High water fishing tips?

A fly fisher in Stanley, Idaho, casts to the edges of the Salmon River during high water over the weekend.

I spent the weekend driving along a couple of Idaho's more fabled trout waters—first, the Salmon near the "top of Idaho" in Stanely, and then the Big Wood as it roars through Ketchum near Sun Valley. Both rivers are swollen with runoff. The Salmon, I would suspect, could have been fished along the edges (and I saw one hearty fly fisherman giving it a go). The Wood? No way. It's running the color of mocha and it's nearly out of its banks in Ketchum. Folks all along its course are bracing for floodwaters thanks to this year's excessive snowpack.

But some rivers can be fished during high water—I caught one of the biggest browns I'd ever brought to hand on the Gunnison during May runoff (and I also fell out of the raft—a story for another day). 

What are your best tips for fishing high water? What flies work for you? What are your best tactics?

Share your tips in the comment section below. We'll pick the best comments and send out copies of TU's newest book, "Trout Tips" to the winners. And ... your tip will be included in the next edition.

Share your wisdom, and your fishing library might get a bit bigger.

— Chris Hunt

Comments

 
said on Monday, May 8th, 2017

One tip is this ... When in doubt, stay out! In other words, if you doubt your abilities to wade in high water, don't risk falling in and hurting yourself or drowning, it just isn't worth it! 

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said on Friday, May 12th, 2017

In fast, high water fish congregate along the edges. Fish eddies and slower pockets along the banks. If murky, go with your pinks and chartreuses. Last, add weight as necessary-got to get it low and slow.

-Brian Reed, New Hampshire

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said on Friday, May 12th, 2017

Use the online USGS stream flow gauges (or any other resource that posts flow readings, such as some hydropower companies). You can view historical stream flow data and use that to assess if a stream is fishable based on the current reading. You can find streams/drainages that aren't blown out, run off later in the season, or have already run off. Tailwaters can also be good. Spring runoff is the time of year where I visit waters I might not normally visit because they are the only thing that is wadeable. Usually, I end up finding a body of water that is worth coming back to in the summer and fall as well.

Oh, and fish lakes. Duh.

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said on Friday, May 12th, 2017

Oh man, I went to the Eagle just the othe day and straight up left the waders in the truck bed when I saw the muddy current cruising by carrying logs and probably drowned fishermen.  When the water is that high I know damn well where the trout are holed up.  In the slow stuff.  I thoroughly scanned the murky water which was well above the monsterous boulders that I typically fish around on that stretch.  Being lazy like myself, I figured these opportunistic little dudes were on the banks and few shallow spots where there was still  a little visibility.  There was a hatch of something coming off but when the water is raging and I don't have time to be a purist, my best bet is always something that resembles a bug-eyed leach I tied.  I'm pretty sure any big fugly streamer would work though.  This one was black maribou with out of proportion yellow dumbell eyes and a quail feather on its back.  If they'll eat that your chances are high.  I threw it out into the heavy current and let out a lot of line, tip almost in the water, then let it swing back towards the shore as I stripped it slowly and jerkily back to me through the slower shallower water next to shore around boulders and structure.  BAM!  Prepare for an assault on your beautifully tied streamer by a speedy shadow.  All sizes were netted as they are all chilling in the same areas as to avoid being washed into the ocean.  As I was taking down my rod, a spin fisherman started fishing where I had just brought in a couple of nice browns and a cutthroat, and my first reaction was "F'ing spin caster."  Then I realized what I had just done was not much different by any stretch and I laughed at myself for being such an a-hole.  I guess in high water combat, all rules are off if you actually want to catch something.  

And don't fall in.

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said on Friday, May 12th, 2017

In high water, the most productive locations are tight to the bank or in eddies where fish will obtain some protection from the heavy current. 

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said on Friday, May 12th, 2017

During high water I fish the shoulders of a stream or creek with nymphs that match what will hatch later in the summer.  The twist I put on this is to look for and pay particular attention to cut banks and overhangs.  Fish are more likely to spend less energy by hanging out in these even slower waters.

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said on Friday, May 12th, 2017

I just experienced this situation last week, here in Michigan. After four hours of exhausting wading and to few fish, I decided to have lunch,  and then, drove ten miles upstream to the head waters. I caught or saw more fish in the first half hour upstream, than I did all morning in my normal go to spots. I also finished the day landing a 28" buck Steelhead. Was definitely one of my more satisfying trips.

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said on Saturday, May 13th, 2017

High water means faster flows.  I tie extra weighted flies and buggers with more flash to get down low and draw attention in the darker pools and pockets.

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