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High Water Doesn’t Mean Poor Fishing

By John Camponeschi For Straightline Sports

Reporting Guide: Ben Rock

Date: 4/22/24

For customers and employees at Straightline Outdoor Sports, late spring and early summer is a magic time, especially for those who have been eagerly awaiting warm weather fly fishing.

This spring promises to be better than most. While the water is currently high, there are still opportunities for anglers to hook into the fish of a lifetime.  

The snow at lower elevations in the Yampa Valley has started to melt and the river is experiencing a “spike and drop” cycle, depending on weather conditions. Despite the rising, less clear water, there are still opportunities to fish. 

“People normally get intimidated by high and dirty water,” said longtime Straightline Sports guide Ben Rock. “It’s honestly one of my favorite times to fish, especially if you are watching the water temperatures.” 

On days when the water is not “chocolate soup” and not too cold, anglers should carry worms, stoneflies, eggs, midge nymphs, blue-winged olive nymphs, and leech patterns. Rock also explained that smaller “confidence” patterns can also be thrown as well, as the fish are not too picky. 

Rock predicts that the high and dirty water will persist through late May or early June. Anglers should look for cold weather snaps, which will in turn lead to clearer water, and fish as that clear water works through the river system. 

“You want to watch your conditions, watch your forecast, and watch for those little cold snaps,” said Rock.

Specific areas to target would be higher up in the river system, including some of Straightline’s exclusive private properties, as well as Sarvis Creek and the tailwaters of Stagecoach Reservoir. 

Rock explained that fishing “soft water”, and fishing tight to the banks, are key tactics during high water and when it starts to recede. Those small areas will hold multiple fish as they reduce the energy they have to expend avoiding swift currents. 

“It’s a different game but you don’t really have to reach out that far to find them,” he said. “You know right where they are going to be once you learn the type of water they are forced to sit in when the river is moving quickly.”

During times of off-color water anglers can use heavier fly lines (6 or 7 weight), heavier tippets (2x or 3x), and larger flies due to the lack of water clarity. It will also help if you hook a larger trout, as it will move out into the current in an attempt to break off. 

As the river peaks and recedes, the fish remain tight to the banks, especially in areas with a lot of willows and brush. Owing to food and cover, anglers have to play the game of risk and reward when it comes to putting a fly where a big, wary trout might be lying. 

“Be ready to lose a lot of gear,” explained Rock regarding the necessity to cast into risky places to catch big fish. 

“Slapping streamers” along banks and in areas where cover drops off into deeper water is a great way to quickly trigger a trout’s predatory instincts. 

“Streamers notoriously fish well in the spring and they notoriously fish well when the water is up,” stated Rock. 

However, he explained that streamer fishing is “very conditional” and is based on water temps during spring runoff. Colder water will make fish less inclined to move out of holding positions to strike a streamer. For this reason, those fishing streamers in high water should use sink-tip lines with a “low and slow” retrieve. 

Locations to target would be ledges, the backs of holes, and tail-outs. 

Rock explained that fly colors that contrast against the water color are best during this time of year.

“With muddy water, go dark or go really bright,” explained Rock. “Black or white tends to be the go-to.

As the water clears, Rock encouraged anglers to remember the adage “bright days, bright flys. Dark days, dark flys”. Olive and black are great colors to have as the river clears and drops. 

Owing to the amount of snow and the cold spring, this year’s float season on the Yampa will be better than average, especially in later spring and early summer. 

“When you are floating, deeper rigs, more weight, and more depth…is usually a good thing,” said Rock. “Heavy anchor flies are a go-to for people floating the Yampa during high water.” 

Anglers should also be watching gauges throughout the river system to determine the best times to be out on the river. Also, due to the high water pushing debris downstream, anglers should contact Straightline Sports to determine if there are any obstacles to be aware of in the floatable stretches of the river. 

“When it gets into the fifties the fish start to get really active,” said Rock. “I regularly look at the Fifth Street bridge as well as the gauge that is farther downriver right above Elkhead Creek.”

Our next report will be issued on 5/20/24 or sooner if conditions necessitate.

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