_Around here, it’s that crazy weather season when it can snow a foot one day, and then be 70 degrees and sunny the next. Those dramatic swings can cause sudden snow melts that turn the river muddy, without having much impact on total water volume. It’s a good-news, bad news deal.
On the one hand, you can sneak up on the trout better than you can in clear water. On the other, the fish obviously don’t move very far for flies, especially now that their metabolisms are slowing down. Here are some tips for fishing in some suddenly-dirty water that isn’t really flood water.
1. Remember “they won’t eat it if they don’t see it.” We aren’t using scented flies (that’s a party foul), so now is the time to be gaudy. Larger profile nymphs (like stoneflies), streamers, and yes, even dry flies are the bill of fare. Flashy accents, rubber legs, and all those things are good. That tiny little RS2 emerger is about as visible as a BB in a boxcar, so forget that stuff.
2. Mix and match colors. The gut instinct among many fly anglers is to use bright oranges, yellows, and white flies. Remember the “dark water, dark bait” theory. Blacks and browns really accentuate the silhouette profile of a fly. I like flies that have dark bases, and flashy accents.
3. Use an attractor fly. I often use a “salt and pepper” approach, where I tie on a tandem fly rig with one light fly, and one dark one. This is especially deadly when streamer fishing: Tie on a big white, silver, and red Zonker fly, and then trail a dark woolly bugger “stinger” fly about a foot behind it. The fish turns on the first, but often eats the second. That’s true with nymph rigs too. Use an attention-getter, and add a morsel behind it.
4. “Hit ’em in the head.” You need to put those flies right in the face of the fish to have any chance of getting bit. That means being patient, and covering the runs with more casts and presentations than you normally would. On a spot I might usually make five casts, I might make 50, covering different lanes that might be only inches apart. The fish aren’t going to charge three feet out of the way to eat flies in this water. You have to serve it up, right in front of them.
5. Trust your memory. If you’ve fished this water before, go right to where you have caught fish before. If you’ve found fish behind or in front of a certain rock, or in a deep pool odds are, the fish are still where they were a few days ago.
7. Trust your instincts. Key on those places that you know trout like– well-defined seams, dropoffs, ledges, and pools where you would cast if the water were clear, are exactly the same spots you should focus your casts in dirty water.
8. Hug the banks. The trout are definitely going to be closer to the banks and out of the roiling currents if the water comes up at all. Water that is only a foot or two deep, which you might normally walk right through, should be high on your priority list now, especially if you want to use a dry fly.
Don’t ever get discouraged by dirty water. Sure, there are times when the river is just too muddy to fish productively, but it’s easy to underestimate just how active trout really are when the water gets tinted. There’s a big difference between the real runoff and an “Indian Summer runoff.” And remember, the dirty, fast water gives the angler some stealth advantages too. Embrace the challenges, teach yourself a few lessons along the way, and not only will you expand your windows of opportunity, you’ll also hone skills that pay dividends in any season.