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High Water Fishing Tips

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Spring is here! For many watersheds across that country, that means high waters! As the snow pack melts, streams across our great nation get flooded with cold water.


Nothing, I mean nothing, replaces knowing the particulars on the rivers you fish. 10,000 cfs on the Clark Fork is nothing but a trickle, but on Rock Creek it could mean death. USGS has some great data. Pay attention to historical peaks. Chances are, you don’t want to be dipping your toes in the water during these periods.


When waters are rising, they tend to hunker down and find areas to get out of the flows. Just the opposite holds true when the rivers are on the drop. I’ve had some of my best days on the river when the water levels drop. The river tends to clear up and the fish become more active.


When the water is crashing down the river, fish with gravitate towards the shoreline to protect themselves from the heavy flows. When walking along the flooded bank, try to avoid going deeper than the top of your boots. This allows you to sneak up on fish that are already in a shallow position.

You want to target inside edges, back eddies and any structure that is going to break up the flow of the water. Trout want to use the minimal amount of energy to feed as a general rule, and that holds particularly true during high water.


To be successful in high water, you really need to go heavy. You don’t have a lot of time to get your fly down. For the most part, I avoid hopper dropper rigs. Typically, I’ll double nymph or streamer fish. That said, I’m not going to pass up a hatch with fish actively feeding on the surface, it’s just a rare event.

That said, you don’t necessarily have to bounce the bottom either. The strike you’re going to get are reaction strikes for the most part. If you’re bouncing the bottom, you’ll probably snag up. In fast water, you just don’t have the feel for the fly due to the swift flows.


My number one rule of fly fishing is to make it home safe. I had to learn this lesson the hard way. Many years ago fishing the St. Joe river I pressed it and got further out than I should have. I didn’t think I was that deep, thigh high, but a big push of water came down and swept me off my feet.

Face down in the water, my wader filled fast, even with my belt tight. Thankfully, I got pushed down river, right into a boulder that stood me up. Lesson learned, no fish is worth your life. I always carry a wading stick, and I no longer take changes.

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