What Flies Work in High Off-Color Water?
When the fishing is tough and the fish are tough to figure out, the best fly fishing guides always seem to find a way to put trout in the net. Call it intuition or a hunch or just plain knowledge gained from hundreds of days on the water but experienced guides always have a few go to flies that always seem to get the job done. Sometimes this job is made even more difficult when the river is not the crystal clear color that all anglers prefer.
Whether from a rainstorm, spring runoff or increased flows being released from a dam there are times when the river may run slightly cloudy or murky. Many anglers shy away from fishing during these conditions. The truth is, however, that trout can and do continue feeding in off color water and may even feed more aggressively than when the water is clear. Tactics simply need to be changed to adapt to what the trout are looking for. Below is a list of a few tried and true patterns that guides reach for when they are met with these conditions.
Pat’s Rubberleg Stonefly
This fly is a simply tied version of the Girdle Bug pattern. Stoneflies are a mainstay food item for trout in rivers like the Colorado, Eagle and Roaring Fork Rivers. They are a big meal that is available year-round. During high flows they are dislodged more often and their beefy profile is easier to see in cloudy currents. Pat’s Rubberleg is tied to imitate black salmonfly nymphs, golden stoneflies and also in attractor colors. Guides always prefer simple flies and this pattern fits the bill and seems to catch trout more readily than more complicated stonefly nymphs.
San Juan Worm
Love it or hate it, the Worm catches fish. This is never more true than when flows come up quickly and there is some color and debris in the water. This can be a common occurrence during runoff or when water is released from a dam on tailwater whether it is a big river like the Colorado River or a small stream like the Yampa. Aquatic worms and terrestrial earthworms are dislodged when flows increase and trout take notice of this easily captured large chunk of protein. The most effective colors seem to be red, pink and tan and sometimes a flashy Sparkle Worm is deadly.
It is a fairly common tactic to go after trout with large streamer patterns when the river is muddy. Some patterns seem to produce better than other during these conditions and the Tequeely is an ideal choice at these times. It is a mutant version of a wooly bugger at heart but sports some serious fish attracting qualities that other streamers lack. A flashy, metallic copper colored body shines brightly while a bright chartreuse tail undulates and adds lifelike movement. The final touch is several large yellow rubber legs that wobble and pulse with each strip of the fly line. While the Tequeely in no way imitates a specific food source it does have several triggers that make trout attack this fly aggressively.
These are just a few flies that are proven winners in spring run-off conditions. Anglers should think big and either very dark or very bright with flash. Look for slower water out of the main, fast currents. There is little need to wade deep both for safety concerns and because fish will find the best lies near the bank where the water moves slower.
The next time you arrive at the water’s edge to see murky water and high flows do not assume the fish are not feeding. To the contrary, there are times when this may spur trout into eating big flies that are not often fished in clear flows. Try these guide flies and see for yourself. To stock up on these pattern s stop by the Vail Valley Anglers fly shop to check out our huge fly inventory.
Brody Henderson, Senior Guide and Web Content Writer