3 Tips for Fishing High and Dirty Water for Trout

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Trophy brown trout landed during high and dirty water. Photo By: Louis Cahill

By Kent Klewein

Have you ever pulled up to a stream after a heavy rain, ready to fish, but canceled your fishing plans because the water looked too high and dirty?

I’ll be the first to admit there are times when this is the case, but very often anglers scratch their fishing plans when they should instead, have Fished-ON. The fact is, trout can see a whole lot better than we think, and if you fish the right kinds of fly patterns, and target the right water, in many cases you can do pretty darn good fishing in these water conditions. Even better, your odds at catching a trophy fish are increased, because the dingy water will both mask your approach and keep big educated trout from being able to scrutinize your fly patterns. So go ahead, call those anglers you despise and tell them the waters blown out, and you’ll have a good chance of having the water to yourself and wailing on fish all day long.

Tip 1. Target the Right Kinds of Water

So you’ve decided to take my advice and fish on, good for you. The first thing you need to do when fishing high and dirty water is target high percentage water. I search out the slower moving seams close to the banks, long stretches of fast shallow water that are followed by buckets or deep water where the fish will stack up, and eddies behind boulders or lay downs. These are all safe havens that trout search out refuge in during high water. They all allow trout to save energy by staying out of the excessive current, while capitalizing on the large influx of food sources drifting. Increased flows and rising water increases the amount of food available for trout. Many aquatic insects get flushed off the bottom of the stream, while others emerge from the freshly submerged stream banks. Examples of this are big stoneflies that are normally found hiding away in clumps of debris and under rocks, and cranefly larva that get washed in from the high water flowing along the banks.

Tip 2. Choose Larger and Brighter Fly Patterns

The second thing an angler needs to do to increase their success rate while fishing high and dirty water is choose the right kinds of fly patterns to fish. This is the one time when I feel I don’t have to carry my entire arsenal of gear. I’ll gladly leave my fly boxes with all my tiny fly patterns and light tippet spools at the vehicle. I’ll rig up a 9′-12′ 3x-4x fluorocarbon leader and carry only my fly boxes with large nymphs, bright attractors (eggs and san juan worms), and streamers. What ever you do, don’t be afraid to go big with your fly selection. For instance, larger than average egg patterns work really well in dirty water. The larger profile and bright colors allow the fish to pick them up quickly in the low water clarity. I also like to use big bulky nymph patterns, like Kevin Howells, “Big Nasty”. Any rubberleg stonefly patterns in black or brown will work. If you want to try something a little different you can fish streamer patterns dead drifted under an indicator, like white zonkers, which can be deadly. Most anglers do not realize how well white shows up in dingy water. Your standard Grey woolly bugger work fantastic for imitating cranefly larva, or you can take a more realistic approach using, “Barr’s Cranefly Larva”.

Tip 3. Don’t Be Shy with Your Split-Shot, Fish Water Thoroughly, Try Streamers

One things for sure, make sure you pack plenty of split-shot and don’t be afraid to use it. The higher water is going to call for adding more weight to your nymph rig to get your flies down in the strike zone. Be sure to take more time to fish pieces of water more thoroughly before you move on. Your going to have to get the flies closer to the fish for them to see them, and they usually won’t get spooked from repeated casts. Overall, I find nymphing most productive for me during high water, but you can also catch some really nice fish with streamers as well. Try pounding the banks with streamers patterns that push a lot of water. Rubber legs, some flash here and there, and rattles incorporated into your streamers, can increase their effectiveness. Lastly, your retrieve speed should generally be slower rate than what you would normally retrieve in normal flows and water clarity.

So there you go, that’s my tips for fishing high and dirty water for trout. I hope it persuades the anglers out there to FishON that normally avoid fishing these water conditions.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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5 thoughts on “3 Tips for Fishing High and Dirty Water for Trout

  1. Kent

    Well said! Last year this advice netted me all 3 of my largest brown trout last year all in PA- I live in MD. The first two was high water in the Poconos- so I fished the san juan worm with a copper john dropper deep and slow-lots of weight- this creek had really deep but slow, eddy pools, to get deep enough my indicator was 2′ from my fly line. Hits were slow tugs under.

    Second was a white wolly bugger with split on the head, it was a little easier to see it in the colored water. I’d also say fishing while the water has begun to drop is helpful as the water is slightly less murky. That fish hit it dead drifting near a log eddy at the head of the pool, right where she should have been- that was a strong fish.

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  3. I thought the article made some great points. A friend of mine has been trying to encourage me to take up fly fishing, but I’m definitely not an expert. I like how you pointed out that larger profile fly patterns with bright colors are beneficial for dirty water. The streams near my home often get murky, so I think I might start having some better luck switching to something a little bigger.

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