Fly Fishing Runoff Can Mean Fish On

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The River’s A Little High

by Johnny Spillane

Have you ever showed up at a river and found that instead of the crystal clear water you were expecting, you’re staring at chocolate milk?

Here in the Rocky Mountain this is a relatively common experience. It can happen for a number of reasons, huge rainstorms, someone doing river work above you or just your normal spring runoff. Don’t fret; while it might not be ideal, here are a few tips that can help you find some fish.

If the water is only slightly off color, you can basically use the same flies that you would if it was clear, just make everything a size or two larger. Instead of a size 18, put on a 16 or a 14. If that is not working, try adding a little bit more flash to your rig. We typically use flies with very little flash, but if the water is off color it can make a big difference in the amount of fish you stick just by changing to something that will reflect a little more light. If you were using a pheasant tail, try tying on a flash back pheasant tail and sometimes that is the only thing you will need to change.

If the water looks like chocolate milk, go big and go flashy. Those size 22 zebra midges that you planned on tying to 6x, that aint gonna work. I like to tie on a large white zonker and dead drift it with some sort of big buggy stonefly like a Pats Rubber leg. In off color water, fish will lose some of their inhibitions and hit anything that they can see. You just have to make sure that they see it. This is also a great time to experiment with different streamers that make noise, anything that will help draw a fish towards you fly.

Fishing runoff can also be one of the best times to hit a river. If it is fully blown, it might be better to explore other options but if a river is on the downside of its peak flows and it is starting to clear up, fishing can be phenomenal. Fish that are spread out all over the river during normal flows will congregate in areas of softer water during runoff and usually if you find one fish, you find 20. When the river is really high, fish are often within a few feet of shore, so don’t just wade in and start casting, make sure you work the edges hard before venturing further out. Stoneflies and big buggy soft hackles in sizes 8 and 12-14 respectively are good options. Solitude makes a fly called the Tungsten Jig Soft Spot that can be deadly when the water is high.

Remember that just because the river isn’t gin clear, the fish are still there and still eating and if you try some of these techniques, you can still have a phenomenal day on the water.

Tight lines,

Johnny Spillane

Gink & Gasoline
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5 thoughts on “Fly Fishing Runoff Can Mean Fish On

  1. Excellent timing! The water here in NW WY is what the French call “le chocolat” and I’m preparing to search iced out sections of lakes. All the river flows have just turned up and brown in the past few days. The beginning of the great thaw! Thanks for the ideas.

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  3. Just got back from Serbia where it rained for 10 days straight prior to our arrival… Needless to say the normally gin-clear Gradac river looked more like a raging cappucino. `But the one thing that produced some fish was hitting the edges with fast sinking leaders and heavy Wooly Buggers or Jiggy Buggers like we named them.. Hard work but we didn’t come there to blank.. Better put on some more lead dude!

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