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Don’t Let High Water Get You Low

Posted on May 08 2019

Don’t Let High Water Get You Low

Don’t Let High Water Get You Low


It creeps up every year like a thief in the night. One minute your dropping flies into pristine waters watching your finned friends feed and then BOOM! The water comes up and the clear water turns into a thick tea. Winter runoff is common on most waterways. That sweet beautiful snow which powders the mountain tops eventually melts and ends up messing up our lovely creeks. When this happens some anglers hang up their waders, some find pleasure in the allure of still water fishing, and the other (much smaller group) hold on to their river as long as safety allows. So what are the tricks and tips for tackling high water?


Before we get into the nitty-gritty on how to continue to fish a creek or a river at elevated flows, safety must be mentioned. There isn't one safe flow which all rivers adhere to. Rivers are as unique as people and as such vary in different widths, gradients, and therefore different optimal and dangerous flows. The rules of thumb are to never enter a water the makes you nervous, always be cautious of debris coming down, and use your best judgment. NO fish is worth losing your life for, be smart and be safe.


Tip 1: Finding the Fish


One of the most difficult obstacles to follow an increase in flow in locating fish. While this may feel daunting, it is actually a little simpler than you may think. One of the first areas many fish retreat to during high water is the edges. What? You say you have never seen them at the edge of the river, this is likely because not knowing there were they you spooked them away. Fish will line the banks for a few reasons. If structure isn't available to give them shelter from the fast water they will use the edges to take a break from heavy swimming. Trout also enjoy the edges because it is a great place to munch on terrestrials like grasshoppers and ants. The fish hanging out on the edge tend to be extra nervous, so approach very cautiously and be sure your first cast is your best. 


Despite the higher flows fish still look for the same factors when choosing where to rest and where to eat. They still seek structure such as large rocks and trees. Numerous trout will surround these river features and can be fished to both upriver from the protection to the side, and behind. 


It is also important to view a large river as serval little rivers and seek out the familiar water. The tailouts from heavy runs may be farther down the river at high flows, but it still there and will still hold fish. Perhaps your favorite riffle has grown, but seek out similar riffles which may have appeared in different areas.


When seeking out where to throw your fly, don't feel overwhelmed and don't feel as if you need to put your fly in every inch of it. Instead, think of the old antage, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, right?! Except, only eat the best parts and skip those less desirable. 


Tip 2: Flies


Elevated water typically is accompanied by dirty water. This can make your fly difficult for a fish to see. The elevated flow can also make fish less likely to spend the energy to move to your flies. There are two ways to overcome this. The first is to choose slightly larger flies or go big and use streamers. Giving the fish a more calorie filled treat may entice them to actually be willing to move to it. Be sure you are still matching a nature food source the trout are used to eating, but pick the larger foods or go a little larger than even the natural. 


Also, consider using red flies. Trout perceive colors differently than humans and one of these important differences is how they see red. Due to the range of peak absorbance of the cones in their eyes, they see red at a further distance than any other color. Therefore, using red helps the fly standout in murky water and also gets them something to move towards.

Dark colors are also very visible for trout in the dirty water. If you chose to use streamers, which is a great idea in high water, try darker patterns such as black wooly buggers.


Tip 3: Rig to Match The Flow


Trout can become very powerful when they have fast current to use against you, and fish tend to figure this out quickly. Be sure to arm yourself with strong tippet and leader. If fishing a nymph rig, you may also consider increasing the weight you use in the rig as well. If the fish are on the bottom your files should be there also.


Tip 4: You Can Do It!


Be patient with yourself. Fishing in high, dirty water can be a challenge and while it can happen, never expect the fishing to be as productive as it is when the river is in prime condition. However, try and look at the experience as a challenge to learn and overcome.