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Fishing High Water Might Just Change Your Life

Fishing High Water Might Just Change Your Life

This is an interesting year for fly fishing. Most of the golden triangle of hallowed rivers in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming has seen tremendous snow pack. This translates to epic high water during the runoff period. Unfortunately the runoff has come late and some of the high water will interfere with historically good fishing weeks across the west. While you week long trip to the promise land might not be what you expect there are options to get into fish during this time. It might make you just love high water and change your fishing life. 

Tailwaters are the key. While most of the freestones across the west are running high and brown the tailwaters will still be fishable. Yes there will be more water in those rivers than expected but they will have good clarity. Tailwaters such as the Missouri, Madison and Beaverhead become the popular go to during high water. These dams on these rivers will be releasing significantly more water as they are making room in the above lakes to handle the influx that is coming in. Most of these great rivers do have smaller freestones joining them downstream from the dam that will discolor the flow but those first few miles will be money. Keep in mind that others will have the same plan as you and tailwaters become extremely popular. Bring some beer and share and everyone will have a great time. 

Stillwater-- Many of the local lakes are just coming into their own when the rivers blow out. Think Hebgen, Ennis, Quake, Holter and the thousands of other small lakes in the region that hold some monster trout. Spring and early summer fishing can be spectacular with hungry fish in shallow water. The same fish you need sink tips to reach during the summer will be found cruising the banks in the cold water looking for tasty meals. Other non-trout species are easily targeted during this time. Think pike on the fly. Many of the lakes in North west Montana hold this great game fish and during the spring and early summer pike are a perfect target for fly fisherman as they are in the shallows spawning. If you have never tried pike on the fly you really need to. The visual aspect of watching a large pike attack a streamer is worth the price of admission. 

Pond Pigs are fun-- Lots of smaller ponds that have been stocked abound. While most of these ponds are private they can hold some really large trout. Yes it is not true wild trout fishing. It is kind of like a moped. It is Ok to ride one just do not let your friends see you. Stay away from the feeders and pellet flies and you might just have a fun time. 

Spring Creek-- The west is loaded with spring creeks that stay clear during high water. Yes most of these are private and require a rod fee to fish but they can be extremely challenging. Fishing a small mayfly pattern on 7x to feeding fish in gin clear water is a test for any angler. Spring creeks are a must fish on any western trip regardless of the time of year. 

Embrace the suck-- Many of the rivers are still fishable during high water. Even some of the tailwaters below where creeks join and muddy the flow up still produce some great fish. The best part of high water is it really concentrates the fish. The fish are pushed to the banks for two reasons. First this is the slowest water in the river and the easiest to hold in. Second, the epic stone fly hatches of late June are on the fishes mind. The stone fly nymphs that are going to hatch in a month start their migration to the banks to stage for the big dance. Where the food goes so does the fish. Many times you can fish high water and have a successful day and never get your feet wet. Keep casts within 3 feet of the bank and you will be surprised how many fish are right at your feet. Big leggy nymphs and streamers are the name of the game. When the water is off colored standard logic states to fish dark colored offerings. Yes fish can see a black nymph or streamer better when the water is off colored. We have also found that chartreuse colored flies work wonders. A black stone fly nymph with chartreuse legs is like a neon gas station sign when the tank is on E. Pounding the banks with the big stuff is oddly rewarding and produces some really large fish to those who keep at it. 

While everyone loves the allure of the big rivers and casting a single dry fly to rising fish those days are in the future. If you are looking to catch fish and have some fun during the runoff some plan b tactics are needed. The weather is improving each day and fish need to eat every day so there is hope. You can get out and do the plan B stuff or stay home and do yard work. The choice is easy for me. Who knows fishing high water might just change your life

John Way Posted by John Way

Guide, Outfitter and chief bottle washer for the Tackle Shop.  Recently developing his inter web ninja skills. 

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