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Don’t Let Runoff “Put You Down”

By Tom Caprio

Snowpack is 200% of normal and rivers are getting swollen with runoff.  Fly fishermen will pack their rods away until the rivers recede, missing out on some excellent fishing.

When rivers are high, you will find energy efficient trout stacked in the slower water along the banks. Fish still need to eat in the high and murky water which makes the fishing good, especially when the water clarity improves even marginally. This will happen when the weather cools for a couple days thus slowing down snowmelt. Fish can still see your flies in only a foot of visibility.

There will also be daily fluctuations in the flows and you can coincide your fishing with the lowering flows. It’s important to understand that it can take several hours for the peak flows to reach a section of river lower in the drainage.  Going higher in the drainage can also help get to clearer water since there are less tributaries as you go upstream.

Tailwaters (rivers below dams) can also be excellent high water options.  The reservoir will settle silt from the incoming runoff and the outgoing water below the dams will have better clarity. Sometimes water will be held back to fill the reservoirs so take advantage of those situations.

One benefit of high flows is bigger food sources are kicked up off the river bottom – stoneflies, crane fly larva, scuds, aquatic worms, earthworms, leeches, and baby fish. It’s time to use those big flies!  Darker/bigger profile flies will stand out better in off-color water along with pinks and purples.

It’s important to fish those flies through the water column in those slower sections of water. Fish will sometimes suspend in slow off-colored water since they don’t feel threatened by overhead predators. But, just like normal nymph fishing, keep going deeper if you aren’t picking up fish by adding weight and/or lengthening the distance to the indicator. Or, get rid of the indicator and ‘tight line’ heavier flies.

Be safe when fishing high flowing water. Don’t step out into the water if you don’t know the depth and consider fishing from the river banks. One trick is to stick your rod tip (gently) into the water to find out how deep it is next to the bank.

June is also the perfect month to fish lakes with multiple hatches happening and excellent water temperatures for feeding fish. These hatches will start on lower elevation lakes so you can follow them up to middle and higher elevation lakes as the weather warms.  Damselflies, dragonflies, calibeatis (lake mayflies), caddis, and midges can all be present, along with leeches, scuds, crayfish and baitfish.

Each of these food sources has a different ‘retrieve’ so presentation is critical as is finding the depth of the fish. Use the ‘count down’ method when fishing subsurface on lakes. Fan cast and then let your flies sink – start with counting to 10 by thousands–one thousand, two thousand, etc.  Increase your count on the subsequent set of casts until you find the depth of the fish.

Where to fish in a lake can be a challenge but there are spots more ‘fishy’ than other.  Inlets are especially good during runoff since lots of food wash into the lakes.  Outlets are also good, along with spots that transition from deeper water to flats or shoals. Look for spots with structure, especially if there are 2 ‘structures’ together (for example a downed tree near a drop off).  Just as fish will move into somewhat faster/shallower water to feed in rivers, lake fish will move into shallower water to feed.

Some folks feel that fly fishing lakes can be boring, but when I fish lakes I rarely let the flies sit since most everything in the lakes move – bugs, leeches, baitfish, and trout.  By moving your flies, lake fishing becomes more exciting – especially when you feel the fish hit.

   Lake fish can get pretty big!


A few of my favorite lake spots to fish this time of year include the 3 inlets to Lake Dillon, inlet to Gross Reservoir (you’ll have to hike a mile to get there), inlet to Lake Estes, inlet to Montgomery Reservoir, and the inlet to Fairplay Beach. Other lakes that fish well include Pine Valley Ranch lake (Jefferson County park near Pine), O’Haver Lake south of Salida (bring your tent or camper), Clinton Reservoir on Fremont Pass, Chrystal Lake near Leadville, Tarryall Reservoir (especially good to belly boat), Jefferson Lake, Spinney Mountain reservoir, and Lily Lake up by Rocky Mountain National Park.

Don’t let high water deter your fishing… adjust your tactics on the river or try lake fishing. It can be rewarding and will provide some of the biggest fish of the year. Have fun out there!

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