While matching the hatch, choosing casts and deciding where to fly fish are all crucial factors in order to land the Big One, water levels have just as big of an impact.
Spring is here and, after that hard winter, you’re going to see some dramatic changes in water levels due to the rain and runoff. How will these changes affect fishing? Hard to say, exactly, because we can’t predict the weather 100 percent accurately. But we can make some assumptions, and we can think about what changing water levels do to fish populations and how they affect your day at the river.
Depending on the weather, there will be good days and bad days. Here are a few things to think about to increase the likelihood you get the good days, not the bad. How much water levels change differs from region to region. If you’re in the West, runoff will be the crucial role. In flatter land, rainfall can muddy up the water and create unfishable conditions.
How much snow do you have at higher elevations, and how fast is it going to melt? Those are the two big questions you’ve got to answer when trying to choose the best days to fish during runoff season. This mostly pertains to mountainous, elevated areas where tributaries determine the water level of your fishing river.
What you want is a consistent, slow runoff. This prevents the water from mucking up, and it also doesn’t overwhelm the fish with too much change in water levels and habitats. But runoff doesn’t always cooperate, and so, on days when you think the river might be fishable, you’re going to need to think subsurface and bright colors. Don’t waste your time thinking something might rise.
Rain & Water Levels
If you’re not in mountainous areas, the biggest factor in water levels will be rain. How often, how much and where? By tracking the water levels of rivers around you, you should be able to see how they’ve responded to rain in the past. Does the rise in levels change after a few days? A few weeks? Each river behaves differently, and you can avoid getting skunked on days after rainfall by knowing how each particular river tends to respond.
Trout & Artificial Controls
Trout are being introduced to non-native habitats across the country. Now, this is tougher to do than you might think. Trout are fickle fish and require specific traits for them to inhabit a river—cold water, oxidation, steady rises and falls in water levels, fewer predators and surplus food sources.
To try to control some of this, many trout are being introduced to artificial waters, or where dams have been built, like the Brookville Tailwater, which begins at the dam of Brookville Lake. Here, water temperatures can be controlled, and you’ll know when and how much water is being released. Those are good controls in place, but you need to make sure you’re checking in with the dam’s website often to find out when they have scheduled water fluxes.
Water levels impact visibility, and that impacts your fishing. When excess water gets pumped quickly through rivers that were dormant during the winter, mud and particles will get stirred up, killing visibility. And, as water gets deeper, certain wavelengths of light no longer reach colors like red and orange, as illustrated in the video below. If you have to go deeper due to increased water levels, remember that it’s not the same game at 10 feet of water as it is in three feet.
Learn more about trout fishing tips, tackle and techniques on BassPro 1Source.