Pro Tips: 5 Keys to Fishing During Runoff

Written by: Emily Roley, Taos Fly Shop

When the river is high and wading is difficult, stay out of the water and fish the edges.
Photo by Lisa Savard

If you have lived in the West for very long, you know that it is a fool’s errand to claim that spring has sprung before you turn the calendar to May. April in the Rockies is glorious, if not temperamental. As I write this, it is 55 degrees and rising, not a cloud in the sky. It’s hard to imagine that one short week ago, snow was dumping from that same sky. But these mountains are moody, and so it goes. What does this beautiful weather mean for the angler, who is itching to get out and make the most of this long-sought-for sun? It means high water, everywhere. The run-off game is a long one, so here are a few tips for those of you who want to get out and fish even when the waters rage.

1. Fish the Edges. High water equals faster currents, and most fish are going to move out of swift water into areas where the water is softer. These seams or edges of the current can be found along the bank, in eddies, or behind structure—rocks and branches that break the current.

2. Get Down Deep. When the water rises, be methodical and adjust your depth until you find where the fish are: start shallow and progressively go deeper. Use heavier nymphs and an easily adjustable indicator.

3. Throw Big Bugs. When currents move, so do rocks and branches. More-powerful currents churn the structure and will often unleash the bugs that cling to it. This can send bigger bugs downriver, so choose larger profile nymphs.

4. Go Red. High water tends to kick up mud, which turns the river cloudy. Time after time, we have found that a red worm pattern or a red-bodied nymph gets the attention of hungry trout in murky water.

5. Be Prepared. Make sure to wear wading boots with good traction, as the swift water and moving rocks can compromise stability. We suggest boots with studs. Make sure to wear a wading belt, and take a wading staff to assist you as you cross the river and to help judge depth in areas where the visibility keeps you from being able to see the river bottom.

So if you long to feel the sun on your face and a trout at the end of the line, don’t wait till the raging waters subside. Get out there now and make the most of springtime in the Rockies.

Emily Roley is the manager of Taos Fly Shop in Taos, New Mexico.


8 thoughts on “Pro Tips: 5 Keys to Fishing During Runoff”

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