Catching White River trout in high water conditions requires a different look at currents and depth than in low water. When the river is low, say less than 2,000cfs, the fish are fairly concentrated in the deeper pools and runs where they feel more comfortable as opposed to the shallow, exposed edges of the river. When the river is high, let’s say over 10,000cfs, the current is strong enough on the steep banks and in the deep runs that trout will try to escape to slower moving areas to rest or feed on whatever else settles out of the current.
Once you find the high water areas where trout feel comfortable, you need a high water presentation to match. Generally the same flies that you favor in low water will work in high flows, but you may need to up the size, weight, and brightness. Heavy tungsten nymphs, oversized midge patterns, and bright San Juan worms are all standard high water fare. Given a good piece of water holding hungry trout, usually all that’s needed is to get your flies deep enough to reach them. Longer leaders help, but simply fishing a longer leader isn’t going to get your flies deeper in fast moving water unless you also add more weight. As a test, keep your eye on that bright red San Juan worm after you cast it out – if you still see it after drifting several feet, it’s not getting to the fish.
Location and depth make up the bulk of the battle during high flows, but sometimes you need that extra something special to seal the deal. It’s a big river – lots of volume carrying lots of food – something has to convince the fish to move for your rig. For example, I like to use a more sparkly, reflective dubbing (Ice Dubbing or UV Dubbing) for my high water nymphs to grab a little more fish attention. Another trick you can use to get your flies noticed is colored bead heads. I like a #14 Sunday Special tied with a pink or orange tungsten head. Perhaps it has more to do with angler confidence than the actual preferences of trout, but either way the little things do matter, and special attention should be given to detail even in 15,000cfs.
Following the colored bead theme, try “Hare on Fire” Hare’s Ear nymphs, Firebead Soft Hackles, Paulson’s Hot Head Rays, and Smethurst’s Midge Bomb. Pair them with a San Juan worm and get em’ deep. Pheasant tails of course are a summer standard, and Super midges are still performing strong. Hoppers are pulling some quality fish in the early morning and late evening hours. Black, pink, and purple are the preferred colors, but mainly black. Fat Alberts, Juicy Bugs, Wiley Ants, Gorilla Chernobyls, and the Grand Hopper are great patterns. Streamers too are a solid choice for a trophy fish, and we have a splendid selection of Schmidt’s Double Deceivers in 6″ and 8″ versions.
On the morning low flows, Ruby midges are king, and Sunday Specials make a great weighted nymph for the shoals. Hunchback scuds can be deadly suspended in the slack pools and back sloughs. When the high water comes in the afternoon, switch to San Juans in red or natural, and get em’ deep along with a Sunday Special or Super midge, or just drag them on the bottom by themselves.