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

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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8 thoughts on “3 Tips for Fishing High and Dirty Water for Trout

  1. I’ve caught so many fish during high water periods. In the beginning I would turn the car around if the water was high and muddy. This is a great post for the beginner to pay attention to.

  2. I’ve fished with quite tiny flies in dirty water, but with translucent glass beads. The reflective qualities of the bead makes a big difference. In fact, really big hoppers sometimes work well too, that ‘plop’ gets their attention.

    • I definitely agree with trying a large hopper patten in these conditions. I recently drove to my favorite stretch of water and was discouraged by the high and dirty conditions. I started with a wet fly working little pockets and slower running seams and was surprised at the number and quality of fish I was catching. When I got to my favorite hole I decided to try a large salmon fly hopper pattern I had in my box, first cast a huge rainbow came full out of the water and took that fly like it was the last one on the planet. Twenty minutes later I had a sixteen inch beautiful rainbow at my feet. I’m sure glad I decided to fish on and not go home.

  3. I think these are some really solid tips especially the about adding split shot.. Many anglers especially beginners don’t understand the importance of depth when fishing for any fish much less trout..
    I will share my own tip and this is one that I witnessed while fishing on Jack’s River with my grandfather many years ago.. I agree with the bigger and brighter colors to an extent.. I think the brighter colors will work especially when fishing for stock fish. Which is most cases especially in the south.. HOWEVER when on a stream such as Jack’s River I am more than likely going to fish a more natural color and bigger pattern of course.. Throw to my story.. I was fishing with my grandfather on Jack’s River when it started to rain… Then it started raining harder… Finally it was just turned into a turd floater… Now for those who don’t know Jacks River is basically in a gorge and all the hard rain started flowing into the river and you could see the color start to change from gin clear to murky… Soooo my grandfather took his old leather and lambs wool fly wallet out.. He looked through the flies and picked out a red fox tail nymph… Same color as the water… I watched in amazement as he began to absolutely slay fish.. Nothing small either.. I’m talking fish 16-20+ inches.. One after another as he moved from hole to hole up the river. Now these were native fish because we were above the falls.. I asked him and his reasoning was quite simple and makes a lot of sense (which most of his wisdom did) when the water picks up like that it washes down more food which under most conditions the food would not.. He used the bigger nymph for a larger profile so as to be seen better. At any rate that fly worked so well that it was where I got my idea for my “dickey do” which those who know me know this fly well… Take it for what it’s worth….

  4. Great advice and great posts. I had been trying to fish blown out water without any success. My biggest dilemma was figuring out water depth when setting my indicator without clear water it is harder to determine where depth changes occur. At any rate will use the tips and thanks

  5. Thanks for the tips. In spending some time in iowa with my dad and he lives less than a mile from a trout stream. I’ve caught trout before but never on a fly rod, I’m from Missouri so I practice on gills and bass and what not. Hell I’ve even caught a catfish on a tiny fly.
    We had a lot of rain last night so I’m going to try it out and defanitly use your tips.

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