Learn The Fly Fishing Basics and How to Fly Fish!

High Water Fly Fishing Tips

Imagine this. It’s Springtime in your area. The birds are singing, the trees are getting greener each day, and the flowers are blooming. Adding to this, the weather is getting to be that oh so nice temperature. Things are great so you pack up your fly fishing gear and head out to your local river or stream. The problem with all of this is the Spring usually means runoff and runoff equates to high, muddy or stained water on your local waters. That’s no reason to pack it in and wait till the waters drop. All you need is some high water fly fishing tips to keep you on the water and catching fish.

High Water Fly Fishing - The Fly Fishing Basics

High Water Fly Fishing Tip #1 – Stay Safe

First things first, stay safe this time of year. High, muddy water can pose some very serious threats to anglers. Your typical stream can turn into a raging torrent of debris during Spring runoff. Keep a sharp eye out on your surroundings and the conditions in which you are fishing so that you can make it home safe.

This will involve careful wading tactics more than anything. You may think you know your river, but trust me, things change this time of year. I recommend using a wading staff to help you should you decide to venture into the waters. This will help check water levels as well as give you an extra degree of balance. A quick search turned up this great option you can pick up from Amazon: Hammers Collapsible Wading Staff Fishing Stick. If you don’t want to spend the money, a sturdy branch can be a great makeshift wading staff.

Along those lines, make sure you have solid footing when wading. Currents can get really strong in high water and your feet can get swept right out from under you. All-in-all, a little careful planning, preparation, and common sense will help you in the long run. Just don’t be stupid out there. (End of my warning rant) 

High Water Fly Fishing Tip #2 – Fish the Edges

The first actual fishing tip I have is a simple one. Fish the edges. In high water, the currents ramp up. This also affects the usual locations that fish tend to be found creating a much harsher environment for them to survive. Do they want to struggle in a raging current? Not particularly. So they seek out slower areas of a river to find food and conserve as much energy as they can.

High Water Fly Fishing - Fish the Edges

The edges of a river tend to have the least amount of current. You’ll often find fish tucked right up next to the banks during high water times. The benefit of this high water fly fishing is that sometimes it can mean easy fishing for these fish up on the edges. The fish need to eat and a well-presented fly in their feeding lane can be just the ticket.

High Water Fly Fishing Tip #2b – Fish Slow Moving Areas

Along the same lines as the last tip is to seek out and fish any slower moving areas of the river, like the edges but in more obvious areas of a river. Typical places like behind boulders and in eddies are great for high water fly fishing. These area provide a calmer area for fish to rest and seek out other food that is then swept into them. Keep and eye out for these places and you’ll usually find some fish there.

High Water Fly Fishing - Fly Fishing Runoff - Fish Slow Moving Water

High Water Fly Fishing Tip #3 – Flies

Aside from finding the fish in high water, you’re probably wondering just what you can actually cast to these fish in that chocolate brown water. That’s a great question and here are a few of my recommendations.

Vladi Worm

Vladi Worm-High Water Fly Fishing TipsThis one is great for high water fly fishing. Well it’s great all the time, but it does shine in high waters. Basically a giant, heavy, meaty-looking worm that fish love to eat. It’s tied on a 3XL or 4XL streamer hook in sizes ranging from #2-#6 and uses primarily a pink condom, some ribbing, and weight. I love this fly for high water fly fishing situations. Check out Loren William’s instructions on tying the Vladi Worm and add some to your fly box.

Rubber Legs / Ugly Bug / Rubber Leg Stone

Ugly Bug Black Rubber Legs - High Water Fly Fishing FliesThe rubber legs, as I’ve always known it, is a simple yet effective fly pattern for all occasions. It does happen to shine in muddy, high water fly fishing situations though. The large profile and dark color of the fly lend itself well to fishing in these situations and the squirly rubber legs on the fly create a great action in the water for when the fish does happen to see it. They’re big, ugly, and they work.

Any Big, High Floating Dry Fly

You may think I’m crazy on this one. I mean how is a fish going to see, and take, a dry fly in high muddy water? Well, that’s not entirely the point of this fly. The key with this is using a two fly setup. What you’ll do is use the dry/dropper rig with any of your normal nymph patterns dropped below the dry fly. Use a hare’s ear, pheasant tail, frenchie, or any other pattern you have confidence in and find yourself a nice back eddy to fish. If your nymph has a lot of weight, make sure the dry fly can support it and let that setup just swirl around in the slow moving water.

Attractor Dry Fly - Two Fly Setup

It’s almost as if you were bait fishing this way if that helps to visualize it. The fish sometimes won’t expend a lot of energy when they’re fighting strong current all day and it can take some time to entice a fish to take a fly. Drop the flies into the suitable area and wait. The dry fly will keep the nymph suspended in the zone of the fish and will help to keep it there for an extended period of time allowing the fish, who may have a hard time seeing your nymph, to key in on it and then take it.

I learned of this technique while fishing record flood levels in a national competition in Pennsylvania a few years back. I had been drifting a standard two fly nymph setup through a very good looking pocket for hours with no luck. It was probably the only likely area that a fish may be holding with the water being as high as it was. Needless to say I never caught anything. That’s not my point though. The next angler fishing the same beat spent his entire time fishing the same location. He landed a fish though. What was the difference? He used this technique to allow the fish that was there all along to key in to the fly and eventually take it. Lesson learned for me.

Woolly Bugger

Woolly Bugger Streamer FlyLastly, the always fun to use, woolly bugger. You can use pretty much any streamer pattern effectively in high water fly fishing situations, but the woolly bugger is a favorite of mine. Like the rubber legs, it’s big, dark-colored, and fish love to eat it. What more could you ask for. The other benefit is that you can cover a lot of water when fishing with this. When nothing else works, try one of these and see if you can enhance your odds.


All of this being said, I want to re-emphasize the fact of being safe when fishing high water, runoff periods in Spring. The rivers can be VERY dangerous and caution should be exercised at all times. High water fly fishing doesn’t need to be avoided though. The fish still eat and you can still catch them by employing a few techniques to help you odds. Try them out and see how they work.

About Clint Losee

Clint Losee is an avid fly angler of 30+ years, web developer, and Utah Landscape & Nature Photographer. You can connect with him on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. Curious about some of the gear he uses? Check out the new Amazon store.