With all of the high water we’ve been dealing with in Northern Vermont this summer it only seemed right to share some of our tips on high water streamer fishing. High water after heavy rains can be a little unsettling at a glance but once you figure it out a little bit you’re going to realize that it’s going to be one of the best times to get after some big trophy wild browns that lurk some of the streams in VT or elsewhere. These old, skittish browns are the hardest fish in the stream to catch. They’ve seen lots of flies but are very rarely caught. Most of the time you don’t even know they’re in the stream you’re fishing. Chances are though, if you get a juvenile wild brown out of a smaller stream, there’s bigger ones in there. It’s just a matter of locating them.
The best time to get these giants mid-summer or really anytime of the year is going to be fishing in high water after a heavy rain. When the water comes up it’s going to flush a plethora of bugs, mice and other things down the river including smaller brook trout, sculpin suckers and anything else around. Aside from a buffet in the river, the dirty water is going to allow these fish to let their guard down. They’re not going to be as spooky when the water’s dirty as predators like birds and fishermen will not be able to see them. Ideal clarity is going to be between 20 and 36 inches. Sometimes when the water is clearer than that they will still be out on the hunt but if you’re standing in the water up to your knees and can’t see the tops of your boots you might want to have another cup of coffee and come back in half an hour…
When targeting these kinds of fish, leave the 5wts and wooly buggers at home. A 6 or 7wt is really what you’re looking for. Also, ditch the 4x tippet material. These fish are aggressive and aren’t line shy. We often will run straight Maxima between 12lb and 20lb in lengths between 3 and 5 feet. This just allows us to really put the pressure on fish if we need to. As far as flies go, we typically fish flies between 4 and 6 inches. Articulated Sculpins, Baitfish and Sex Dungeons are some of our “go to’s” Black, brown and olive colored flies seem to work best although it doesn’t hurt to have a couple of white flies as well. As far as a line goes, either a WF floating line with a 7ft sink tip or an integrated sink tip line will get the job done.
When it comes to fishing there’s a couple key things to keep in mind. First off is how you approach the stream. The water is going to be high so you need to be careful and not get yourself into a spot where you can’t get back to shore. Your best bet is to stay out of the water as much as possible. This is primarily due to the fact that these fish will often follow flies right to the bank before eating them and if you’re standing in the water you’re probably going to spook them. It’s much easier to work your way down stream when fishing this way. Quarter your casts down stream and fish them back to your feet. Fish you fly quickly and get aggressive. Lots of twitches and pauses, the more the fly ungulates the better. Very frequently fish will wait until you’re just about to pull the fly out of the water before they strike giving you a minor heart attack. Often they will miss it the first time and when this happens try to get your fly back on top of where that fish was as quickly as possible. We’ve had fish take up to 5 swipes at a fly before getting spooked or hooked. Also, don’t get hung up on one hole for too long, spend no more than 20 minutes in a hole before moving, we often move a little quicker than that because generally the fish will hit immediately, plus, there’s plenty more water downstream and not every fish is going to be in an aggressive mood.
When it comes to selecting a stretch of water first you need to make sure there’s browns in it. Do your homework and you’ll find em. The holes that hold the biggest browns have structure in them. It may be nothing more than an undercut bank or it could be the gnarliest log jam but the larger fish are generally not going to be in a hole that lacks structure. Check out our streamer and sink tip kits to help enhance your high-water fishing!! Good luck out there!
Below is a video we took of a few years ago. Although this isn’t the biggest brown out there this will give you an idea as far as how quickly we like to retrieve flies. This water was a little clearer than we would’ve liked on this particular day so most of the fish we got were on the smaller side. (under 17″)