Strategies and Safety for Fly Fishing During Runoff

Photo by Wayne Lewis/CPW.

Photo by Wayne Lewis/CPW.

On top of an already adequate snowpack and rising waters around Colorado this May, we just received a week of heavy rain and snow across the state. Rivers in many places are already high, and things might stay this way for a while.

This time of year, we hear too many people say things like, “Well, looks like fishing is done for a while.” Sure, runoff is here and things may not get back to “normal” until sometime in June. In addition to some great tailwaters that offer year-round fishing, many freestone streams can be fished effectively during runoff. While the strategies change, there is still great fly fishing to be had.

As runoff takes hold, here are a few strategies to remember on the water. First, stay out of the water. This is both a safety tip and a fishing tip. Unless you need to cross, there’s little need to be in the water. When flows are high, trout will be pushed to the banks. As soon as you set foot in the water, you may be standing right where you should be fishing.

With that in mind, make casts tight to the banks. This can be a great time of year to fish streamers. Also try annelids, like the San Juan Worm, or heavy stonefly nymphs. Trout will opportunistically prey on these larger bugs when high flows flush them into the current.

San Juan Worms and large stoneflies are sure bets in high water. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

San Juan Worms and large stoneflies are sure bets in high water. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

A two-fly rig with large stonefly patterns, girdle bugs and beadhead nymphs are also effective during runoff conditions. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

A two-fly rig with large stonefly patterns, girdle bugs and beadhead nymphs are also effective during runoff conditions. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.

When rigging up, consider a sink-tip line, especially when fishing streamers. And use more weight than usual. It can take a lot of weight to get your flies down quickly when flows are up. You may also want to use a shorter leader this time of year. When trying to get your flies down quickly, particularly with that sink-tip, a shorter leader will be more effective. And finally, go bigger on your tippet. A 4x tippet might be plenty for your baetis nymphs, but look toward 3x on those stoneflies and other large patterns.

Safety should also be an important consideration when fishing during runoff. As we already mentioned, stay out of the water until it’s necessary. If you have to cross, make sure you side step and never cross your legs. Never turn your back to the current. Instead, walk up and across, stepping into the current while quartering upstream.

When the water is muddy, it can be difficult or impossible to see the bottom. If you’re unsure, play it safe and don’t go where you can’t see. Otherwise, crossing just above the topside of a riffle is often the best place to cross. Finally, fish with a friend whenever possible and always tell someone where you are going.

Your tactics on the water should change and you should definitely be careful out there on the water. But there are often great fishing opportunities all the way through runoff each year. So get out there and catch some fish!

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Written by Doug Garvey of Anglers All fly shop.

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