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 flows increase, trout will spread out from the fast water and hold in these soft areas that experience lower velocity. If you find yourself thinking, “Why the heck am I fishing this circulating 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 tailwater 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 increases. As such, you’ll want to stick with bigger attractor flies like worms, stoneflies, leeches and in some cases crane fly larva.
Color, color, color: During runoff, choosing the right fly pattern becomes a little less important. Choosing the right color, however, 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 colored 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.
Make some waves: By now you’ve perfected your splash free cast and you are able to fool those finicky tailwater trout. However, with off colored water, feel free to make a splash and use flies that create movement in the water. Articulated streamers, Pat’s Rubber legs, and worms are all great options.
Get it deep: Similar to winter fishing, you’ll want to get your flies down deep. While the water is warmer and the trout are more active, heavy flows will encourage trout to hold in the slowest sections and in the deepest water columns where the current is slower. You’ll likely encounter more 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.
The bobber is back baby: In times of low flow, presentation is key. As such, yarn indicators are a must. However, during run-off feel free to use larger thingamabobber indicators. We mentioned earlier that you’re going to need a little extra weight to get your flies deep. Bigger thingamabobber indicators are more buoyant and will support a heavy rig.
Don’t be a dare devil: 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 most 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.