. For my small fly, I will usually choose a Beatis or Midge imitation, #16 or #18. Good choices include a Pheasant Tail, Zebra Midge, or Lightning Bug. While fly selection is certainly important, I find that water selection and your drift are the main factors to your success.
As the water cools in November, the fish begin to move into their winter lies: slow, deep water. The Brown Trout will be spawning, so they will be found in shallower rifles at times. You should not bother fish that are actively spawning, but sometimes Rainbows and other Browns will stack up in the rifles behind the redds. Trout tend to become concentrated this time of year, so if you catch one chances are there are more holding in the that same spot. This is another example of why I prefer wading in late Fall. It is important to adjust your leader length and weight to each run that you fish. The fish are not going to be willing to move very far to eat your fly, so it’s important to get your fly down to eye level with the trout. Once you find the right combination of flys and leader set-up, fishing is often very productive.
November Fishing Destinations
While most rivers are at least decent options in November, some are definitely better than others. Tailwaters and spring creeks are great bets because the water temperature will be a few degrees warmer than many freestone rivers. When it’s cold out, a few degrees can make a big difference. Swift, shallow rivers can still fish well, but good November spots can be spread far apart. Yellowstone National Park closes to fishing on the first Sunday of November, but all of the Montana rivers remain open throughout the month.
Both the Upper and Lower Madison are good bets in November. I give a slight edge to the Lower Madison because the gradient is less and the water is usually a few degrees warmer. The Upper Madison is a very swift river, so plan on spending your time looking for the slower, deeper runs. On the Lower the fish do stack up in the deep holes, but there are still plenty of fish in the rifles and around the weedbeds. Crayfish are always a good bet on the Lower along with mayfly nymphs. Another section of the Madison worth checking out in November is between Hebgen Dam and Quake Lake. There are a few real bruisers that live in Quake and move into the river each fall.
East Gallatin River
The East Gallatin is a slow, meandering river with lots of deep holes, making it a great November option. The East is too small to float, so all fishing is done by wading. The East has an abundant population of Blue Winged Olive’s, so a Pheasant Tail nymph is a good choice. Come prepared with dry flys just in case, especially on cloudy days. The fish in the East tend to pod up when there is a hatch, so if you see bugs on the water but no fish rising, keep moving and you will likely find a group of Rainbows feeding on the surface.
Paradise Valley Spring Creeks (Depuy’s, Armstrong’s, Nelson’s)
With consistent water temperatures year round, the spring creeks are great November options. The rates this time of year are dropped to $40/day, so this is a great time to experience the creeks. Some larger Brown Trout move into the creeks from the Yellowstone to spawn, so this is an opportunity to catch a large fish in a small stream. Egg patterns can be very effective in the rifles below where the browns are spawning. The spring creeks are the best bet for November dry fly fishing, so make sure to be prepared with some Blue Winged Olives in #18 and #20. Midges hatch on the creeks 365 days a year so be on the lookout for them as well.
The Ruby is a small tailwater fishery that can be very productive in November. The majority of the trout in the Ruby are Browns, so they tend to get colored up and aggressive in the Fall. Just be sure not to bother spawning fish or walk on redds. The Ruby is often weedy and discolored during the summer, so November is a good time to explore over there. Streamer fishing can be very good; I tend to choose smaller patterns rather than big articulated stuff. For nymphs, small, bright, flashy patterns can be productive, with red being a good color.