Trout Tactics for High Water

Often anglers tend to steer away from fishing in conditions that do not appear to be ideal, sometimes this can be a very big mistake. High, off-color water from rain events can produce some of the best fishing conditions, especially for targeting trophy trout. I’ve never been a fair weather angler, this is most likely because I feel as though the best time to fish is whenever the opportunity is given. It is also because I found it very rewarding to learn to catch fish in water conditions that are deemed “unfishable” by a large majority of anglers. Since most anglers retreat from the streams under these conditions, it leaves the water wide open for those still willing to lace up their boots. Frequently anglers struggle to have success fishing water that is high and off-color, this is usually due to the way they approach the water. Producing fish in high, off-color water requires very a different approach regarding fly selection and techniques. Knowing how to adjust to these conditions properly will dramatically increase catch rates, and allow anglers to get on the water on days they otherwise thought were “unfishable”.

A solid fish taken during high. off color water conditions.
A solid fish taken on a San Juan Worm during high. off-color water conditions.

What leads to the success of catching fish in high, off-color water?

1. Banking on the edges. When the water rises fish often head for the banks, there are several different reasons for this. When water rises it washes a lot of debris into the water that fish evade by moving to the edges. The water rising also causes fish to slide to the edges of rising swift, strong currents  to avoid expending extra energy. Along with trout, bait fish also evade these currents by moving to edges which makes them viable targets for trout during these times. Anglers often over look the streams edges by trying to concentrate on fishing the areas of streams that they usually catch fish in at normal flows. It is possible to produce fish in these areas if anglers are capable of getting flies down deep to the fish usually in those areas(which have hunkered on the bottom to avoid the increase in water speed and strength). It is much easier to focus on the fish along the edges, and often very practical to fish banks and edges during these conditions without even getting your feet wet. Casting where the fish are is the holy grail of fishing, and where the fish are located fluctuates as water levels change. When the water is high, bank on the edges.

2. Nymphing dirty. Nymphing during high, off-color water is not the most gracious technique of fly fishing, for high success rates be prepared to get a little dirty. High off-color water requires lots of extra weight to get flies deep and large strike indicators that is capable of suspending the extra weight. “Thingamabobbers” can be a great tool for suspending large amounts of weight and still maintaining sensitivity and visibility. Aquatic worms play a huge part in fishing high, off-color water and are often a great fly to start with. Aquatic worms get washed into the stream frequently during rain events, therefore San Juan Worm varieties can be deadly during these conditions The other key to producing fish on nymphs in these conditions is fishing flies that the fish will be able to see. This means flies that are on the larger size (14+) and have some type “hot” bright colors, dark contrasting material, or flashy material incorporated in them. Some other great examples of these types of flies are egg patterns, flashback nymphs, prince nymphs, girdle bug stone fly nymphs, pheasant tails with bright orange or red collars, etc.

3. The big, bad, and ugly. High, off-color water is one of the ideal conditions to tie on the big, bad, ugly streamers and sling them towards the banks. The fish tend to feed aggressively and lower their guard in the mask of the high, off-color water, which creates one of the best opportunities possible for catching trophy trout, and is often overlooked by anglers. Fishing very large streamers (size 2-8) that consists of movement, flash, and contrasting dark colors is the weapon of choice. The key to fishing these flies is making sure to get them down deep to the fish, which can be challenging with all the extra water. Fishing streamers that have lead eyes, lead wire, cone heads, or beads make them sink much faster to get down into the feeding zone quicker. Another way of getting flies down deeper is by fishing sinking fly lines which allows anglers to fish less weight flies that have much more movement and action in them than heavy weighted flies. Another key thing to remember is fish have less visibility during these conditions so you make have to fish slower, giving more casts towards each spot, which gives the fish more of a chance to see the fly being presented. When the streamer bite is on it can lead to some very exciting days on the water where these are increased chances of catching trophy trout.

The Tequeely is a great streamer for high, off-color water due to it’s bright yellow legs, flashy body, and dark contrasting colors.

Take these tips and venture out into conditions that otherwise would be over looked. The weather will always look worse through the window. Fishing conditions that are not the “normal” will lead to many lessons learned on the water. In this case, it may also lead to some very productive fishing and a trophy trout.


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