Spring Runoff

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This topic contains 6 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  Dry Fly Guy 4 years, 10 months ago.

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    Dry Fly Guy

    My understanding is that California’s in a drought, and has little snowpack, yet here (Indianapolis) we’ve recorded the snowiest winter on record.  This kind of disparity seems to be a theme for this winter, and the recent posts in the thread “Work Up or Jump In” got me thinking about the conditions we might be experiencing when spring finally does arrive in force.

    I know runoff conditions will be affected by more than just how much snow there is (or isn’t) but I’m curious as to what concerns (if any) all of you have in this regard.  Do you suspect that Spring will finally bring your fishing salvation?  Or will it only bring frustration with fishable weather and temps, but “un-fishable” stream conditions?  Will you resort to subsurface fishing, or will the dry fly remain your choice?

    As for around here… I suspect there will be a few streams that become less than desirable for fishing, and I assume the tailwater will be one of them as they’ll likely have large releases of water.  But for the most part, I suspect the small feeders to be highly fishable, and of course, the many stillwaters will still provide plenty of opportunity if I get really desperate.  A dry fly will remain on my line, and I guess that’s one advantage of living in a land of warm-water fisheries.

    ~ DFG



    The trout season kicked off this past Saturday, but it sure doesn’t look like fishing will be done in my neighborhood for a while. The Milwaukee River, which normally would be in the middle of steelhead season, is still completely covered with ice. However, I just checked the Orvis stream reports for the western side of the state (Driftless Area) and they are reporting some open water. Maybe SOMEBODY is doing some fishing right now, but it sure ain’t me.

    But we have a major spring blow-out every year, usually early April when the sun finally warms things up to the point where you actually want to go fishing. The water jumps from a foot deep to sometimes three feet, often with flooding. I’m not sure we’ll have any flooding this year since our winter hasn’t involved too much snow. It’s just been cold enough to freeze the monkeys off a brass ball.

    Most people have enough sense to stay away from the water during the run-off since the fish will be temporarily displaced and the water can get dangerous to wade. Very unlikely you’ll see any surface action. Altho nymphing can be pretty good at that time since the fish are very active and hungry from fighting the strong currents. But since I get no kick from bouncing beadheads off the bottom, I’ll be doing other things to occupy my time and mind.

    DFG, you might find this link useful if you’re still planning to head over to Viroqua.





    Spring runoff here can be a bit insane. The Miramichi at the salmon camp usually rises 4 m (over 13′) each spring from summer low. If the ice dams up at the rapids below, it can jump another two or more meters in a matter of minutes. As soon as the water starts to drop and the ice floes are (mostly) gone, the spring salmon fishing can be a bit crazy, with 15 fish days not impossible (nor ethical). The trick is to be aware that sheet ice can creep up behind you while you are wading, and either crush you to the bottom or take you behind the knees and float you downstream.
    The Saint John River near Fredericton usually rises about 4 to 5 m, but can jump up closer to 6 on bad years. It takes several weeks to drop because all the water needs to slowly feed out through the Reversing Falls to the Bay of Fundy, all the while responding to the 30′ tides that are felt even 80 km upriver at Fredericton.
    Dry fly fishing doesn’t start in earnest til later in May around here, although there are hatches earlier than that.
    We have enormous snowpack in the headwaters this year, and the ice on the rivers is still very thick. So, I expect its gonna be slow. I was remarking to some of my old buddies today that, a couple decades ago we were champing at the bit to get in some great whitewater canoeing in as soon as the ice went out and the water was still high, and that sometimes happened on the smaller streams in March. We were up to the Miramichi today, and there is solid ice throughout, and none of the smaller streams are open yet, either. Not that any of us would contemplate squeezing into our wetsuits and grabbing the whitewater boats at this point. That’s water under the bridge, as they say.



    Out west we are blessed with tailwaters. Year-round fishing, and year-round rising fish, conditions permitting/bearable. They are certainly bearable as of late. Lots of 40 and 50 degree days. Barely freezing nights. Good afternoon fishing. Nearly all of them have midges going, and BWO’s are starting on a few. Green. San Juan. Snake. Bighorn. So. Platte. Frying Pan. Just to name a few of the popular ones fishing well. Lots of smaller, less-popular ones too. Good fishing in every western state. Flows are low because farmers don’t need the downstream water yet. No crowds. What’s not to like about pre-runoff tailwaters? Nothing!

    Freestones are in winter or early spring conditions depending on elevation and source. Some are still pretty frozen. Others are just starting to flow without a lot of ice. I haven’t heard of any in “runoff” mode with dirty water yet.



    Our snowpack is at 115% right now with March and April to go. They can be dry, or the two most snow fall we have. Runoff will depend on how hot it gets and when. If it gets hot early it will start runoff early, and be intense. Then we run out of water later in the year. A gradual warm up is always best. Either way out runoff this year will be unfishable on rivers and creeks.

    I fish tailwaters, ponds, and beaver ponds during runoff. Dry flies only. Whenever it’s impossible to get dries to work. (??) I won’t fish. Hasn’t really happen yet, but I know when they won’t work, so I don’t fish those spots/days. No sense beating yourself up for nothing, and I never want to say………..nymphs is all that was working. 😉



    I have to fish, so i do what I have to do to be on the water and catching fish. Tail-waters give me that opportunity when the rest are frozen over or running too high for me to play in. (one of my goals is to become proficient at fishing runoff, high muddy waters)

    With that being said and staying true to DFF I have landed three fish in Feb on the dry. :)

    Looking to increase that number this weekend.


    Dry Fly Guy

    You are way ahead of me msbfly! I didn’t even wet a line in February, let alone catch a fish.

    ~ DFG

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