High Water Fishing

On my home water on the Ausable in New York, high water is a constant problem. Our water usually drops very fast but in wet years like the one we are having right now you just have to deal with it. For many of the people who visit they take it as an omen and either cancel their trip or just lose confidence and fish lazily. Let me be the first to tell you, that is a big mistake in most cases. Our water fishes quite well in when its high within reason and if you adjust your technique you can cash in. Ive had similar experiences on other rivers and Im sure these pointers will work just as well on your home freestone water. And by the way we pronounce our river Awe-Sable for those who mispronounce it constantly.

While most people are running for the car or the bar and not necessarily in that order, those who know are still out pounding the water. The mistake I see most anglers make is that they fish the same type of water that they would usually fish. In high water, especially that which has been that way for a few days the fish will simply move out. When the water rises the fish will generally hold in their typical deep water areas provided they have them. When the water stays high the fish have to move to stay healthy. During the first day or few hours of a high water event I search out deeper holes that I know hold fish on a day to day basis and I dredge them out with big nymphs. Up here that means big black or golden stoneflies. Now keep in mind this works in the beginning of a high water event or until the flow just becomes unreasonable. After that you need to change things up again.

Another thing I try to keep in mind is that when the water is high the fish usually only offer you a small window of good fishing that may last a few hours. Its important to remember that trout are sensitive to light, temperature, and exhaustion and high water can make them go haywire. But they still have to eat so when they see what they perceive as the best feeding window for the current conditions they take advantage and put the feedbags on. Like I said before, this may only last a short while but you need to be there when it happens so stay frosty, plus there is always a dumb fish or two around.

So now that the water has been high or has gone way high we need to rethink our strategy. During high water like this I often find trout in holding water that is barely deep enough to cover their fins. This often means right up close to the bank, in side channels or long gravel bars that we typically wade on. I can't tell you how many times I have seen anglers walking all over fish or just walking past really good trout water when the CFS is big. Just try to picture slow stagnant places you would usually avoid and go right to them. With that said there needs to be some type of current that will bring the food in, if there isn't, move on.

Now that we have established where the trout might be we need to remember that fish in slower water are spookier fish. Just because the water is generally high doesn't mean you should act like the fish won't spook as easily, they will. I have witnessed it a hundred times and heard all the excuses about high water fish being more tolerant which may be true in the beginning when they are holding in their original lies but I can assure you that if you are fishing softer water this is not true.

So how do we fish to them in these tricky currents? For most of us that means bigger flies and we usually associate bigger flies with fishing deeper water if we aren't targeting a hatch. This is true but you also have more control of a bigger heavier fly and you can work the fly into places you want to drift a little easier. This doesn't mean to drag the fly through the lies you expect fish to be in but it does mean at the very beginning of your drift you can tease the fly a little to fall where you want it to. Streamers are also very effective in water like this but make sure you fish them slower than you might normally and thoroughly because the fish wont move terribly far to hit them in most cases.

The other flies you do not want to discount if you have broken water, like we do here in the Adirondacks are big dry flies. Especially in pocket water. If you are not comfortable fishing heavy rigs this is one of the peak times to tie on a big bushy dry when there isn't even a hatch around. The fish are opportunistic in pocket water and even more so in high water. They don't get long to make a decision so tempting them with a big dry is often the trick. This week has been a prime example. So if you see or hear about high water, don't run away. Call the local shop to get the scoop or hire a guide, chances are they know more than you about whats going on in the area or at the time unless you happen to be on that water regularly. Im not insulting anybody's intelligence but a good fly shop will help you out, and they wont steer you in the wrong way despite the conditions.

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