Monday, June 1, 2015
The Four Horsemen of High Water
Summertime is fast approaching and those warmer temperatures can only mean one thing for the fly-fisherman : Runoff. That time of the season when we feel obligated to mow the lawn and fix up around the house because the fishing is probably "not too good right now". While runoff obviously does not offer ideal conditions for finding pods of leisurely rising trout there are certainly fish still to be had out there. The fish don't leave the river when it gets big and neither should you. Some of the best big fish days of the season happen right now with the rivers swollen and the fish concentrated in a meager handful of spots, and with the lower-than-usual runoff we are seeing this season the chances are even better. Don't think about bagging it for the lawn mower or the golf course right now, stay out there and catch the fish of the season with one of this guides' four favorite high-water patterns.
The biggest, the baddest, the toothiest, the most "I don't give an F" insect that lives in our freestone streams, would obviously choose this time of year to hatch: Its a big bug and it hatches during big water. Salmonflies wait for high water to push them out of their normal mid-riffle stations and migrate to the shallows for hatching. This "push migration" is something that the insects have no control over, they are at the mercy of mother nature in all respects. Once the fish see a few of these helpless kickers trying to crawl their way to shore they react just like you would expect : Viciously. Stonefly nymphs bite back and the fish try to kill them on impact, leading to the most ferocious hits you will ever see on a nymph. Make sure you hit back in kind! Strong hooksets with 2X tippet are the name of the game. Fish em' tight to inside riffle corners (prime insect migration spot) with lots of lead to keep them in the strike zone.
Right after the big stonefly pattern is the bugger for high-water favorites. In smaller sizes it is darn close to the stonefly nymph anyway, and in bigger sizes it looks like a baitfish pushed into danger by the raging torrent. The streamer retrieve allows you to fish effectively through more types of water than a simple nymph rig and you also lose less of these flies due to the tight-line nature of fishing them. Cover water, lots of water, slow and fast water alike and eventually the *tug *tug of a big fish will happen.
When the fish don't want to eat their vegetables, feed em' candy. Lots and lots of flaming florescent pink wiggling candy. Do they eat it instinctively? Do they see worms in the system regularly? Have they lost their selective minds?? Hell if I know, but what I do know it they chew it in the mud like nobodies business. Some of the biggest Bull trout I have ever seen caught have been on worms in super-high water. Our intense spring rainstorms gets lots of the wriggly critters into the river and the fish will gorge on them for days in the high water. Love it or hate it, the worm will get it done.
Giant Dry Fly:
Fish don't stop looking up when the water is high despite what you might hear. They just get really particular as to when and where they will rise. All the way back in those sloughs and channel mouths fish are packed in and they will come and eat on the surface. For this you will need big (BIG_) ammo in the #4 and #6 range: If your timing is pre-hatch you will definitely need to make it worth their while. Any kind of attractor should do with Stoneflies being the top hitters. If you stumble upon a localized hatch of something smaller you might just find some fish feeding actively on the surface. In these situations revert right back to the match-the-hatch dry fishing mantra and make your day. Expect better fishing to coincide with peak water temperatures during midday 2-5pm.
Timing & Tactics: A 6-Pack
Flyfishing this time of year requires a slight change in angling approach, a "refinement" if you will. Bankers hours are the name of the game and your gameplan will look like this:
1) Do not fish the main river. Just don't. They're not there.
2) Do not show up undergunned. 6wt is the lightest rod you should bring. Bring the 7wt if you have it.
3) Do not fish light. Trout are too busy surviving right now to be selective. Give em the 1X or 2X
4) Fish the soft water. Sloughs. Side / Back Channels. Eddys. Deadwater.
5) Do long floats. Theres only a few spots per mile that will hold fish. 12 + mile days are good ballpark.
6) Be reasonable. This is not primetime easy cutthroat season. Sticking one or two whoppers is the only name of the game.