Runoff and high water are essential to healthy trout rivers, and the more days of fresh pow we get in winter, the more likely fat trout will be looking up for dry flies come summer. Fishing during runoff and high water is just a fact of life on many trout rivers. 

Here are some tips to muscle through runoff as your explore your water with the onWater app. 

Local knowledge

There are quality fly shops servicing many of our local communities and the rivers we fish. Internet fishing reports are reliable, but a quick phone call might garner more info, or better yet, pay a visit to a local fly shop. 

Tailwaters and spring creeks

Rivers originating from dams or small, spring creeks can often run clear when other rivers are mud. Tailwaters may have high streamflows this time of year so a boat or a local guide may be important. Plus, it is always a good idea to inquire locally at a fly shop for up to date information. For a moderately experienced do-it-yourself angler, a spring creek can offer a challenge. For those fishing with a guide, spring creeks serve up a unique angling experience. If you’ve never done a spring creek, now is a good time.

Go big or go home

Runoff fishing demands an adjustment in your tackle. Fish stouter tippets, and unless you’re on a spring creek or fishing a very clear tailwater with picky fish, leave the 5X at home. Expect to fish subsurface more than not.  A standard leader this time of year is a 9-foot 2X. The you may need to add the appropriate 3X or 4X tippet with the appropriate amount of weight—this helps get the flies to sink quickly in the fast currents of runoff.

Tippet change

Invest in quality Flurocarbon tippet material such as Rio Fluroflex, TroutHunter, Scientific Anglers, or Orvis Mirage. But before you do, practice your knots. Fluorocarbon ain’t cheap and you want to spend your time fishing not tying knots.

Keep hope alive

The sooner runoff starts and gets rolling, the sooner it will be over. You are not alone in your search for clean water. Be congenial and share the water out there – a little friendly conversation with a fellow angler might yield a hot fly, a tackle adjustment, or a new place to fish.

Parts of this post originally appeared in Explore Big Sky. 

To learn more about streamflows and understanding CFS charts, read our blog, Go ith the Flow.
Looking to support coldwater fisheries in the West and elsewhere? Support Trout Unlimited, we do as an Endorsed Business. 

onwater logp