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High water is time for terrestrials


May 7, 2004

High water is terrestrial time for trout

Some popular fly patterns are (from top to bottom) grasshoppers, crickets, ants, beetles, San Juan worms, bees and caterpillar patterns, which come in highly visible colors for low-visibility water. Trout will be waiting for your terrestrials as soon as the river begins to clear.

High flows on the Animas of a thousand cubic feet per second or more are pretty intimidating to many fly fishers. And justly so for anyone thinking of fishing mainstream. But, the trout don't like fighting big, fast water either - so they just move to the sides of the river.

Limited visibility protects the fish from predators, and rising waters provide a continuous supply of new terrestrial foods. Land dwelling invertebrates get washed into the river and trout have a springtime smorgasbord of new morsels. Ants, beetles, worms, grasshoppers and crickets, along with cranefly and numerous other larvae - are forced to exit their burrows to get air, or just get washed into the river's edge.

As of Monday, the river flows were approximately 1,200 cfs, meaning the Animas is flowing a foot or two over the "grass line." Trout will subsequently congregate in opportunistic holding lies along the river banks or in side channels where they can devour terrestrials, still have the cover of turbid water, and not get washed away in powerful currents.

Fly fishers should also avoid dangerous water. Because most trout are typically in water from 1 to 3 feet deep, and within 1 to 10 feet from the bank - wading is mostly not necessary. Wading in mainstream currents is certainly not safe or needed, because the fish are not out there. Only rafters and the "wild bunch" in their rodeo kayaks need play in the main channels and fast white water. Fly fishers and trout are "better off" next to the bank.

Although many fly fishers do not fish during high spring flows, it is the perfect opportunity to connect with sassy, aggressive feeders and trophy class trout. Boulders, logs and other structure, along with "nooks and crannies" along the banks, provide perfect cover, water depth and slower current flows. Fly fishers should usually fish upstream and concentrate on shorter controlled casts. Avoid stepping into the water or splashing along the banks. This will provide better chances for hooking-up spooky, larger trout.

Ironically, the higher the water and bigger the river, the less need for even putting on your waders. You should, however, always wear wading shoes (preferably studded) so you do not slip if you need to net and release fish, or cross slippery rocks in skinny water.

Rigging for springtime trout fishing along the river banks is a different matter. Leaders should be 7 to 9 feet for controlled casts so you don't wind up in the bushes. Tippets can be 5X or larger so you can muscle bigger fish and prevent them from "going south" into mainstream currents. If they do, you can probably kiss your fly goodbye!

When fishing wet flies, indicators should usually be placed within 2 or 3 feet from the fly, so you can control depth in shallow shoreline waters. I prefer white indicators if they are placed close to my fly, because I believe they are less offensive to smart fish. I generally use only enough weight or micro-shot to sink the fly - based on current speed, type of fly, water depth, etc. But, high water and fishing along the banks is not just for dunking air-breathing bug imitations.

Dry fly terrestrial patterns during high flows can be tremendously effective. Remember, trout can see up and out of the water better than you can see down into it - even with your polarized lenses. So, if water visibility appears to be a foot or two - trout will have little problem recognizing a big ant, beetle or hopper pattern on the surface. Present your top-water bugs close to the banks with delicate casts and be prepared.

Warm weather, a few feet of visibility into the water, shorts, sunscreen, your wading shoes, a fly rod, and some terrestrial patterns - and you might possibly have about as much fly fishing fun as you can stand.

L. David Grooms is senior partner of

He can be reached at (970) 385-9048.


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