Westcountry Angling Passport Dom Garnett

River Fly Fishing Tips for Coloured Water

All winter, fly fishers tend to day dream about sunny, crystal clear rivers. But once the season arrives, the British climate can paint a very different picture. This month, fishing author Dominic Garnett reflects on some lessons to tackle rising or dropping rivers for trout:

“Like most other anglers, I am a sucker for the promise of the spring and summer months. It only takes a couple of pleasant, sunny days for me to dress in short sleeves and start thinking about rising fish and dry flies. But the truth is that for much of the season, especially in the spring, a better idea would be to focus the fly box and attention on how to fish in coloured water. This season has been no exception so far, with a dose of pragmatism often required! Here are some pointers for that tricky session when conditions won’t cooperate:

South Yeo Brown Trout Westcountry AnglingBrown from troubled water: A pale but pretty trout from a less-than-clear stream.

Water, beer or coffee?!

Exactly how coloured your chosen river is will have a crucial bearing on whether it is worth fishing. If it is totally muddy or coffee-coloured, forget it. “Stained” water, on the other hand, or that which is partially clouded is not always the kiss of death. Remember that even if you can only see a mere few inches beneath the surface, the fish are in their element and can still feed on fairly tiny prey in these conditions. But my usual attitude is not to get too disheartened too early. Be positive and you may be pleasantly surprised!

Location, location, location…

Another key factor in getting the best from your day when rivers are less than spot on is picking your location carefully. Rivers and streams in the high ground are almost always clearer than lowland waters because they get less run off from fields and roads. In my home region, the streams of Dartmoor and Exmoor are often a safer bet than those lower down, for example. Don’t be afraid to call the tackle shop or ask a local expert to see which spots are fishable!

Confluence, DevonA confluence: head upstream to find clearer water, or try the feeder stream itself!

Even on a single watercourse, however, water clarity can vary a great deal. One classic example of this is where side streams converge on the river. These streams themselves can often yield clearer water and the fish will move into them for shelter. Failing that, you’ll often find the main river less murky if you use your feet and travel upstream of inflows or run-offs that are colouring the water. Cutting out one or two of these confluences, you’ll quite regularly find clearer water than you dared hope for.

Best flies for fishing coloured rivers?

For obvious reasons, fish in coloured waters have a harder time picking out artificial flies. The mixed blessing is that they are also likely to be a bit less wary than usual. So in simple terms, you would often be well advised to pick flies that are slightly bigger than your standard patterns, or more colourful, or both! If you usually tackle up with a 16 or 18, pack some flies in the size 12 or 14 stamp. On  recent trips, my two standouts have been a Pink Shrimp in a size 16, or Chris Ogborne’s Barbless Shellback Nymph in a 12 (below).

River flies for coloured waterGo brighter or a little bigger to beat the murk.

Other winners include favourite nymphs such as the Copper John, dressed in brighter livery (Turrall produce these with a dash of red and chartreuse, for example). Last but not least, it is no sin to try casting streamers in such conditions; indeed, something large and mobile might just save you a blank or produce that bigger fish that wouldn’t budge for anything else.

Useful Indicators

For much of my stream fishing in Devon, I use the beautifully simple dry and nymph combo of the New Zealand method. But when the river level is higher and the fishing is iffy I have absolutely no qualms about switching to an indicator and nymph set up, simply because it’s far more efficient and versatile. You could use any indicator system- but our smaller Thingamabobbers are especially durable and handy for this style of fishing.

Strike indicatorsDon’t get me wrong, I love those days where a few risers will surprise you and defy the dodgy conditions. It’s just that when very little (or nothing whatsoever!) rises and you’re faced with deeper swims and the need for heavier flies, the indicator wins hands down. You can change depths instantly, for one thing. Nor is it “cheating” – and much of the time, high sticking or Czech Nymph type methods are not especially well suited to the cramped confines of our small West Country streams. Call me a heathen, but I actually want to catch fish, not demonstrate my purity as a fisherman.

What goes up…

Unless you’re fishing for migratory fish, anglers all too often tend to think of full and swollen rivers as a negative. But there are other, more positive twists. One is how much closer you can get to certain parts of the river that are usually tricky. With extra water and colour to hide your tracks, the angler can sometimes get closer to the fish with less risk of spooking. Some swims that were bordering on impossible just might produce now that you are less obvious to the fish! In several ways, this is the total opposite scenario to those low water summer days where you must make longer, riskier casts to avoid the fish spotting you.

Westcountry Angling Passport Dom GarnettDom Garnett chooses flies carefully on a rain-hit Devon stream

Rivers in a state of change can also provide opportunities in other ways. For example, if there has been an extended period of iffy weather and high water, the fish are likely to be hungrier than ever as the level drops and they suddenly find dinner easier to locate again. There is no shortcut to local experience and getting to know how quickly a particular river clears, but time it right and you might just enjoy a sensational days fishing.

Above all, be adventurous with your feet and fly selections. Don’t be put off, mix things up a little and you can still catch fish!”

Further Info: Dom was fishing on the Westcountry Angling Passport scheme, where wild fly fishing on the idyllic streams of Devon and Cornwall is available from just £6 per day. CLICK HERE FOR MORE DETAILS


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