Fly Fishing for Trout In Black and White, Killer Flies For High Water

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Harlequin Stonefly Fly and Photo by Louis Cahill

Harlequin Stonefly Fly and Photo by Louis Cahill

Have you ever spent a rainy afternoon watching Turner Classic Movies?

Would you have guessed that’s pretty much what trout do? Trout fishing can be pretty spectacular during high-water events. The combination of high water and the stain it brings with it give big fish the extra confidence they need to come out and feed. That’s your chance to catch fish that normally allude you. Your chances go way up if you understand how the trout’s world changes during these high-water events.

Stained water means things get pretty dark and gloomy down there where trout live. The silt in the water eats up much of the light, which is already subdued in foul weather. It’s like driving at night with a dirty windshield. What the fish see is dark and blurry.

If you read my article on how fish see, you know that fish see very well in the dark, however they lose their ability to see color. The world starts to look like those old black and white movies on TCM. Conventional wisdom is, when water is stained, fish brightly colored flies. That works to a point, but when fish lose their ability to see color altogether the logic breaks down. What does a bright pink fly look like in black and white?

When fish’s eyes are in black and white mode, they key on contrast. Contrast means clarity. Familiar silhouettes become identifiable when brought out by contrast. So why show a brightly colored fly to a fish who sees black and white? Why not show him what he can see?

About ten years ago I started tying black and white flies for these conditions. I thought they might work a little better. I was wrong. They worked a whole lot better! They out-fished my bright colored flies two to one.

_DSC6248Larger patterns like stonefly nymphs are ideal. Their silhouette is easy for the fish to see and you can pack them with weight. Black bodies with white legs get the job done. Black and white streamers are great too. Big silhouettes with lots of contrast. Don’t worry that these flies look unnatural to you. You can’t see them like the fish do.

I call them harlequin patterns. You can tie just about any pattern in black and white and turn it into a high-water killer. Larger patterns work best but don’t be afraid to experiment. Just make distinct profiles with lots of contrast and you’ll be into fish in the worst of weather.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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7 thoughts on “Fly Fishing for Trout In Black and White, Killer Flies For High Water

  1. Great tips. Going to try some of my favorite patterns in Black and White.

    Does this hold true when fishing at night?

    Generally, I use white flies (large streamers) when fishing at night.

  2. Thistles great since to me. What’s up with the idea of matching your fly to the color of water for small mouth. Do they see differently than trout? Or is that just another color theory?

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  5. Ever try the black/white contrast concept during lake turnover? Using black/white balanced leeches under a float when there is a chop on the surface might be a killer. Most fly chuckers avoid lakes during turnover. Maybe they should just change their leech/chironomid/scuds to black/white patterns and enjoy the solitude.

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