fishing spring runoff

5 Keys to Fly Fishing Success in Late Spring Runoff

This weeks Fly Fishing Tip is brought to you by Jake Ricks of Utah Fly Guides.

April and May often bring on the high dirty waters of runoff in most snow-melt and rain-fed streams. Obviously, catching fish on artificial flies in cloudy water is tougher because the fly fisher relies on the fish’s sense of sight to trigger a strike. Fly fishing the wrong way in high dirty water is simply an exercise in futility. However, there are things to remember and tactics to try at this time of year that can increase your success.

1. Fish on Cooler Days

Even though you are probably wishing for warm days about now, hot weather means that more snow melts and the rivers go up. At this time of year try to fish on cooler days and you’ll find that the water won’t be as high as it might get on very warm days. Also, consider fishing early in the morning before the snow really starts to melt and bring the rivers up.

2. Fish Downstream

Snow-melt will take a while to get downstream so fishing the lower reaches of rivers that are far away from the melting snow, especially if you fish early in the day as mentioned above, will buy you more time. Even though warm air temperatures in the high country could be melting lots of snow by noon, if you are far downstream, you may have until 2 or 3 in the afternoon before the super high water gets to you.

3. Fish Big Dark Fly Patterns

Big dark fly patterns are far more visible than other earthy colors that might blend in with the earth-tinged water. Black Stonefly patterns and Black Wooly Buggers are among my favorites.

4. Fish Slow

Remember that melting snow is really cold and that fish are cold-blooded creatures that will not move as quickly in cold snow-melt waters. I like to bounce big nymphs slowly along the bottom and dead drifting Buggers slowly is a good tactic. Because of low visibility and the cold water temperature you need to get your flies close to the fish so fish methodically and cover all of the water you can.

5. Watch River Flows

Keep a close watch on river flow charts provided by the USGS and other services. You can get real-time stream flow conditions from any of our DIY fishing maps. Look for streams that are lower than others in your area compared to their normal rates of flow.

Fish eat a lot during runoff because so much food drifts with the high water. Therefore Spring fishing can yield great results. Be smart about when, where and how you fish at this time of year and you could be surprised with the great results.

Good Luck and Tight Lines!

Jake Ricks
Fly Fishing Professional, Guide, and Author

About the Author Ken Sperry

Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore and is on a quest to map the best places for fly fishing in America. He created DIY Fly Fishing and the DIY Fly Fishing App to share this information and help you find new places to fish. Have a question? You can get in touch with Ken here.