Advice: Stay out of water

Fishing the spring runoff, or any high, discolored water, calls for flies with a bit of weight, some color or flash, and a bit of material adding some life-like action. A few favorites, courtesy of Western Anglers Fly Shop, are a black Wolly Bugger, an olive Woolhead Sculpin and an Autumn Splendor.

AUSTIN — The late Denny Breer, long considered the premier guide on the Green River below Flaming Gorge, enjoyed positioning his boat so clients could fish the margins behind wading anglers.

“It’s sort of to make the point that fishermen often forget where the fish go in high water,” Breer would say.

The advice goes for many rivers, from the Green River at Flaming Gorge to the Gunnison River just about anyplace.

And it’s a truism to remember when runoff affects water level and clarity.

“Stay out of the water,” advised Phil Trimm, manager at Western Anglers in Grand Junction. “Don’t stand where you should be fishing, it’s that simple.”

A short walk last weekend along the Gunnison River above the confluence with the North Fork revealed several trout lying within a foot or less of where water lapped into the grass.

“When we walk up the canyon in the morning, we always chase fish from the banks,” said Trimm. “I want to know the conditions and that gives me an idea of how I’ll fish.”

Some tips on fishing runoff-swollen streams:

It’s never too thick to see through. “Even on the dirtiest part of the Colorado River there still is some visibility,” Trimm advised.

Dark colors, including black, brown, and dark olive, and bigger fly patterns (Woolly Buggers, streamers, and large nymphs) are more visible when dirty water restricts sight distance.

Likewise, adding a bit of flash to dark patterns can be effective.

Trout still have to eat. Fish will move out of higher flows, searching for food (often terrestrial insects and smaller fish) along flooded banks. This isn’t the time to be nymphing; take out the big guns and blast away.

When visibility is limited, a fish’s other senses come into play. Vibrations and lateral-line sensitivity might be more acute during runoff. That means fish carefully, walk stealthily.

Look for places where currents break, offering respite from high flows, such as rocks, snags or irregularities along and under the bank.

Keep it short. “We cast 15 to 20 feet, giving us better line control,” Trimm said. “And in most cases the fish aren’t any farther out than that, anyway.”


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