Adjust your approach: No river fishes the same year round so odds are; you’re not going to be able to fish your favorite riffle or pool during runoff. You are going to have to forget what you know about the river and find the soft spots. During runoff, these areas are going to be nearest to the bank, behind large obstructions in the river that create eddies or the inside of a big bend. As the flows increase, trout will spread out from the fast water and hold in these soft areas that experience low flow. If you find yourself thinking, “Why the heck am I fishing this recirculating eddy? I would never fish here during the summer, fall or winter,” you’re doing it right.
Up your fly size: We all just survived and hopefully thrived during this past winter season and are undoubtedly more familiar and comfortable with those minuscule tail water flies. However, when it comes to spring runoff, it’s time to temporarily toss those aside and increase our fly size. When flows increase, the quantity and size of bugs flowing down the river also increase. If a size 22 Zebra Midge and a size 12 Pat's Rubber Leg is coming down river towards a trout at a fast speed, which do you think will get his attention? Our bet is on the Pat's.
Color, color, color: During runoff, choosing the right fly pattern becomes a little less important and choosing the right color will make all the difference. When your favorite river is starting to resemble chocolate milk, do the fish a favor and use something they can easily see. Stay away from neutral or natural color flies and instead focus on using flies that will contrast and/or flash in the water. The best examples of this are black, white, purple, red and anything with some flash. On a side note, using flies that will create movement will also help catch the trout’s attention. For example, a Rubber Leg Prince Nymph or Pats Rubber Leg.
Get it deep: Similar to winter fishing, we are going to want to get our flies down deep. While the water is warmer and the trout are more active, the heavy flows are going to encourage the trout to hold in the deepest water columns where the flow is less intense. You are likely going to encounter many snags and catch some sticks but trust us; it’s a hell of a lot more fun when you are catching the unsuspecting hogs holding down deep.
Don’t be a dare devil: The flows are high, the trout are holding in the slow pockets and so should you! We have all been in that situation where you are fishing one side of the river and notice how attractive and beautiful the other is. While it’s easy to travel side-to-side during most times of the year, doing so during runoff is incredibly dangerous. Scout the river and if you have the option, pick the best-looking side and stick with it.