I've said it before and I'll say it again, just because the water is a little high and off color doesn't mean the fish quit biting! We'll talk more about fishing during runoff in another post very soon, but for now let's start with another important topic, wading safety. Afterall, it doesn't matter if you have the perfect flies tied on and know exactly where/how to fish them if you find yourself bobbing down the river after taking a wrong step. The good news with fishing during high water is that you don't generally need to do a whole bunch of wading. The fish are tight to the banks seeking refuge from the heavy currents and as such, there's a good chance you're going to catch the majority of your fish while your feet are on dry ground. But like I said, we'll get into this more later.
If you do find yourself having to get your feet wet though, here are a few tips that I recommend you put to use while we wait patiently for the water to recede and clear. Several of these tips are applicable year round, however when the conditions on the river are less than ideal they are especially important to keep in mind. Embrace the 'high and dirty' and make it happen!
1. Know Before You Go- This may seem like a no brainer, but if you're planning to take the river on during less than ideal conditions, I recommend going to a river you're already comfortable fishing and even more importantly, are familiar with. This is especially true if you're new to fly fishing. By going to a river you've got experience on, then you most likely already know the easy spots to cross it. The 'easy spots' will always be the easy spots regardless of flows, so this should help you wade with greater confidence since you most likely won't be able to see the bottom- which I will add can be slightly intimidating if you haven't done this before. Learning this skill in an area you're already comfortable with will make the process much easier.
2. Wear Your Wading Belt- I mention this because I see a lot of people not doing so and the primary reason is one that has caused me to go sans-belt countless times. Our hip packs! Wearing both a hip pack and a wading belt isn't always the most comfortable option however when the river is roaring, I want every ounce of protection I can get to ensure my waders don't instantly fill with water should I take a dip. The old saying 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' is definitely true here.No matter what type of pack/vest you wear, make sure the wading belt is nice and snug.
3. Take A Wading Staff- The best fly fishing wading staffs continue to get better, more reliable and easier to use. Most of them also include a neoprene sheath that attaches perfectly to your wading belt, keeping it out of the way until it's time to be put to use. I would especially recommend using one if you're fishing a river that you know will require crossing. Aside from offering stability when crossing a river, wading staffs also work great this time of year to simply check the depth of water along the bank where you're attempting to step in. Keep in mind, if the river you're fishing only has 10 inches of visibility, the bank along the edge is going to look the exact same whether 11 inches or 4 feet deep! Like I always say, I'd rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.
4. Keep It Sideways- These next three tips are definitely applicable year round, however right now will especially make your wading life that much easier. The sideways reference from this tip is referring to your body position in the river. Standing sideways in the river will allow you to maintain much more control and stability. Avoid facing straight up or straight down river at all costs. I've seen it countless times- even during low flows- where a wading angler (or perhaps client) turns around to tell myself/another member of the group something while crossing the river, and has their leg instantly swept out by the current. While this may not always result in taking a spill, it can definitely happen much quicker than you think. Add in the fact that some rivers are flowing with 10 times (or more) the amount of water we typically fish them at and you can see how important proper body position can be when wading.
5. Be Studly - No, this doesn't mean go tromping into the biggest rapid you can find, just to try to impress your fishing buddies. We're talking foot traction here. Pick up a set of wading boot studs to accessorize the bottom of your wading boots. It will make sure you can get the grip you need on the rocks when the water is pushing hard on your legs.
6. Lead With Your Downriver Foot- Here is another easy one that is applicable year round and can make all the difference between staying upright and going for a swim. As you cross the river, always feel your way across the streambed with your downriver foot. Plant your downriver foot firmly and then slowly slide your upriver foot forward until it's even with your downriver foot. Once the upriver foot has found a firm hold, repeat the process of feeling your way foward with your downriver foot. Unless you're wading through very shallow water, having your upriver foot overtake your downriver foot throughout the crossing will never be the most stable way wade in swift, off-color water.
7. Use Your Angles- My final tip is another one that is certainly applicable year round- particularly when wading through swift and/or deep water. Never attempt to cross directly across the river. Taking your crossing at an angle will make things much, much easier. The important thing to remember here is that assessing your exit location is just as important as your entry location. If you're new to wading, keep in mind that the deeper/swifter the water=the greater angle you'll likely need to take to cross. As a general rule, a 45 degree angle is a good starting point for planning your crossing. If the river turns out to be easier to wade than you had anticipated then you won't end up needing to use this steep of an angle obviously. The biggest theme here is that I'd rather give myself a little extra cushion for the crossing than find myself standing mid-river, realizing I'd underestimated the current, and wondering how I'm going to get across.