Gearing up for Runoff
Published by: Harlan Kimball
It's almost that time of year where big, dirty water brings nutrients and life back into our rivers, streams, and stillwaters. GET EXCITED for runoff, its not the time to sit back because the rivers are high or muddy, it's a time to dust off the big flies and heavy tippet. For trout, runoff is the signifier to come out of their winter lies and eat, eat, eat! Much of a trout's nutrition and body weight comes primarily from feeding during runoff. The abundance of food multiplies ten times during this season, allowing fish to gorge on all the nutrient rich offerings emerging from banks and riverbeds. While we slowly start to change seasons, it'll be productive for you as an angler to prepare your fly boxes and gear bags for runoff fishing. Keep reading to make sure you're prepared for some of the best fishing of the year.
The way you set up your nymph rig will be one of the most important changes you make during runoff fishing.
Everything starts at your leader. When thinking about leader construction it's important to take a few things into account. Mainly river flows, water clarity, and the river you're fishing. More than not, your leader won't change a whole lot on technical tailwaters, but when fishing larger freestones, it can make a huge difference. Keep the 5x fluorocarbon leaders at home and pick up some 1x - 4x Rio Powerflex leaders. These heavier leaders will allow you to cast larger flies and splitshot with ease. With fast currents and high-water bringing fish to the net with a 5x leader is going to make your life hard. Don't do that to yourself. Size up and make life easier for you and the fish.
The tippet you tie on will correspond to the leader you decide to use. Be sure to have a variety of tippet sizes for runoff. I normally carry spools of 0x - 4x Rio Powerflex Tippet. No need to spend the extra dollars on fluorocarbon when the rivers are large and stained. A good rule of thumb for leader and tippet sizes goes as follows:
2' - 3' of water clarity: 2x-3x leader and tippet
1' - 2' of clarity: 0x - 2x leader and tippet
Attractors and Bottom Fly Selection
THINK BIG! Ditch the size #22's and #24's left over from winter. Curate a box for yourself that has larger flies as well as some small to medium sized nymphs. A general rule of thumb is don't go any smaller than size #18 (tailwaters excluded). You want something the fish are going to be able to detect in the fast and off-color water conditions.
Shop Favorite Attractors: Pat's Rubber Legs (Black, Brown, Olive), Tung. CDC Flashback Pheasant Tail size #12 to #16, San Juan Worm (Red, Pink, Wine), Tung. CDC Hare's Ear size #10 to #16, Psycho Prince #12 - #16, TDJ Golden Stone #12 - #16.
Shop Favorite Bottom Flies: Psycho May #18, Schmidt's Caddis BWO #16 - #18, Tung. Zebra Midge #16 - #18, K's Latex Caddis #16, Rainbow Warriors #14 - #18, Poison Tung. Gray/Blue #16 - #18
Runoff season is one of the best times to fish streamers and if you're asking me, I'll always say a black streamer is the way to go. Although, there are tons of other colors that just might work or not. Don't get too stuck on color though, profile is just as important this time of year. With off-color water conditions you're going to want to fish a streamer that moves water. By this I mean something with a larger profile so that the trout can detect its movement without actually seeing the streamer. Trout can detect movement through the murky water using their lateral line that runs along the length of a trout. Using the old butt section of a leader and some 0x tippet will help you turn over large streamers and hit the targets you want. We will go over how to fish streamers during runoff in a later blog.
Shop Favorite Runoff Streamers: Gonga (Black, Yellow, Rainbow), Sex Dungeon, Sculpzilla, Drunk and Disorderly (Black and Yellow), Sparkle Minnow.
Selecting a Rod for Runoff
When it comes to choosing a rod for runoff it would be in your best interest to size up a rod weight (depending on the river you're fishing). Heavier nymph rigs and large streamers will call for 6wt to 8wt rods. Another factor to consider is river flow and fighting fish. With fast and high-water conditions there will be more pressure on your rod even when fighting a smaller sized trout. The 6wt rod will give you the backbone you need to safely fight and release fish.
Having a sturdy pair of wading boots will make your days of wading safer and more enjoyable. At the bare minimum having a pair of boots with Vibram soles will improve your traction on slippery rocks in fast moving water. The following boots from Simms all have Vibram soles: Flyweight Boot, Headwaters Boa, G3 Guide Boot and G4 Guide Boot.
CLICK HERE to shop boots
To take it one step further, you can purchase studs for the soles of your wading boots. These studs screw into your Vibram soles and improve traction tenfold. Although, I do not recommend wearing studded boots on rafts or drift boats.
CLICK HERE to shop Simms studs
Use a wading staff for added support and to probe the water in front of you. It can be hard to see drop-offs and buckets when wading down the bank. Use a wading staff for support and to find out what's in front of you to avoid any unwanted surprises.
CLICK HERE to shop the Simms Wading Staff