How To Fish The Spring Runoff


It’s that time of year again.  That’s right, spring is here.  It’s official.  And that means it’s time to fish!

As you drive across your favorite local river on the way to work, you may notice it beginning to swell.  It’s also turning darker in color with each passing day.


It’s not secret that fishing the runoff can be a challenge.  A lot of us fly fishers will sit back and keep tying flies as if it’s still winter.  You think to yourself that that high and off color water isn’t great to fish.  You’ll just wait until the runoff has subsided.  Or maybe you’ll drink beer and eat bar food with your buddies while you watch the NCAA tournament.

These are valid excuses, but they’re excuses nonetheless.  You can still catch fish during runoff if you’re diligent and smart about it.

Here are my pointers for fishing during spring runoff:

Fish a tail water.  The water will be more controlled beneath a dam.  This increases the likelihood of clearer water color and lower flow.

Fish earlier in the day.  When the sun comes up and the snow starts to melt, it flows downhill.  Duh.  When this happens, it can have the same effect as a hard afternoon rain, washing dirt into the river and muddying it up.

Fish a lake at a lower elevation.  Before June, most alpine lakes are still frozen over, at least to some degree, making them tough to fish.  Find a lake at a lower elevation that isn’t as affected by runoff as the rivers and streams will be.

Fish the slack water on the side of the stream.  I don’t just suggest this during higher flows, but ALWAYS.  You never know where fish will be holding unless you can see them.  It’s always worth hitting the water closest to the banks before you wade in to fish the middle and far side.

Fish bright colored flies.  Remember, the fish can’t see in the muddy water any better than you can see them holding in it.  Using brighter patterns will allow more light to reflect off of them and allow the fish to see them better.

Fish bigger flies.  Just like fishing with brighter colors, going up a size or two will increase the visibility of the fly.


If a river is completely blown out and looks like chocolate milk, it’s best to keep on driving in search of someplace that’s actually fishable.  There’s no sense in fishing a river of chocolate milk that’s absolutely roaring…

Ultimately, if a river is past it’s peak, it’s only getting better by the day as the flows continue to drop and dry fly season approaches.  If you find fish at higher flows, post peak runoff, you’ll likely find a BUNCH of fish hanging in that same area.  Why?  Because it’s easier to swim there, and there’s plenty of food cruising by at all levels of the water column.  All of that means feeding fish.

And last but not least…

Take a trip somewhere that there’s not a runoff!  While more expensive, and longer in duration,  a good salt water trip never hurt anybody.  At least not anybody I’ve ever met.

Now get out there and fish!  It’s go time!

Tight Lines,

Lord and Chief Angler
Fly Fishing Authority