High water fly fishing is effective

11 Essential Tips for Fly Fishing in High Water

High water conditions can be intimidating for many anglers. I’ve heard countless times, “The river’s too high to fish.” But trust me, after years of wading in water nearing my armpits, I’ve found that these conditions can be a goldmine. Here’s my personal guide on how to navigate and succeed in high waters.

Nymph fishing fast water

1. Just Go Fishing

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the river all to myself during high water. While others stayed home, I’ve landed some of my biggest trout. As long as it’s safe, there’s no better time to be out there.

Antidote: Days on the water are precious, you won’t catch them sitting at home.

2. Know Your Trout

Once, when the river was rising, I noticed the usual spots weren’t yielding any bites. It wasn’t that the trout had vanished; they’d just relocated due to the changing conditions. Recognizing this is half the battle.

Learn about “Pocket Water” I’ve got a great article 👉 Here and a video below

3. Slow Waters are Your Friend

I’ve often found trout in the calmest patches during high waters. They seek refuge in these slower waters, sometimes in places far shallower than you’d expect.

4. One Fish Often Means More

If you hook one in high water, keep at it. Trout tend to group up in these conditions. I’ve had days where one spot gave me catch after catch.

5. Bigger is Often Better

In murky waters, you want a fly that stands out. I’ve had great success with larger flies that make an impression and grab a trout’s attention.

6. Add Some Flair to Your Flies

My Observation: On a particularly cloudy day, I noticed a flash of color was what attracted the trout. Dark flies with a touch of vibrant color or a bit of sparkle can be game-changers.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Go Heavy

With the water’s murkiness, trout aren’t inspecting your fly as closely. I often use this to my advantage and opt for a heavier tippet.

Don’t be afraid of switching out colors as well.  Dark colors might be the ticket.  Read more about fly colors in👉 How to Pick the Best Color Flies for Trout

8. New Waters Can Be Goldmines

Last spring, after a heavy rain, I decided to try a spot that was nearly dry just a week before. To my surprise, it was teeming with trout. Always be ready to explore these new areas.

Those high waters moved the trout into skinny water to escape the current and forage on food concentrated in feeder creeks.

9. Side Channels are Hidden Gems

These smaller channels often offer clearer waters. I’ve found trout flock to these areas, escaping the main river’s murkiness.

10. Stay Adaptable and Observant

High water conditions are ever-changing. I always remind myself to be flexible, adapting to the river’s mood. It’s led to some of my most memorable catches. 

A favorite tactic is to pull a heavy stream close to a bank bound log.

Strip Streamer by Log
Strip Streamer by Log

11. Believe in the River

Remember, the trout are still there, and they’re still feeding. Whenever I hear someone say the river’s unfishable, I just smile and think of all the great days I’ve had in high waters.

Biggest Brown Trout
Biggest Brown Trout

High Water Fly Fishing Techniques

In the challenging realm of high, swift waters, two techniques reign supreme for anglers: “Going Deep with Your Fly” and the “High-Sticking Technique.” The first ensures your fly reaches trout-harboring depths, while the latter offers precision control in turbulent currents. Together, they transform daunting conditions into rewarding fly fishing experiences.

Go Deep with Your Fly:

In high waters, trout often seek refuge in deeper zones, away from the swift currents and surface turbulence. To effectively target these fish, it’s essential to get your fly down to their level. Here’s a deeper dive into how to achieve this:

Weighted Flies

Start with a fly that has some heft. Flies tied with beadheads, cone heads, or with lead wraps around the shank can naturally sink faster. Over the years, I’ve found that these weighted flies can be the difference between a hit and a miss in high waters.

Split Shot

Adding split shot s to your line can significantly increase the depth at which your fly swims. I usually place them about 6-8 inches above the fly. If the current is particularly strong, I might add a couple more or use larger split shots.

Check out my article on split shot and weighted flies. 👉 Using Split Shot and Weighted Flies for More Fish

Tungsten Putty

An alternative to split shot weights, tungsten putty is moldable and can be wrapped around the leader. It’s a versatile option, allowing you to adjust the weight as needed. Plus, it’s environmentally friendly and can be reused.

Sink-Tip or Full Sinking Lines

For situations where the water is exceptionally deep or fast, I switch to a sink-tip or a full sinking line. These lines are designed to pull your fly down, keeping it in the strike zone longer. It’s a bit of an investment, but for those challenging high-water days, it’s worth every penny.

Adjust Your Retrieve

I recall a day when, despite having a weighted fly and split shots, I wasn’t getting deep enough. Then I slowed down my retrieve, allowing the fly to sink more between pulls. The result? A beautiful, deep-holding brown trout that made my day.

High-Sticking Technique:

The high-sticking technique is a gem in the fly fisher’s arsenal, especially when dealing with high, fast-moving waters. Here’s a deeper exploration of this method and why it’s particularly effective in such conditions:

High Stick Fly Fishing
High Stick Fly Fishing with a master Jason Randall

The Basics of High-Sticking

At its core, high-sticking involves holding the fly rod high, ensuring that most of the fly line is off the water, leaving only the leader and tippet in the current. This minimizes the line’s contact with the water, reducing drag and allowing for a more natural drift of the fly.

Guide Pro Tip: Want to learn a bit more about high-sticking? Read 👉 What is High Sticking in Fly Fishing

Combatting Fast Currents

In fast-moving waters, different currents can pull your line in various directions, causing an unnatural drift. With high-sticking, by keeping most of the line off the water, you reduce the chances of mixed currents affecting your drift. This has often been my secret weapon when fishing challenging waters.

Better Strike Detection

With less line on the water, you can more easily detect subtle takes. The reduced drag means that when a fish strikes, the feedback is more direct, allowing for quicker and more successful hook sets.

Navigating Complex Currents

I remember fishing a section of the river where multiple currents converged. Traditional casting and drifting methods were proving fruitless. However, by employing the high-sticking technique, I was able to navigate my fly through the maze of currents, presenting it naturally to the trout hiding below.

Versatility in Depth Control

One of the beauties of high-sticking is the ability to control the depth of your fly easily. By lifting or lowering the rod tip, you can quickly adjust how deep your fly drifts, allowing you to explore different depths until you find where the trout are holding.

Looking to Learn the Tips and Techniques for the Fish You Love to Chase? I’ve Got You Hooked Up Below

One Last Cast in High Waters

To the uninitiated, high water fly fishing might seem like a lost cause. But with the right approach and a bit of old-hand wisdom, it’s an angler’s dream. So next time the waters rise, gear up, head out, and remember these tips. You might just have the river, and the fish, all to yourself.

Hi David Humphries Owner of Guide Recommended. I love everything to do with fly fishing. Casting, Tying, YouTube, writing about it and even teaching. I’ve got a FREE video workshop teaching how to dry fly fish at this link How to Fly Fish

Resources and More Reading

  • Orvis – Tips for High Water Spring Fly FishingLink
  • Fly Fisherman – High Water Trout FishingLink
  • Gink and Gasoline – Tips for High Water Trout FishingLink
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