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  • Writer's picturePaul

5 Quick Tips for Fly Fishing in High Water

Updated: Jun 30, 2022

Photo: David McKenzie

Fly fishing in high water can be intimidating.

High water usually means you'll encounter things like swifter current, poor water clarity, and added debris. Despite these negatives, one positive is that high water also makes even more food sources available for the fish to munch on. Fish can and still do feed in some pretty nasty conditions, which means you can catch them with a few tweaks in tactics and tackle along with some added patience.

Keep these quick tips in mind:

Fly Choice- With visibility low, it's important to use a fly that more easily grabs attention. Increasing the size of the fly is a basic way to do this. Larger, bulkier streamers can be especially effective in these conditions because the bigger size increases water displacement and movement that fish can both feel and intercept easier. Fishing your pattern of choice in a solid color that contrasts well in off-color water is another way to maximize the chances of it being seen. My four favorite colors that put out a great silhouette include black, purple, white, and chartreuse.

Heavier Tippet- Dirty water means you can bump up the strength of your tippet since the fish can't see as well. In addition, heavier line offers added protection and fish-fighting ability when fishing around the swifter flows, added debris, and increase of flooded, snaggy cover that high water brings. This can also be when you might want to leave the expensive fluorocarbon at home and save it for when you need it—when the water is clear.

Heavier Setup- Since there's more water, more junk in the water, more current, and you're likely fishing a heavier tippet, it's often beneficial to bump up one or more rod and line sizes. This will give you even more power for casting those larger flies while also offering added grunt to keep a fish out of trouble.

Current- High water in a river means more current, and the fish want no part of those heavy, deep, dark flows. Try looking for current breaks and softer water closer to the banks out of the big main flows. Small side channels, eddies, fallen or flooded trees, undercuts, and large rocks in that zone are all prime spots to check out that can lessen or break up current. On lakes, species like carp and bass can get extremely shallow during high, dirty water periods, often found in mere inches of water. During typical water levels, these same places may be dry!

Presentation- When visibility is reduced, fish will feed within a much smaller window. You have to get the fly close to them (and on or near the bottom in the dirtiest water), so repeated presentations into a likely zone help ensure you thoroughly cover it adequately. Even if the first few shots don't pay off, try different angles or ways of presenting the fly to see if that works if you really feel it's a key spot. Be prepared to lose even more flies than usual when fishing tight to banks and cover.

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