Pro Tips: 5 Secrets to Nymphing in Off-Color Water

Written by: Tim Linehan, Linehan Outfitting Co.

Orvis’s Dan Davala with a fine Blackfoot River trout.
Photos courtesy of Linehan Outfitting Co.

During the fishing season—and especially during spring—river flows can fluctuate and water clarity can change dramatically due to snowmelt, rain, and other weather events. Sure, there is a point where conditions make a river unfishable, but often a little color is no big deal and, in some cases, can actually make the fishing better.  

When water clarity is marginal or flows are high, nymphing is often your best chance for success. Here are five tips for fishing nymphs that will improve your chances of getting into a few fish in off-color water.

1. Short-leash the banks

Off-color water generally comes with a pulse in river flows. During high-water, trout often seek cover closer to banks, where visibility is also better.  By working the water tighter to the banks, you will increase your odds of finding trout that are more likely to eat. The water is often shallow, so set your indicator about four feet from the top fly and adjust weight accordingly.  

2. Find and fish structure

Again, fish will seek cover when their habitat changes dramatically. Look for boulder gardens, woody debris, old car bodies, rusted mattress box springs, Kewpie-doll heads, and anything else that will provide trout with cover during periods of off-color water.

Fishing along the bank is a great way to catch trout when the water is off-color.

3.  Don’t be afraid to jig nymphs

When trout can’t see well because of off-color water, erratic movement from a potential food source will often attract attention and elicit a strike. Use the tip of your rod to make your bugs jump about six to eight inches through the water column, especially toward to end of the drift.

4. Fish dark, dense patterns

Dark bugs show up better when water clarity changes for the worse. Suspended particles in the water column can reflect light. Darker and more dense flies offer better profiles than slim, lighter flies and even flashbacks, for that matter.

5.  Super-size bugs

Upsizing patterns by a size, or even two, can help. When underwater visibility is low, give the fish something they can see easily. Stick with tried-and-true patterns, but don’t be afraid to fish bigger sizes.

Nymphing is often the most productive way to fish off colored water.  Give these five nymphing strategies a try the next time you face less than perfect conditions and you’ll have more success.

Tim Linehan is the owner of Linehan Outfitting Co. (2020 Orvis-endorsed Outfitter of the Year) on the Kootenai River in Troy, Montana. He’s also a former Trout Bum of the Week.

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