The first sign that summer is truly here has to do with...snow?
Yes, snow! More specifically, the melting of snow in the mountains that leads to swollen rivers and streams at lower elevations. It’s quite the time as air temperatures can be in the 80s and 90s while the water is raging and frigid because of the snow melt. So how the heck do you still catch fish during this time of year? Here’s a few tips to help!
The Bank is Your Friend
Trout spend a good deal of their life attempting to consume more calories than they burn. It’s a matter of life and death for them to save as many calories as possible. During runoff, that means trout try to escape the raging current and find softer water. This leads to many a fish holding on or near the banks where calmer water is present. Fishing these “slack” spots leads to plenty of hookups and fish in the net!
Perhaps most importantly, the bank is our friend because it can be treacherous to wade too far into the current. Every year some rafters, fishers, or picnicers perish by underestimating the power of the runoff current. Fish from the bank when possible, and, thanks to where the fish tend to hold, that’s easily doable!
Things to look for on the stream banks:
- Slow water
- Deep channels tight to the waters edge
- Rocks and other debris to provide cover and food
- Back eddies that offer up relief from the current
Check The Gauges
Fly fishers flock to the tailwaters during runoff, and for good reason. Freestone streams with a direct line to the mountains can rip out of their banks and become almost totally unfishable as the snow melts. Tailwaters, on the other hand, are regulated, and even though their flow might increase during runoff it can hold steady for a few days or weeks allowing the fish to become accustomed to holding and feeding lies.
Anglers can be well-served to monitor stream gauges each day. Plenty of guides check these each and every morning to account for fluctuation in release levels of local dams. There are spots that will fish great at 500 cfs, but poorly at 250 cfs, and perhaps become unfishable at 600 cfs. Spend a few seasons monitoring the flows and productive locations during runoff and eventually you’ll know exactly where to fish (or not fish) during specific gauge readings.
If You Find One, You’ve Probably Found A Bunch!
If a river has a typical July flow of 125 cfs, it’s safe to say that trout can be everywhere. Deep pools, runs, riffles, and undercut banks are all likely holding spots. During runoff of late May and June that same waterway might be at 1,000 cfs, and trout now have far fewer spots to call home. That deep back eddy on the far bank might now look like the Niagara River rather than a nice place to catch a trout.
This isn’t cause for despair, however! Trout might not have as many spots to hide during runoff, but odds are if you can locate or catch one there are more to be had. Every fish in a 100-yard stretch of river might now be condensed to a ten foot slack run tight against the bank. Probe around from spot to spot and if you catch one, anchor down and catch a bunch!
In a lot of ways fishing during runoff can be daunting. Flows are up and water temperatures are icy, causing fish to hold in new locations. Trout fishing doesn’t have to end until the torrents subside, though. Follow these tips and continue to catch trout all through runoff!