How To Fly Fish High Water Successfully

Hi guys, we have been getting tons of questions lately about the ridiculously high water that seems to be in all of our local rivers and if it's even possible to fish right now. The easy answer is yes, but there is more to it than typical fishing, so we thought that putting together a short "how to" might help, so here goes....

1. How long will this last? Here in Utah, we can expect to have this high water through June this year. Some years it's more, but some it's much less. The color will start getting back to normal(not completely, but close) as soon as the rain stops, which will hopefully be this week. 

2. Why am I not catching fish? Fish, especially trout are very sensitive to change. Barometric pressure, water color, water level, debris in the water, and more noise are all things that will completely turn off the bite until the fish "get used to it". This can take a few hours or a few days, and the more changes there are, the less likely it is that you will catch fish. Don't be discouraged, though, keep reading and we'll help you out. 

3. Where will I find fish that are feeding? Until the water levels average out, regardless of how high or how stained the water is, fish will hunker down and hold where they feel safe. Once the water levels become consistent, fish will start moving again. This means that when they are pulling water at 475cfs one hour and 900cfs the next(this is exactly what they're doing on the Provo), the fish aren't moving. The best places to find fish right now are big, fast bends that create back eddy's, undercut and eroding banks, Large rocks(meaning bigger than a truck tire), especially on the back of them, tributary inlets, and the sides of slower and deeper pools. You will definitely find smaller fish up on every bank, but they are so turned off by these fluctuations that it may be best to leave them alone. We target big rocks and eroding banks on the Provo this time of year and catch big fish. 

4. Picking up from question 3, which fish will still be feeding? Small fish have to concentrate on not being displaced into a bigger predatory fishes space when the water is tumultuous, so it's rare to even find them really feeding. Big fish, however, can take advantage of this chaos and get easy meals out of it. The amount of smaller fish, leeches, big stoneflies, and big caddis that get swept up in the churning water is insane. If you don't believe me, take a kick sein out and do a few samples, it will blow your mind. Big fish will always take a big, easy meal over a smaller one they have to work for, so dead drifting big and gaudy flies past them will trigger massive strikes. 

5. What are the best flies to use in high water? We pretty much park our regular nymph boxes on the shelf and take a different path when the water gets high and muddy. We have our "high water" or "run off" fly boxes that contain bugs that we may not normally fish(not all of the flies, but some). We always size everything up in the higher water. meaning flies, tippet, etc. The key things to remember when choosing a fly are; A. It needs to get the fishes attention, B. The color can play a big part, so bright and gaudy flies do work very well. C. It needs to move. A lot. Soft-hackles on big nymphs with a flashy dubbed thorax(check out our Double Wire Soft Hackle, it's one of our best flies this time of year in bigger sizes). Simi Seal Dubbing is great because it's strands are long and they move like crazy.  D. Bigger is better. If you're typically fishing a size 14 or 16 nymph, try going to a 10 or 12. We fish Leeches and Buggers is sizes 2 and 4 with great success. Here are some of our favorite fly patterns for high water;

- Wooly Buggers, Chartreuse, Olive, Black, and especially Ginger

- Jig Buggers, the bigger the better, Olive and Black

- Simi Seal Leeches, Canadian Black, and Peacock 

- Our Euro Streamers and Sleeper Leeches

- Double Wire Soft Hackle(or huge Copper John's with a soft hackle), Golden Olive is our favorite color.

- Slumpbusters, Zonker Leeches and Streamers, Olive, Chartreuse, Natural, Black

- 20 Incher Stonefly, the bigger the better(we have done great on the size 8)

- Our new Tree Rat Soft Hackle was killer for us and our students this week, sizes 10 and 12

- Czech Nymphs, Cream and Olive have been great on the Lower Provo

- Worms, San Juan, Squirmy, Skinny Squirmy, they all work great, just make sure to put a big bead on them

A few last things to remember, you're not going to have 30-40 fish days when the water is like this(or it's extremely rare), so go for the big fish. If you're nymphing, use a longer and heavier leader with heavier tippet(we use 2-3X for bigger bugs, 4X for nymphs). If you see an undercut or eroding bank, fish it. Drag your flies as close to the bank as possible and dead-drift them through, you WILL catch fish and they'll more than likely be big. Move a lot. After you fish the 3 or 4 best spots in a run, keep moving. Fish aren't going to be hanging in all of the holes like they normally do, so you're wasting time at a certain point. Fish the front and back of every rock that is decent sized(like a truck tire or bigger), regardless of the water around it(meaning it doesn't matter if it's in a dead-slow pool or in the middle of a super fast seam).  Finally, be careful! We have 4 people a year on average die in Northern UT from the high water. If you step into a hole and start to get pushed by the current, get out. It's not worth dying to catch a fish. A wading staff is a great idea this time of year and they are pretty cheap. If you must cross,  do it with someone. Lock arms and walk side by side, both stepping at the same time. This will divert the current for the person downstream, allowing him to be a "support" for the upstream person. Yes, you'll look a little silly, but it's better than dying. If you have a 4-legged fishing buddy such as myself, leave them at home. It doesn't matter how well they listen, they don't have the perception to watch for dangerous floating debris and it can be deadly. They're going to give you the stink-eye the whole time you're loading up the truck, but they'll be fine by the time you get home. I hope everyone has learned something from this and like always, if you have any questions feel free to email us and we will get right back to you. Thanks for reading!