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Runoff, High & Heavy Water Fly Fishing Techniques & Tactics

Runoff, High & Heavy Water Fly Fishing Techniques & Tactics

High flows and poor water conditions means that most anglers will find something else to do over the next couple of weeks in West Central Alberta other than fish the rivers! Which probably isn't a bad plan for most, BUT for the die hard river anglers out there that just can't stay away here are a few tips from us to aid you in your quest to keep fishing through runoff!

Be willing to adapt, step out of your norm and read the new water 
During runoff and any prolonged high water event many fish will have the opportunity to spread out and move from the deep crowded holding water to isolated pockets they can have have all to themselves. This means that last weeks honey hole in the middle of the river that was holding all the fish may or may not be nearly as productive this week (As well it will likely not be nearly as accessible) So your job now is to seek out new holding positions that are providing the refuge fish need during the high water event. Cover, oxygen and food is what trout need to make a living,  actively feed and be stress free and they need these requirements in that order. Stressed fish rarely feed if at all and our number #1 trout ingredient is cover and it is in no short supply during runoff when we have an abundance of dirty water conditions. 
  • Start by exploring your water shed and looking for sections of water in the main stem and tributaries that naturally provide an abundance of current breaks and soft water. Sections of winding river and feeder creeks and streams as well as side channels can be great spots to start. Once you begin to do this you will notice very quickly that instead of the river having no where for the fish to go there is actually now a major abundance of suitable soft water positions for fish to hold even if some of these positions exist 100' in the woods from where the river bank was last week. Seek out soft water breaks any where you can find them and look for eddies as well wide sweeping corners with soft inside pocket pools. Large rocks, rock walls, log jams and lone sweepers can all provide great current breaks and generate excellent holding positions.


  • Last but not least fish the banks! During high water and runoff events the river will offer next to zero visibility however in many cases the river edges will provide great visibility even if its only 2' of it and it will pay off to work the banks throughout the runoff season. Keep in mind that with fish lying so close to shore they will actually have be extremely aware of bank activity so to effectively counter this you need to stay out of the water! and use your ninja like stalking skills to avoid wading at all costs. Take your time to plan out your approach and stock each and every inch of the bank like you next step will put you in the strike zone!   
Adapt your flies
  • In high water and low visibility its a great idea to start upsizing your flies if you are nymphing sizes #8 through #12 are a good place to start I will even break out the #2 and #4 stone patterns this time of year. Color changes can be very affective as well. In many cases darker shades will stand out better against the muddy water. In addition on the days that have very high light and very dirty water I love to use patterns that incorporate flash. I almost exclusively run flashback nymphs throughout the runoff season.
Try a new technique!
  • Nymphing
In the case of nymphing ensuring that you are tagging bottom couldn't be more important than during runoff. With the high flows, extra water and heavy top water turbulence it will likely prove difficult to accomplish this with an indicator and runoff is a perfect time to consider trying out some form of anchor rig / tight lining technique and dropping your indicator and maybe even adding a sighter line. While it is advantageous to have some specialized equipment to utilize these techniques I can ensure you that it is possible to do this with a 9' rod fly rod and a little knowledge from your local fly shop. 
  • Streamers 
If your not a streamer junkie already then runoff is a great time to give it a try! Working the banks can be very productive during runoff and a very effective way to do this is with streamers! Don't forget that streamers can be fished and presented from many different angles. I have watched streamer eats happen, up stream down stream and everywhere in between so get creative when you find that wicked bank that you just can't get positioned well on to make your "normal cast".  
  • Topside!
Although it might not feel like the dry fly season or the normal conditions you would fish them in, don't forget about your dry dropper / stone dropper rig! In many cases you will notice that while the majority of the river is offering next to zero visibility the shoulders and banks in many cases will have great vis and many fish will move into feeding positions right off the bank and will be more than willing to grab a dry or foam pattern! 
Stay Safe
  • Runoff season is not the time to be a deep water wading hero. Every year we hear about incidents involving anglers wading & boating during runoff and over the years some of these incidents have had tragic outcomes. Never attempt a crossing unless you are absolutely 100% comfortable and confident. If you attempt to cross and something goes wrong or you begin to feel too heavy a push back out immediately never keep crossing. Do not put yourself in a position of no return and when possible always wade with a buddy. Use a wading staff of some sort to check the river bottom as you cross. Make sure your footing is firm before taking each step and always cross on a slight downward angle. Remember and I can't stress this enough NEVER attempt a crossing that you do not have complete confidence in and don't be afraid to back out if things aren't what they seemed or it just doesn't feel right.  

So this runoff season don't be afraid to grab your fly rod, try something new, get out of your fishing comfort zone and adapt to the challenging conditions while you stay safe on your high water trout quest! 

Feel free to reach out to our shop anytime and especially through runoff season for condition reports we are more than happy to share.