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Tight Lines - High Water Tactics
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Due to the extremely wet winter we had, most of the streams are running cold, fast and extremely full. The recent hot spell has begun to melt the huge snow pack with a vengeance and the rivers are boiling. This was one of the wettest years on record and the melting snow is creating extremely dangerous conditions. Usually at this time of year the snow run off has peaked and stream levels have begun to recede to normal summertime levels. This year, however, nature may not be cooperating with your summer vacation plans. Major Sierra Rivers are roaring with flows not seen in decades. In many of the big watersheds like the Tuolumne, Stanislaus Merced and American rivers, the canyons are literally shaking with the roar of white water. It’s sort of like being in a never-ending earthquake, where the ground won’t quit trembling.
White water is great for thrill-seeking rafters and kayakers, and it makes for tremendous waterfalls in places like Yosemite Valley. That’s great if you want to play tourist at Yosemite, but it presents a challenge for anglers. Probably the first thing to consider is safety when water conditions are this high. Your normal stream will be way over its traditional banks and trout are just trying to survive. They will take refuge behind huge boulders and any other cover they can find to protect themselves from the raging current. The nice section of stream where you tossed your Mepps Lure last year, will now sweep your lure away so fast the fish won’t have time to see it. Besides, the water is murky with sediment and the fish can’t even see your offering.
In order to have any success at all in angling it becomes necessary to adjust your techniques. First, think lakes instead of streams, waters will be higher and there will be more food washed into the lakes. Think bait instead of flies or lures. Use extra weight to get your offering down fast before it is swept away. Night Crawlers, salmon eggs and hellgrammites will probably be your best bets. If you are determined to use lures or flies anyway, use big and heavy ones. You’ve got to offer the fish a real meal to make it worth his while to fight the heavy currents. If you’re a spin fisher, use big minnow imitations like Rapala, or Rebels. Think about using your big bass plugs. You won’t catch as many small fish, but you just might get lucky and hook the biggest trout of your life. You crazy fly fishers might want to use big streamers, wooly worms or salmon flies. Use bright colors that the fish can see better in murky water.
Although it’s still too early yet, because many of the dams are spilling water into the streams below, the huge water releases can create a bonanza for stream fishers after the flows subside. Under extreme high water conditions, large fish are often washed right over the top of the dams into the streams below. In a month or two, when the downstream flows have stabilized, you might be able to catch a 25 inch trout in a stream on your spinning rod or your fly rod. I recall a similar situation below Beardsley Dam several decades ago when we caught and released dozens of trout between 18 inches and 24 inches. Heck, your arm would hurt at the end of the day.
These high water conditions definitely present serious challenges for anglers, but by changing tactics it can be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Just remember that if you’re fishing under the high water conditions, to be extremely careful out there.
Moving water has awesome power and if you don’t respect it and tread carefully you can get killed out there. Be careful, adjust your tactics, and enjoy that great outdoors.
Until next time, tight lines.

Don Moyer is a longtime Central Valley resident and avid outdoorsman. He contributes occasional columns.