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Trouts Journal

A Fly Fisherman’s Guide to Fishing Post Runoff

Ivan Orsic / Jun 21, 2014

Substantial runoff years like we're currently experiencing are really a blessing in disguise. On one hand it's nothing but a burden on fisherman, as the high and off-color rivers impede our desire need to fish. Yet at the same time the abundance of water will help guarantee an explosive late-summer fishing season, as well as reservoirs and rivers that will be flush full of cool mountain water. So the big question on the first day of summer is when will the 2014 runoff season end?

The above map is the current state of Colorado's snowpack as of June 19th. As you can see, with the exception of the Colorado, Yampa/White, and North Platte River basins, the rest of the state is sitting at or below average for this time of year. From a fishing perspective, these numbers indicate that all of our rivers across the state have seen peak runoff flows, which will now yield great fishing conditions across the state. Case in point, check our some of our latest fishing reports:

So while river levels may very depending on the rivers location, fishing will be productive no matter where you want to go. The difference will be HOW you will be fishing a particular stream. Here are a few helpful tips to fishing during the transitional time of year:

  1. When fishing rivers that are above their normal seasonal flow, concentrate on fishing the bank lines. Just because a river is high, doesn’t mean that it is unfishable. As long as there is 12”+ visibility, the chances are good that fish will be feeding. The key is to think like a trout, and recognize that at high flows, most fish will be pushed up against the banks. Concentrate on fishing the soft water, as well as along any rocky structure. These scenarios will dictate that you won’t be getting in the river to fish, so focus your efforts on fishing 5’-6’ from the bank lines.
  2. Increase the size of your flies, leaders and tippets. Big water means we can all get away with fishing larger, well, everything. We recommend fishing 3X – 4X leaders and tippets, as well as larger and more flashy flies. Increased flows mean faster moving water, which means the fish have a shorter time to see and eat your fly. Larger and brighter flies will only help the fish see them, but will also create a more predatory response as the fish are aggressively feeding post runoff. Also, larger leaders and tippets will help you fight and land fish in faster moving rivers.
  3. Watch the hydrographs of rivers to determine when the best fishing conditions will be. While most rivers are dropping in flow, there is always to potential for warmer weather or intermittent weather to bump flows up for a short period of time. Ideally you want to avoid these “rises” in flows, so always be watchful of river flows and their associated hydrographs to ensure ideal conditions when you head out. Trouts Fly Fishing has a great river flow resource page located on our website at, http://troutsflyfishing.com/stream-flows.
  4. Put the midges away, it’s BIG BUG season! To elaborate on point #2, the transition in seasons also indicates a transition in the trout’s diet. While midges and BWO’s may have been a staple food source during the winter months, the introduction of summer also means a substantial change in what trout is looking to feed on. Stoneflies, Caddis, PMD’s and Terrestrials are all vital patterns to have in your fly box and on your line.
  5. Wade safely! River levels on many streams are significant, and while the fishing will be productive, wading into a river can lead to frightening consequences. A few thing to keep in mind when venturing to fish this time of year are:
    • Wear your wading belt
    • Always fish with a partner
    • If you’re not comfortable wading, get a wading staff
    • If you do fall into the river, get back to shore as fast as possible
    • Always fish within your comfort zone, no fish is worth risking your life for
    • If you’re floating, WEAR YOUR PFD!

Fishing post-runoff can offer some of the most exciting and rewarding fishing opportunities of the year. While not every trip will be a resounding success, putting your time in to learn the subtleties of your surrounding rivers will dramatically increase the productivity of fishing for the rest of the year. So don’t let the more time slip by before you wet a line, you just may miss some of the best fishing of the year.

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