Fishing the High Runoff River

~ by Bob Volpe ~

This is the time of year that can try a fisherman’s soul.

Runoff creates a set of conditions that can leave a person wishing he stayed home and worked in the yard instead of facing high water and off color rivers. It doesn’t have to be that way.

The first task is to find the fish. Our common trout tactics and tackle are honed for normal fishing conditions. In high water, you can forget the lazy days of summer where low-water conditions forced the trout into ever-shrinking and easily discovered lairs.

What does a sailor facing rough seas do? He shortens up the sails and runs for shelter. Fish can’t shorten their sails, but they can and do swim for cover.

Fish are unwilling to expend the energy necessary to fight the strongest currents. They will look for structure that offers shelter, and that means they move out of the middle and into softer water.

Friction plays a part in where fish lie in heavy water. The current is always slower on the bottom and along the riverbanks as the immovable object slows the irresistible force. Fish the edges – often within a
foot of the bank and within inches of the bottom because that’s where
fish hold.

High water can make fish come together to seek relief from heavy current. Here’s when local knowledge, like knowing the tricks a golf course can play the first time through, can make a huge difference.

Off-color water is a double-edged sword. The limited visibility, combined with the increased force of high water, makes wading a challenge. Fortunately, wading is usually not required because the
fish have moved to the edges accessible from the bank.

If you are compelled to wade, wear good boots and use a wading staff.

The other side of turbidity:  It can hide you from the trout that likely are a bit skittish as they adjust to their new shallow-water surroundings. Trout learn quickly that deep water provides protection
from overhead predators like eagles, osprey and fishermen. Dark, but shallow water afford some measure of protection and security.

Leave the long, light, tapered leaders at home and leave the light tippet material at home because you won’t need either. High or off-color water calls for shorter leaders, stouter tippets and more
weight. Forget “far and fine.” Think short and stout. If you ordinarily use six-pound leader, switch to eight or ten. The fish won’t care and you’ll have an easier time handling the extra weight.

Fly fishermen can use a 3-4 foot length of leader tied directly to the fly line, instead of the usual tapered leader for streamers. The short leader allows the weighted fly to get down to where the fish are and
then it is much easier to cast. Casting a bunch of split-shot on a long, fine tapered leader is an invitation to wind knots or worse. Drilling yourself in the back of the head is a distinct likelihood.

Fly fishermen can use a basic two-nymph rig. A weighted Stonefly and Hare’s Ear is a good combination.

If two flies tie you in knots, try a Beadhead Woolly Bugger. Black is a good color. White is an underused