5 Things to Do in High Water
Across the state of Washington rivers are open for trout and summer steelhead fishing and along with countless other weather worn fly fishermen you are aching to get out and wet a line. Problem is, weeks of rain and a juicy snowpack have most of the area rivers either swollen with ice cold glacial melt or looking like Sunday morning after two Mickey's 40's and fifteen dollars worth of Jack In the Box tacos. Your head hurts from last night, but you still want to fish, right? Here are a few tips that will help you capture when things get a little nasty.
1 - Fish The Edges
This may seem like common knowledge to some, but it is surprising how many fishermen are baffled when the river comes up above its normal water levels. How do you find the fish when all your favorite spots are under three feet of water? Simple, find new spots! When the water comes up, the fish move. Remember the three basic requirements for good holding water? Shelter, food and a place to rest. The boulder garden you slay gagger 'bows in at 250cfs is likely to be either vacant or just unfishable at 700cfs. Just saying... As a general rule, when the water comes up, fish move to the slower portions of the river, often right along edges and inside seams, probably where you are used to standing. Get out of the water and start hooking more fish!
2 - Go Big or Go Home
During the early season runoff, rivers are often high, cold, muddy or some combination of the three. Cold water makes fish sluggish and less likely to move aggressively for a fly (we will touch more on this in a minute). Muddy water makes it harder for fish to see your fly. If you are using the same tactics you used last year in the middle of July, you may get a couple fish, but odds are you are missing out on more, and bigger fish. Use large, dark flies that have bulky silhouettes like big stonefly nymphs and streamers. Fish will be more likely to open their mouths for a substantial meal that they can see!
3 - Deep and Slow
Fishing where the fish are doesn't just mean changing what part of the river you are fishing, it means changing your presentation to adapt to the current conditions. In cold and/or muddy water fish are more likely to hold close to structure where they can rest and feel secure. Often times that structure is associated with the river bottom. Whether it be boulders, sunken logs or subtle variations in the bottom contour fish will relate to this structure and are unlikely to venture far from it, so you need to get your fly there and keep it there for as long as possible to get a strike. Thoroughly nymphing a likely area with a set of nymphs under an indicator is one way to go. Pounding away with a streamer on a sink tip line is another. Just remember, whichever way you go, make it deep and slow...
4 - Embrace the Worm
As ugly, ridiculous and (to some) offensive as they are, San Juan Worms have cemented themselves firmly in the serious fly angler's arsenal, particularly as a go-to fly during periods of heavy runoff. There is much speculation about why it works so well. Some say that when the river gets up and begins eroding the bank tons of little earthworms are displaced into the river and find their way into the stomachs of eager trout. I can buy this theory. I can also buy that a bright red, wormy looking thing is easy for fish to see in muddy water and probably a common enough food source for fish to make it enticing. It doesn't really matter. The worm works all the same, especially when fished as a dropper behind the equally hideous and ubiquitous Pat's stonefly.
5 - Get out and Fish
By far the most common mistake anglers make during runoff time is NOT FISHING!!! You will most certainly not catch fish if you use adverse conditions as an excuse to not go fishing. Most people would categorize rivers that are high and muddy as unfishable. Now I'm not encouraging you to go out and fish when the river is at flood stage or to in any way put yourself in harms way to catch a few fish, but if you exercise good judgement and visit the river when the flow is outside your normal comfort zone you will likely find that it is in fact fishable and quite possibly fishing well. High water can be one of my favorite times to fish. Think about it; less people on the river, more water to yourself, fish concentrated easy to reach holding water along the rivers edge, all good things that should make you put down the remote or the laptop and pick up the fly rod.
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