Photo A.) Looking upstream from the cow bridge during "High Muddy Water." There were branches and trees that had washed up against most of the upstream side of the cow bridge creating a dam.
Photo B.) Looking downstream from the cow bridge. You can see that the water is high, but much more manageable due to the make shift dam on the other side.
This next installment of “Fishing High Water” is more of a compilation of information that I have gained from observing and fishing in those conditions. And I must add that I am still working on being a better “High Water” fly fisherman.
First, I have noticed that there is a difference between “high water” and “high muddy water.” High water for me is a water level that exceeds the normal flow and fluctuations for that particular stream or river without running over the banks and becoming muddy. An example of this would be during the spring when you have a good amount of run off due to rain or snow melt. The water is above normal levels for this time of year and it has a light to medium color to it, such as a light green or light brown. Visibility is still fairly good and you can still make out much of the structure of the stream and the seams, riffles, pools and runs still hold much of their appearance. This is great water for streamer fishing or drifting large nymphs along the bottom. And during periods of high water like this in the late spring through summer, you can still find good dry fly fishing. At this flow most fly fisherman are still very successful and enjoy the change from the low water of the summer months.
Things change however when the stream starts to run over its banks and the water turns muddy. This is when the fishing becomes difficult. The stream or river now takes on a very different appearance. The water is saturated with silt, dirt, sand and other debris. The main current of the stream or river is very turbulent and is now un-fishable. Visibility is now between 6 inches to maybe a foot or so. At this flow many fisherman stay at home and tie flies, waiting for water levels to come down. I am here to say that I have had some of my best fishing days during “high muddy water.”
Here are the things that I have come to take notice of that may make your experience fishing in “high muddy water” more successful.
First – I would start by choosing a stream that you spend a lot of time fishing. Knowing before hand where all the little holes, undercut banks, shallow gravel areas and so on will cut down on the time spent on trying to find these areas on a stream you don’t know.
Second – This is probably the hardest part of fishing high muddy water – “Finding the Fish!” Look for slower water like back eddies, seams, side channels, small feeder streams and downed trees or debris that may slow the water down. These places will concentrate the fish. Just imagine a stream during normal conditions. The fish may have dozens of options of where to hold and feed all through a section of stream. But, when you have high muddy water fish cannot hold in those same areas. They will only be able to hold in one or two spots. And once you find these areas, you should catch many fish out of that one spot.
Third – Fly selection and fishing methods are probably the easiest aspects of fishing high muddy water. Dark nymphs in sizes #12-#8 and buggers and streamers from size #12 up to #6 are the best bets. They can be weighted or un-weighted, but I prefer fishing a weighted nymph or bugger so I don’t have to add split shot to the leader (fish the fly, not the weight concept.) A strike indicator works the best, but you can high stick nymph since you will be fishing pretty close to shore. Make sure you strike at every little stop you feel. I tend to use a little heavier tippet such as 5x or 4x for inland trout streams and 8 to 10lb. test for tribs. And I use fluorocarbon as it sinks and regular mono does not. With a few adjustments to the indicator for water depth, you should be ready to go! I usually set my indicator as close to the depth of the water as I can.
My favorite rig for “high muddy water” is fishing a weighted bead head woolly bugger under a strike indicator. I have caught the majority of all my fish with this rig. And whether it’s on an inland trout stream or a great lakes tributary, the fish just can’t resist taking advantage of a good sized meal during “high muddy water.” You just have to find them!