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Fish Your Favorite Freestone Rivers During High Water Season

“Over the past 15 years, I haven’t missed a week of fishing because of runoff,” Anglers All manager Greg Garcia recently mentioned. “There are always opportunities to fish rivers here in Colorado.”

This year, we received a high snowpack throughout the state and high water conditions can be expected on many freestone rivers through the month of June. But that doesn’t mean we’re hanging up the waders for the next month. On the contrary, runoff season offers some great opportunities.

The obvious answer is to head for tailwaters where dams keep flows and water clarity under control. Stillwater fisheries are also very productive this time of year. Lakes and reservoirs across the state are fishing very well right now. But don’t write off those freestone rivers either.

“When waters get off-color, don’t let that scare you away,” Greg continued. “Even with six inches of visibility, the trout are still feeding. Fish for them along the edges, in those places you might otherwise be standing under normal conditions.”

While some fish will move into deeper runs mid-river where the hydrology protects them from the current, runoff will push most fish toward the outside edges. Even with poor visibility, these trout still need to eat. Working the seams along the banks can be very productive.

Go Big with a Dry-Dropper Rig

This time of year brings some of the best hatches of the season. Salmonflies and golden stoneflies will be hatching, followed closely by pale morning duns (PMDs). With this in mind, Greg recommends fishing a hefty dry-dropper rig.

“Consider fishing a large stonefly pattern like a Chubby Chernobyl that can support a heavy dropper,” Greg suggested. “Below that, drop a heavy stonefly nymph like a Pat’s Rubberlegs or a Tungstone, followed by a smaller nymph.”

When rigging up, adjust the depth of your droppers based on the depth of the water you’re fishing. Don’t be surprised if you end up with four feet of tippet below your dry fly. Greg suggests using a short, stout leader like the six-foot Umpqua Power Taperto your dry fly. From there, you can drop the rest of your rig.

“Don’t forget to brush out your bushy dry flies,” Greg reminded us. “Brush out those synthetic fibers. Then, brush Tiemco Dry Magic or Loon Lochsa in to the materials. This will keep your dries floating high on the water.

“When my dry fly eventually becomes water logged, I then apply Umpqua Liquid Dry Shake,” Greg continued. “When I run low on Dry Shake Powder or Liquid, I begin to twitch. It’s that important to keep my flies riding high on the water.”

Fish a Heavy Streamer Rig

Alternatively, high water season can be a great time to swing streamers along these outside edges of rivers, or strip them along the banks.

“One year I was fishing the Gunnison when the flows were raised 3,000 CFS,” Greg told us. “In those conditions, I found success fishing a fast sinking Rio Versileader and a heavy streamer like a Motor Oil. Behind that, I trailed a smaller, lightweight streamer like the Platte River Spider.

According to Greg, try swinging your streamer rig toward the bank. Then, slowly strip it back upstream, as tightly to the bank as possible. Greg says that on that trip to the Gunnison, most of his strikes came on this upstream retrieve.

Of course if the water is too high or too off-color, you still have plenty of other options. Tailwaters, lakes and even headwaters tributaries can offer excellent fishing when runoff is at its peak.

In the meantime, get out there and try fishing your favorite freestone rivers – you may just find fewer people and no shortage of hungry trout! Just remember, stay safe when wading this time of year. In most cases, you may not need to get in the water at all.

If you have questions or need help getting started, please come visit us at the fly shop. Or give us a call at 303-794-1104.