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.
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
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 7½ 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
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
He can be reached at (970)