Summer is here and the Roaring Fork is roaring! The Roaring Fork is classified as a “Freestone” river, meaning that it contains no dams from its headwaters to its confluence with the Colorado River. As a result, water levels in the Fork and other Freestones are controlled by snow melt and precipitation alone. That means that in spring and early summer, snow melt produced by warm weather at high elevations causes a surge of water to course through our river systems in a process we call “runoff.” Runoff means high, fast moving water, and presents unique challenges to trout and anglers alike. But, as fishermen we can take advantage of the fast moving, murky water to fool trout with big flashy bugs and heavy tippet. If you haven’t fished high water, you’re missing out on an amazing and unique experience!
When runoff begins, trout look for refuge from the raging current by seeking out structure like rocks, logs and back eddies that slow the flow of the river. During high water, fish are often right off of the bank and tend to stack up in these pockets of slower moving water.
The surge in flow during runoff dislodges all kinds of insects like large Stoneflies, Caddis, and Mayflies from the bottom of the river and washes worms in from the banks. After a long winter of eating tiny midges, the fish gorge themselves on these large, protein packed food sources in order to put on weight and sustain themselves while they fight the strong current.
Nymphing is the most productive method of fishing during runoff. Use large Stonefly, Worm, Caddis or Mayfly patterns with a significant amount of weight to slow your flies down. Since the turbidity is high during runoff, you’ll need to practically hit the fish in the face with your flies, so don’t be discouraged if it takes some time to connect with fish. That being said, if you find a section of water where the trout are sheltered from the current, you’ll probably find a whole pod of trout. Have faith that the big bugs will get it done and cover some water until you get a fish in the bag. Once you do, make sure to fish that pocket thoroughly, you’ll be surprised how many fish might be hiding behind one rock!
Some great patterns for this time of year are the Pat’s Rubber Legs size 6-12, Squirmy Worm, San Juan Worm, 20 Incher size 8-14, Prince Nymph size 10-14, and Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ear size 12-14. Come check out our shops for more suggestions!
Safety is the priority during runoff! The river is powerful and moving fast. Please be sure to wear your wading belt, make good decisions and wade safely. Remember, the trout are often right off of the bank, so there’s no need to put yourself at risk!
Remember that fishing this time of year means adapting to ever changing conditions. Water level, clarity, and temperature changes dramatically on a daily basis, so make sure you’re adapting and trying something new every day you’re out on the water. Though this can make the fishing challenging for some, those who are willing to explore, adapt and persist will be rewarded. Plus, as the water begins to drop in the next few weeks, we expect the fishing to be fantastic!
If you need any more information about fishing high water and these ever-changing conditions, give us a call at 970-925-3406 or stop into either of our shops. We’ve been making the best of these conditions and putting fish in the net, so if you’re struggling don’t hesitate to reach out!
Written by Cian McGillicuddy, Photos by Anna Stonehouse