Together, the many faces of the White River this week paint a picture of a versatile fishery, a place that truly has something for everyone. The river is really several different rivers of varying speeds and depths that happen to share the same river channel. On one end of the spectrum you have slow shallow water best fished with tiny midges and mayfly nymphs on fine tippet, and at the other end of the spectrum you have deep fast water best fished with fat worm patterns and other colorful and meaty attractor flies or articulated streamers on heavy tackle. In between these two extremes is a wide river with endless trout habitat demanding the angler to pick it apart with standard trout food such as rubber legged nymphs, foam terrestrial dries, and the ubiquitous Wooly Bugger.
Let’s focus in on the morning minimum flow scenario for a moment. The water is three feet deep and clear as gin even in the “deep” pools, while the shoals are no more than a few inches deep, making boat passage cumbersome. The fish are easily spotted in the bright sun and spook at first sight of you or the boat, yet when undisturbed are actively feeding on midges, sulfur mayflies, and other small insects. The key to success here is to make long perfect dead drifts at a downstream angle without your fly being the first thing the fish sees, rather than your fly line, ball cap, or hulking Mercury jet motor. The challenge is stealth, but the reward is putting up big numbers for the day, as fish tend to be highly concentrated in the low flows, and there is the possibility of hooking a trophy on light tackle.
Now let’s take a closer look at the other end of the spectrum. In the afternoon and evenings, the water is rising every hour, kicking up a wave of debris at first, but soon clearing into deep fast fishable water. Perhaps sulfur mayflies are hatching and fish are picking off emergers in the slower edges and pockets. Worm patterns dredged over gravel bars and behind grass beds will likely not last long without being eaten. A large foam terrestrial dry or large rubber legged nymph drifted near bank structure and along the vertical bank ledges may well encounter a hungry brown. An articulated streamer retrieved over drop-offs, across current seams, and other ambush points might get…well, ambushed.
The in between scenario, in which the water is not quite low but not quite high, can be fished with almost any fly or technique. It can be a little difficult to narrow down the target water, since everything appears to be of suitable depth and speed, but a little faith in structure and depth changes goes a long way. The edges of moss beds, rock ledges, and gravel-to-bedrock drop-offs are likely areas. In this water level (approximately 2,000cfs-6,000cfs), experimentation and an open mind are important. It may be that the fish are still feeding on midges even in the stronger current, or it could be that browns are stacked along the banks hunting terrestrials. Nothing is out of bounds in this water level.
Favorite midges this week are Redneck, red or silver DW Whitetail, and red Zebra midges. Favorite nymphs are Pheasant Tail, Hare’s Ear, and Bird’s Nest beadheads. Try any of these under a terrestrial, aka “hopper-dropper” style, using a Fat Albert, Western Lady, or Chubby Chernobyl as an indicator. For serious, intentional terrestrial fishing, ditch the dropper and hone in on the banks with Juicy Bugs, Western Ladies, and Psycho Ants. Pink or Red San Juan worms behind grass beds on high water are killer. Jigged Stoneflies are effective on a variety of water levels. Cone Head Wooly Buggers (try the rubber legged variety) and Sculpitos are great for searching.
On minimum flow stick to Root Beer midges, Hunchback scuds, Dally’s Tailwater Soft Hackles, Anna Ks, and small Pheasant Tails. On high water fish jigged Pheasant Tails and jigged Hare’s Ears, pink and red San Juan worms, Sparkle Minnows, and Meat Whistles.