November Fish Tails

Tailwaters below dams, reservoirs all provide prime opportunity for anglers

It’s not easy to fool but incredible color in hand when it all works. This Frying Pan rainbow was fooled along the flats above the bridge with a mysis shrimp fly.

Photo courtesy of Joel L. Evans Not your typical river structure, the dam itself becomes an ideal habitat for fish.  At the outlet to Ruedi Reservoir is the “Toilet Bowl”, a very difficult hole to fish but some exceptionally large fish live there.

November. In our current Julian calendar, November is the 11th month. But not always so. The Romans considered it the 9th month. In Latin, the word for nine is novem. Yes, I looked that up.

So I don’t know if the Romans fished all that much. Maybe the rich people went for fun and everybody else fished for food. But what I do know is that if they didn’t go fishing in November, they missed out. Which is to say, don’t you miss out!

But where? The high country is headed for a long winter’s nap. You might still get in a high elevation day along a well-traveled road, but most hiking destinations have disappeared like that big rainbow I lost last week. Lower elevation waters are still viable, but some, such as the smaller creeks and streams may have too low of a flow to be viable. So the choices have narrowed considerably.

So its’s November — hmmm — oh, I know, how about those tailwaters?

Seems to be a prime tailwater month to me. Let’s start a list and see which one best suits you.

Tailwaters, by definition, are below a dam and a reservoir, which requires mountains. Grand Junction, being on the westerly edge of the mountains isn’t in the immediate vicinity of any trout fishing tailwater, but within a day’s drive are the Frying Pan, Green, Blue, Williams Fork, Shadow Mountain, Uncompahgre, Gunnison, Taylor, and Stagecoach

Admittedly, some of these are a long haul for a day of fishing. Especially when the daylight hours are shorter this time of year. So catch the others if you can, and let’s make a little shorter cast to the Uncompahgre, Gunnison, Green, and Frying Pan.

Uncompahgre — South of Montrose at Ridgway State Park, Pa-Co-Chu-Puk is a mile-plus reach of a previously unproductive river. Because the runoff from the upstream San Juan Mountains, some natural, some man-induced, the Uncompahgre’s dinge is absorbed by Ridgway Reservoir. Being a state park, it is easy to get to and provides multiple recreational opportunities besides fishing. So that means people. Lots of them, except not so much in the offseason.

It also means in November that although you might not be alone, especially on a weekend, you would probably find ample water to yourself. It also means it gets attention from the fisheries managers, who find a way to not only keep it supplied with catchable-sized trout, but to sprinkle in some full-size fish, such as cutthroats to 20 inches, and sometimes hatchery brood rainbows that go by pounds instead of inches.

Gunnison — Two places of note. The lower river, both upstream and downstream of the Forks, where the North Fork and the main stem join near Austin, is fishable year-round. Never crowded but rarely alone, November is an excellent season for low flow boating below the North Fork and always clear wading above the North Fork.

With low flows, some long stretches of water become too shallow to harbor fish. The upside is fish are concentrated in the deepest water. If boating downstream from the Forks, pick the best spots, pull over, and wade fish. If wading upstream, skip the flats and hammer the long runs and deeper pools. Stealth is paramount.

For big fish and lots of them, both rainbows and browns, migrate to the East Portal at the Black Canyon National Park near Montrose. But I do mean migrate as the November opportunity is a narrow window. The access road, paved but steep to the canyon bowels, will close for the season when the weather changes with precipitation.

Think of it as two different rivers. Below the diversion dam is a natural river with rapids and runs and pools, just flow controlled. Above is more half river, half lake, deep and slow moving, but loaded with fish.

Green — Make a backcast to Utah at Flaming Gorge, best for an overnighter this time of year. Float or wade, it is consistent, predictable, and in November the summer recreational floaters are absent.

Three sections, ingeniously named A, B, and C, greet the fisherman. The A section is closest to the dam with both wading access and a boat ramp, and takeout seven miles down at Little Hole. This is the most popular section, deservedly so. Long, deep, ultra clear pools highlight fish that seem at hand but are actually deeper than you’d think. Challenging fishing. Lots of scuds.

Frying Pan — We don’t give it much thought because we have always heard it, but how can you not love a river named after a greasy, sooty, cooking utensil? Well, there is nothing dirty about the Frying Pan, especially in November. A little love/hate in your head with this one — love it for its year-round paved road access and football fish, but boy, don’t you just drool as you drive by those private sections?

Everybody heads up the 14 miles to the lunker flats and pools immediately below the dam, but don’t ignore the lower section, even immediately above Basalt. Especially if the fisherman hatch is peaking and everyone goes to the top end. At the dam, sight fishing, disappearing tippets, and micro flies have what it takes. If a fish can be educated, these have seen it all and have learned to ignore most of what they see. But fish still have to eat, so keep ringing the dinner bell.

What is so odd about the Pan is it is the only place I know where fish, instead of scattering for cover when they detect an intruder, they will often come to you and line up in the downstream water break you create while wading.

To them, you are a just as good as a rock to rest behind, out of the current, and no rock stirs up food like you do. They are trained!

Now, count to nine, say Novem with a Latin accent, and hit the road!


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