Spring in Utah is officially here. Time to put away the skis and break out the fly-fishing gear. After a record-breaking winter, local rivers like the Weber, Provo, and Green are set to experience high-water “runoff” conditions for the next few weeks. Fishing during runoff is still possible, and often very productive, but these high-water conditions can create some potentially dangerous situations.
Wade fishing is no time to take risks. Aggressive wading can have dire consequences that lead to serious injury to the tune of broken limbs, hypothermia, or even death. As much as we all love fishing, no fish is worth dying over. So, remember to wade safely, be cautious, and use common sense when approaching the stream during these high-water conditions. Follow the tips below to stay safe, and wade with a little more confidence next time you step in the water.
Wade Fishing Safety
ALWAYS wear a wading belt with your waders. These belts are designed to be worn cinched as tight as you can without being uncomfortable with your waders. A proper fitting wading belt will help keep water out if you do take an unfortunate swim.
If you haven’t already, consider adding studs to the soles of your wading boots for added traction and stability.
Consider carrying a wading staff as part of your angling kit. These are super helpful as they give an additional point of contact to the riverbed and can play a pivotal role in avoiding a cold plunge during the fishing day.
Polarized sunglasses are a must. In addition to protecting your eyes from the sun and fish hooks, polarized lenses help anglers see the river bottom to choose the best path free of large rocks, sticks, logs, and other potential trip hazards.
Avoid wading in any water that is deeper than your knees if possible. Deeper-moving water can be hard to wade in safely because you will feel the “pressure of the push” from the current. Also, at that depth, it is more difficult to see your feet. Lastly, trout will often hold in this water depth, so you run the risk of spooking the fish that you’re trying to catch.
When wading, try to wade into the current or sideways. This will give you the most stability in areas with strong current. Having your back to the current is often dangerous because it will cause your knees to buckle.
If possible, use the buddy system when crossing the river. Wade side by side, with arms linked. This will allow you to lean on each other should one of you start slipping.
You can also try having your wading buddy walk in front of you, facing upstream, to break the current for you. The water directly behind them will have less current because their body is blocking the flow upstream.
If you do fall in and are swept downstream, try not to panic; and don’t try to swim to shore on your belly. Instead, you should flip over, point your feet down river, and use your feet to push off of rocks or any other hazards. Use your arms to back paddle out of the faster-moving water and toward the bank.
During runoff, the water will be too high and dangerous to even think about wading. Please exercise extreme caution. Respect the river and the current—if it looks like it’s moving too fast, then it is. Try to find locations where you don’t even need to enter the water. Fish from shore if you can, and use common sense.
High Water Tips
Late spring is a great time to turn your attention to our fantastic still-water fisheries in the Park City area. With ice melting and creating open water, fish will quickly become active and eager to eat your flies. Still-water fishing is a great way to get out on the water when the runoff conditions make our favorite rivers unsafe to fish.
Finding the right type of water is the most important aspect of successful fishing during spring conditions. First off, look for slower-moving water. Fish will stack up in pockets of slow water along the bank, behind rocks, tail outs, and eddies. Try to find areas where softer water is moving slowly downstream. This will give you a simpler drift and will allow your flies to get down to the bottom third of the water column.
Spring is the time to leave the delicate rods and light tippets at home. Time to break out the 5-7 weight rods and 0-3x tippets. Fish are more prone to eat larger flies this time of year due to the simple fact that they can see the larger bugs easier in runoff conditions. In addition, it is much easier to land a fish in a strong current when using a heavier leader and tippet. Lastly, a larger rod with more backbone will allow you to wrangle a fish in much quicker. Time to leave the 4 weight at home—it will have it’s day.
Don’t be afraid to throw a streamer. High water is the perfect time to break out the streamer box and look for some aggressive fish that are not afraid of a bigger meal. Remember, fish are holding in slower water or pushed up towards the banks by the heavier currents. Consider using a heavier sinking line coupled with some larger-bodied flies with a darker profile. Unlike other times of year when streamer fishing is all about covering water, use this time to slowly and deliberately fish those high-value sections well. Big fish can confidently move around the river during high water due to the added color in the river system. The one thing to remember about streamer fishing is that it isn’t a numbers game, but the fish that you do net will most likely be a lot larger and more aggressive than most. Have fun, be patient, and trust the process. It will pay off!
Lastly, check in with your local fly shop prior to hitting the water to get up-to-date river conditions, flow schedules, and fishing conditions. If you’re in the Park City area, stop by Jans on Park Avenue to talk with a local fishing guide and check out our fly shop. Doing your homework prior to your fishing adventure can go a long way and potentially prevent some on-the-water headaches. Enjoy the sunshine, spring fishing, and stay safe out on the water!
By JC Weeks, Ecommerce Manager, fishwest.com