Float fishing in Colorado during the spring runoff season is an exciting and sometimes very effective way to get into fish. As our local rivers begin to speed up and come alive, so do the trout that live in them, and anglers with good float fishing skills can capitalize on the early season feeding frenzy that often occurs. Along with great fishing opportunities like the legendary salmonfly hatch on the upper Colorado, the runoff season brings some unique challenges. Fast, cold, muddy water can make fishing hard and even a bit dangerous. There are, however, some extra items that you can take to the water to make you runoff fishing season a little bit easier and more productive. Here is a short list of my favorites.
This one is a no-brainer. If you do not have a quality life jacket with a legible interior label, you have no business riding in a boat down a raging, ice cold river in May or June. This goes for everyone from the most experienced to the least. If you use it a lot, it is a good idea to replace it every few seasons to ensure that it floats and that all of the straps, buckles, and zippers are in good shape.
Sink Tip Fly Line
An intermediate fly line can be a valuable tool when fishing streamers in high water. More often than not, fish are holding deep and if you fish with floating lines you will not be able to get your flies to them before the current takes them downstream. A slow sink tip fly line is usually all you need to better your chances of getting a good streamer presentation during runoff. My favorite is the Rio Streamer Tip Fly Line.
If you do not have an extra reel or spool loaded with an intermediate fly line, a good alternative is to use a sinking leader like the Rio VersiLeader. VersiLeaders come in a variety of lengths and sink rates and work wonders for getting streamers and nymphs down in a hurry when you are fishing in fast water.
Big Indicators, Big Weights, and Big Bugs
In high, muddy water, size matters. Save the tiny midges and mayflies for the rest of the year when trout are more picky. Runoff season calls for big stoneflies, worms, streamers, and caddis. Your bugs have to be big enough for fish to see and enticing enough for them to chase after in a strong current. A strong current will often times take your flies downstream before they get a chance to sink into the trout’s feeding zone, so you will also need bigger weights when nymphing. Do not be afraid to add weights in fast water. Finally, big flies and big weights call for big strike indicators. Luckily fish are less likely to be spooked by a big, bright indicator when the water is muddy, so it is okay to use the larger sizes, which will support your heavy rigs in turbulent waters.
6 Weight Fly Rod
All of that extra weight at the end of your line will likely be too much to cast all day long with a 5 weight fly rod, so I like to upgrade to a 6 weight Sage One rod with a fighting butt for this time of year. Just a little extra power can greatly increase your casting accuracy and distance with heavy flies and will help reduce fatigue after a long day of fishing.
Quick Drying Layers
The last piece of high water floating gear that I recommend is a quality baselayer. The weather might be warm and sunny, but the water is high and cold, and I always seem to get splashed while float fishing through whitewater. I stay away from cotton and wear two wool or synthetic layers on top so that when I get wet I stay warm and dry quickly.
With the addition of these items to your fly fishing gear collection, you will be better prepared to have a safe, warm, and productive runoff fishing season. Be sure to read our up-to-date fishing reports for hatch information and river flows. Don’t have a boat? No problem. Simply book a float trip with one of Vail Valley Angler’s experienced, professional float guides.
Andy “Otter” Smith, Guide and Content Writer