Top Flies for Fishing Spring Run-Off

Don’t be a runaway during run-off. A few flies and thoughts for high water season.

by Anna on the FlyMay 22, 2023 in Anna's Fly of the Week

@anna_on_the_fly is on the water constantly. She is constantly trying new things -- new flies, new techniques, and new gear. We are grateful that she's an Ambassador for DiscountFlies. And, we're grateful that she shares her knowledge and adventures with us here in the "Fly of the Week" (or month during the "off" season) Column.

May 23, 2023

Run-off is in full swing here in the Rockies and with that comes some challenges, but it also offers some amazing rewards!! Often times we hear “run-off” and think - “time to hit the tailwaters” or “I’ll stay home until the river settles” but that thinking will only have you missing out on some monsters that get pushed out of their normal lies during high flows. As snow is melting in the high county, the water or “run-off”, starts to flow down the mountain through creeks and streams that eventually feed into bigger rivers. All the while pushing mud and debris into the rivers making them murky and creating low visibility, however it also kicks up a ton of bugs, especially big bugs!! Stoneflies, leeches, worms, crane fly larvae, smaller caddis, and mayfly nymphs are a few of the more prominent food sources I’ve come across while seining rivers this time of year. That being said, instead of choosing one fly I’ll be going over several different flies that work for me when the water is running high and is stained like chocolate milk!

Big fish still gotta eat during runonn

Probably the most important thing when choosing flies for high, dirty water is picking the best fly color. It’s natural to think of using shiny bugs with flashback but in reality, the more important factor when choosing a fly color isn’t based on how flashy it is, instead it is contrast. Contrary to what common sense might make you think, the most effective color to use in stained water is black, this provides a stark contrast and creates a great silhouette against the dark water which really grabs the fish’s attention, kind of like a shadow. Some of my favorite black bugs to use are Wooly Buggers, Pat’s Rubber Legs, Copper Johns and Leeches; the larger bug makes a larger profile and anything with a little natural motion like a Pats or Leech will be even more effective. To go with that philosophy purple is also a great color due to the dark contrast, I like a wine-colored San Juan Worm, Prince Nymphs, or Juju Baetis. (TIP: Don’t be afraid to go a little bigger, trout don’t have the ability to closely inspect flies in stained water so don’t be afraid to go up a size or even two!) Another great color is chartreuse, chartreuse illuminates in dark water and is almost vibrant, so a Copper John or better yet an EGG with surely get you some action this run-off season. You’ll also want to avoid natural colors as they blend in, in muddy water.

The second part of fishing run-off is knowing where to fish, the water is moving fastest in the center of the river so look for any slack water or eddies, remember trout are lazy and want to conserve the most energy possible so slack water, usually along the banks, or behind boulders will be your best bet at finding holding fish. Even when the water is gin clear I usually fish the banks before stepping in the river, but this is even more important when the river is overflowing! I’ve caught so many fish 2-4” off the bank during run-off - some spots are actually areas where most of the year the place where I am casting from would usually be dry land, above water, and 90% of the time - the bank I stand on! So don’t be afraid to fish closer to the bank than you’d think. Remember fish want to feel safe so the dark water gives them a false sense of security and you can be much closer to them without spooking them. This is also why a lot of big fish are caught during run-off, not only do they sometimes get pushed from their normal holds but they also feel comfortable and safe enough to spread out to areas where they would normally be vulnerable!