Missouri Trout Hunter

Blog for sharing thoughts, beliefs and opinions on issues affecting the world of trout fishing in the Ozarks.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Freaking High Water!

Courtesy CTV (link below)
Don't be shocked. I know. Two blog posts in the same week. I must have a fever.

With all the rain we're getting and are supposed to continue getting, it occurred to me that you kind folks might be wondering about how all this high brown water would affect the trout and the fishing. Before I clue you in, though, let me make something perfectly clear:  A FLOODED RIVER WILL TRY TO KILL YOU, EVEN IF YOU'RE CAREFUL. IF IT'S STILL RAINING, DON'T GO. FLASH FLOODS ARE REAL THINGS. IF YOU'VE NEVER SEEN ONE, CONSIDER YOURSELF LUCKY, AND DON'T GO LOOKING FOR ONE. DON'T BE STUPID.  DON'T DIE. Ok, that said, here y'ar.

Imagine you're the mighty trout -- rainbow or brown makes no real difference.  Life is good. You have a great place to live just downstream of some riffly water where the oxygen is good and there are plenty of bugs to munch. There's a big boulder you like to sit in front of, and a nice deep pool with a rootwad where you can run for cover when you get nervous.  All is right with the world.  

It starts raining, and the speed of river begins to increase.  You don't really care how high the river gets, but when the speed of the flow changes, it affects your mood. Much like a human will turn and lean into a stiff wind, faster water makes you "lean" upstream. So, you migrate against the current.  Is it as simple as that?  Probably so, actually. From an evolutionary standpoint, you may need more water in the river to help you migrate past barriers to reach your desired spawning grounds, so there's a good chance that an increasing flow will trigger that behavior.  And while you migrate, you'll feed very little or not at all. After all, you're busy with the whole migration thing. You have no choice. Suck it up.

If you're hormonal (aka preparing to spawn), you'll migrate HARD.  Nothing will stop you. You'll migrate until you reach your spawning areas, or (if you're a female) until you're so uncomfortable with a belly full of eggs that you have to stop, or (if you're a male) until you catch up with an egg-laden female. Cool stuff, but that's a different article. Since we're just talking about flooding here, suffice it to say that you'll eventually get tired of this whole migration thing. Maybe the speed of the river continues to increase, so the migration becomes more difficult over time.  Or, maybe you're just a wuss or easily bored. At any rate, as the river transitions past "high" to "swollen" and then eventually to "flooding," you're going to decide migration is for the birds (see what I did there?) and find a sheltered spot to weather the storm.  And once you stop migrating, you'll realize just how freaking hungry you are.

This is one of the few times you'll find current-loving fish like trout holding AND FEEDING in eddies and backwaters. Successful fishermen will look for back-currents where the water is moving the "wrong" direction. The river will roar past an obstruction of some sort, and a potion of it will turn the corner and head back upstream in a slow swirl or whirlpool.  Trout hold in these kinds of water in all conditions, but they are usually resting places, and you won't typically find them feeding there.  In flood conditions, however, they'll often feed aggressively.  The challenge here is that trout tend to feed by sight, but now we've got chocolate milk instead of water. So, what to do?

The simple solution is to trust the trout's ability to use his lateral line for what it was intended:  sonar. Put a big meaty fly out there that moves water around, keep the line as tight as you can, and "feel" around for a little tension.  The bites won't usually be hard, because they're feeding by touch.  As you throb that fly up and down and around the eddy, a slightly heavier feel is often your fish. If your first instinct is that you've snagged a flimsy tree branch, give it some tension and see what happens.  And although the visibility is probably only about an inch, stick with dark colors, which give a better outline of visibility in low-light conditions. A good visual cue just as the trout finds its prey will cement the deal.

So, if you end up with some summertime cabin fever as we we wait for the rivers to recede, you might remember a little back-current eddy from your last trip that you can reach without wading. It might be worth a look.  But remember my mantra:  DON'T BE STUPID.


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