Fishing The Runoff: Big Bug Season June 03 2016
Most folks will tell you that May & June runoff in the Rocky Mountains equates to challenging fly fishing conditions. Difficult wading, lack of water clarity, and potentially difficult stream access due to overflowing banks all add up to sound like a wade fisherman’s nightmare. Many will pack it in and relegate their time to tailwater fishing and spring yard work, waiting for the flows to subside. But with a little patience to explore and a willingness to adapt to the conditions, May and June Fly fishing can mean uncrowded streams and hungry Trout keying on big bugs.
Fly Fishermen aren’t alone in our need to change strategy when the runoff hits. Trout need to respond to the conditions too. With the torrent of oncoming snowmelt, the options for holding spots that minimize the amount of energy expended become limited. Most of the ideal spots are in fact along the bank, conveniently close to where we stand and wade when the water is high. Even with an ideal holding spot located, fish are still going to expend more energy and burn more calories than they did earlier in the spring – which means the Trout will be hungry.
One of the greatest lessons a friend taught me when I started fishing in Colorado, is that fast water with low visibility calls for big bugs. Dry or wet fly, it doesn’t matter, bigger is better. This time of year, my favorite setup is the dry/dropper rig with a size 10-16 Stimulator on top and a Stonefly imitation on the bottom. When the Salmonfly hatch is on, you can supersize the above with a size 4-8 Sofapillow and 4-6 Pat’s Rubber Legs down below. Besides the advantage of being able to see your indicator, the large dry fly is needed because it floats better in the surface film during turbulent conditions. Trout also key in on the larger bugs. Remember, they’re hungry. But also the low visibility effects ability to locate food. The large bugs are not only easier for the fish to see, but also they can sense the disruption the foreign object creates in the current either beneath the surface or floating on top.
I’ve had many great days this time of year fishing single fly with a Stimulator, working the tall grass and slower water along the bank, and varying color and size slightly until I found a combination fish would key on. Sometimes this time of year I think it’s the promise of a big meal that is needed to get a Trout to burn the calories and budge from that holding spot. Not sure if there’s any truth to that, but many days the theory seems right.
Another key success factor I’ve found this time of year is to cover a lot of water. Not being able to see fish in cloudy water is a disadvantage. But the holding spots that are reachable with a cast and manageable for good drift are obvious, and more often than not they will hold fish due to the lack of other options in the river. I like to work up stream, and if I haven’t hooked up after fishing 3-4 obvious spots, I change up my rig. Really once I find the right fly selection, it’s unusual to go more than 2-3 spots without a strike. But covering ground is key. I try not to waste time on questionable holds or spots that won’t allow for a drag free drift. If I have to cover more ground to find a truly great hold vs. fishing something questionable, it’s worth it.
There are times that a river truly is blown out, and only a whitewater rafting enthusiast could find joy. In this case, the solution is to go higher. Sometimes the main arteries in the canyons and valleys have had snowmelt flow in from so many creeks and feeders, that the river simply becomes unfishable. When this happens, either traveling upstream towards the headwaters, or fishing the actual feeders can quickly turn the day positive. In fact, the confluence of feeder creeks and main river arteries can be an absolute joy this time of year. The first half a mile or so upstream on the feeder creeks can hold unusually large fish seeking refuge in unusually accessible holes while the main river is blown out.
So in May and June when the water is high and off color, and the others don’t go due to the challenging conditions, I say don’t miss out. With a five weight fly rod and some big bugs, you could be in for a treat.