Vail Valley fishing: What to do when the water is off-color |

Vail Valley fishing: What to do when the water is off-color

How to adjust for high waters

Ray Kyle Special to the Daily
With spring snow and runoff, the local waters are high. Our columnist has suggestions for how to fish the challenging conditions.
Special to the Daily

During the turbulent spring in the mountains, we get the full gamut of weather and river conditions.

With the mountains closed for the season, a lot of you are looking to the river for a way to get outdoors for some fun. When most people see off-color or stained water, they think it’ll be impossible to catch a fish.

However, this type of water can be great for anglers. Remember — the fish still have to eat.

There are many different degrees of water clarity. If the water is completely muddy or the color of chocolate milk, then fishing can be very difficult. In these conditions, fish can not see and are relying on their lateral lines to find food.

The lateral lines that exist in trout and other fish are similar to our inner ear. This is the system of sensory organs that detect vibration, movement, and changes in pressure in the water. These lateral lines are what trout rely on to feed and survive in off-color water. They also help trout evade predators such as eagles, otters, and of course, humans.

When there is at least a foot of clarity, fishing can be much better. Fishing with flies that have some flash or reflective material can help capture and reflect any light that is breaking through the water.

The fish tend to key in on this when the water is not totally clear. Also, throwing large streamers that have rubber legs works in these conditions. These rubber legs help push water and send vibrations through the water that the trout’s lateral lines can “feel”.

Be aware and careful when walking along the banks of the river. The lateral lines that help the trout find their food also alert them to the vibrations that are sent off when anglers are walking heavy on the river banks. During times of higher water, the fish get pushed closer and closer to the edge of the river. Be sure to fish close to the banks initially to target these fish.

Other options

Another option for fishing off-color water is to not fish it. Heading to tailwaters (dam controlled rivers), or the headwaters are great ways to avoid dirty water. Tailwaters such as the Frying Pan River in Basalt, the Blue River in Dillon/Silverthorne, the Yampa near Stagecoach Reservoir, and the Taylor River near Almont are amazing fisheries that give anglers great opportunities at catching large rainbow and brown trout. It’s also a great way to explore our great state.

Small creeks tend not to blow out as bad as the rivers. Creek fishing can be a great way to get some miles on your boots and explore some backcountry that you might have overlooked. There are hundreds of great, little creeks in the state that hold hungry brown, cutthroat, and brook trout that are eager to take a dry fly.

Some local creeks to explore are Cross Creek and Two Elk Creek in Minturn, Piney River out of Vail, East Brush Creek near Fulford.

Flies to use

When the water is off-color and higher than normal, it’s important to change the flies that you tie on your line. As I mentioned earlier, flies that have flashbacks or are highly reflective are fantastic options for dirty water.

Also, using larger flies than normal is completely acceptable to use as an attractor fly. Eggs, stoneflies, and worm patterns are very effective flies to use in off-color or high water.

Streamers are a great fly and technique to use when there is off-color water. They are great for pushing water and they are a larger target for the trout to locate. There are many different types of streamer flies and a good amount of them have flashy materials tied into them. This extra “flash” is ideal for stained water. The tequilly and autumn splendor streamers are a great place to start.

Moral of the story: Fishing is not completely lost when the water is high and off-color. There are some techniques that you might not typically use the rest of the year but are completely acceptable during the changes that occur in the spring. Get out there and don’t let these sunny, warm days go to waste!

Ray Kyle is the Shop Supervisor and a Guide at Vail Valley Anglers. He can be reached at (970)926-0900 or

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