Right now, all across Colorado, we are experiencing runoff that we have not seen in 20 years. Some areas are even seeing record high water levels. What this means to river anglers is that fishing can be extremely challenging as well as dangerous. However, this does NOT mean it is impossible. In fact, it can be rather rewarding with a lot of hard work and with the proper tactics.
So, how do you catch fish in extreme high water? Actually, the answer may be somewhat obvious – find the slower water. If you try to fish your normal spots you will likely find that they are overrun with high, fast water and you may not even be able to get to it, much less catch any fish there. Slower water is everywhere when you break a river down into small parts. Look at the inside part of a bend in the river, any cuts in the bank, the bottom end of an island, right along the edge of the bank or any other place where the fish can get a break from the fast current. The point is, the fish will not stay in the faster water because it takes too much energy to stay there so they will look for the slower water, and so should you. Sometimes it can be tough to get to a spot where you can actually make a cast. In those cases, think outside the box. If the water has come up over the banks and there’s some deeper water up in the bushes, look there. You’d be surprised to find fish hanging out along paths that you’d normally walk along when the water is lower, especially if there’s a light current there.
Once you find a spot where you think a fish might be, or if you’ve spotted one, fly selection is rather simple. I’ve been fishing with San Juan worms(pretty much any color), dark Pat’s Rubberlegs(or any other larger, dark stonefly pattern), larger prince nymphs and large scuds. Basically, you want to use anything to get the fish’s attention in the high, usually dirty water, and convince them to eat. Also, don’t rule out the effectiveness of streamers right along the banks. They can be deadly! As far as leaders and tippet go, now’s the time to break out that spool of 0X that you just look at and wonder if you’ll ever use it. The fish are not leader shy right now, they’re just hungry.
The final point I’ll make is regarding safety. No matter how much you want to get out and catch fish in your favorite river right now, only do it if you can do it safely. Try to stay out of the water whenever possible. If you feel the need to get in, make sure you do so in a spot with little to no current and where you can see the bottom. If you can’t see the bottom, STAY OUT! I was recently fishing in Deckers, before they closed the river, and I was having some success. I was going along moving upriver very slowly along a stretch where the path that I’d normally walk along on the bank was covered in water about thigh deep. Suddenly, I took a step and the path wasn’t there. I went in about neck deep. The current started to grab me and I grabbed hold of the willows that I was surrounded by and pulled myself out of the current. I was very lucky that I had something to grab onto and pull myself out. Had there not been anything there I may not be typing this now. Be careful. No fish is worth your life. If you don’t feel like you can fish a river safely now can also be the time to check out the reservoirs that you always tell yourself you’re going to try but never do because of the lure of matching the hatch on the river. The reservoirs have some huge fish and who knows, you may become addicted to those.