Salomone: Tips, tactics and tricks for high water fly fishing |

Salomone: Tips, tactics and tricks for high water fly fishing

Michael Salomone
Vail Valley Anglers
Vail Valley Anglers guide Greg Harvey at Homestake.
Courtesy photo

Spring is warming and delivering high water to our local waters. Whether you fish the upper Eagle River that is holding clear elevated water levels or the lower Eagle River with muddy color, adjusting your approach is a necessity. Fly-angling in high water can be a challenge but still productive. With a few tips, tactics and tricks high water won’t seem like the daunting beast anglers avoid.

Michael Salomone netting a high water rainbow.
Courtesy photo


When anglers are in the river, choosing the correct water can make a lot of difference between success and pretending. Fish move into slack water where turbulent currents yield slightly. Trout will not spend time in riffles or where the current requires them to work hard. During high water, trout are conservative with their actions.

Another benefit of fishing slack water or eddies is non-locomotive food gathers where the current allows eggs, worms and dislodged nymphs to settle to the river bottom. Soft pockets create the same respite from irregular currents. While pockets don’t have the strength to collect food like large eddies, pockets do hold fish away from raging waters.

Rest is key during the high water season. Trout are trying to minimize the exertion of energy. Any substantial current-breaking object will hold fish. Fish using current breaks will feed on opportunities for a larger bite of food. The big bite justifies the effort to capture it.

Foraging in the spate will be the main objective for trout. Currents slow in deeper water in comparison to surface currents. Down deep the river gathers food and collects feeding trout. It will take some weight to achieve the correct drift. This is not a time to be shy with your split shot. Pinch on the big ones and accept that you are going to lose some nymphs. Large strike indicators come into play now.

Support Local Journalism

Big, dark streamers that tumble slowly appear injured. Fish streamers near the bottom for the best success. Slow down your presentation when fishing streamers in high water. Trout do not want to give chase but will ambush meaty morsels like small baitfish, little trout or dead crayfish. Give them a chance to get it.

A little touch on safety should be noted. High water is no joke. The runoff is cold, rough and forceful. These can be dangerous conditions for the wading angler. The river is deeper than you think. It’s best to fish with a buddy and a wading staff. Vail Valley Anglers has collapsible wading staffs that fold up conveniently and stow in a holster on your wading belt or pack.


Deep water nymphing requires heavy weights. Alter your casting to prevent tangles by using a roll cast. Differing currents at different depths drag irregularly on your floating fly line. The best rod position is to high-stick your nymphs by lifting the buoyant line off the water and allowing your leader to cut through the water unrestrained.

Streamers benefit from a dead drift presentation. Your rod should be in the same high stick position. Think short distances, don’t cover as much water but be more thorough in your presentations. Keep better contact, detect any bump, set. This is not ripping strips along the bank but a controlled, slow dabbling in holding water. Allow your streamer to swing and rise to the surface at the end of a drift. The large silhouette sticks out against the lighter-colored surface water. If a trout is following it will hit it now.


Where legal, it is a good idea to use three flies in tandem; in Colorado we are good. I always tie three flies together by looping over the hook point and tightening around the bend. Three flies is a cluster of tangles when tied in with tag ends. It takes some upper-level skill to cast three so bring your A-game.

Shock them with big, like larger-than-normal, egg pattern. Fish unnatural egg colors such as chartreuse, pink or purple. A huge, white egg with a red spot has brought many trout to the net in high water.

Fish small water. Streams are easier and safer to wade. Little streams are bigger now and holding hungry post-spawn fish. Feeder streams run clearer and are easier to decipher when swollen. A small leech pattern swimming in the heavy current is easy prey for tenacious trout.

High water will be the game for a while this year, based on snowpack. Using these tips, tactics and tricks will put an angler in the best position for success.

Support Local Journalism