5 QuickTips for Fly Fishing Highly Pressured Waters

Colorado has many thousands of miles of streams and rivers that are great for trout fly fishing, but there are certain stretches—mainly our fantastic tailwaters—that receive the majority of the angling pressure. Do not let a highly pressured river, and its “educated” trout, intimidate you as there are many different tactics you can take to stack the odds in your favor. Here are a handful.

Be Patient: Before you think about wetting your line, take a step back and observe the water. Too often we rush into fishy looking water and spook large trout that were along the bank or we rigged up at the car and have the wrong setup on. 5 quick tips 1When you arrive at the river look for insects hatching, or whether the fish are feeding in tailouts or the head of riffles. Observe the surrounding weather so you’ll know which fly patterns will work best with cloud coverage. A simple two minutes of observation before you make your first cast may tip you to a flash in the tailout that turns into a 22 inch rainbow!

Adaptation is Crucial: The river is a living, moving organism that can change day-by-day and certainly hour-by-hour. As anglers we must be prepared to make the necessary adjustments throughout the day, especially on a highly pressured river. This could be as simple as switching from a dry fly setup to a subsurface nymph rig, but it can also be more complex than that. Adjusting your weight on a nymph rig, changing the size of your fly patterns (smaller is usually better), and noting when trout are moving from deep water into riffles should have you playing a mental game of chess. And in this game of adjustment there is nothing more useful than good old fashioned observation.

Use Fluorocarbon: There are many occasions in which you’ll want to have the Nylon v Fluorocarbon leader and tippet debate. But when fishing a highly pressured river, such as The Taylor River where the fish can get extremely large and extremely skittish, you’ll want every advantage you can get. 5 quick tips 2The light refractive index of Fluorocarbon tippet is very similar to that of fresh water so when it’s submerged in a river it is almost near invisible to a trout’s eye. This element of Fluorocarbon makes it essential to fishing highly pressured river and its trout.

Be a River Ninja: You’re going to want to be as stealthy as possible when fly fishing water that receives an excessive amount of angling pressure. This starts with your approach into any given run or riffle. Trout have a blind spot, and it’s directly behind them, so begin your presentation at the tailout of the riffle and make upstream presentations, so as to keep out of their periphery. Also, wear colors that blend in with your surroundings. During winter I like to wear gray jackets, during spring I’ll wear more green colored shirts. Match your environment!

Sunglasses Matter: Using polarized sunglasses will allow you as an angler to cut through the glare of river and will help you identify what the heck is going on down there! In a highly pressured river, fishing “fishy” water will occasionally get you the lucky trout, but to be a truly effective angler on these waters requires you to be able to sight fish to feeding trout. You need to be able to spot feeding trout and their movements so you know exactly where your cast, mend, and presentation should be. Point being, I’d rather leave my waders at home than my polarized shades.

3 thoughts on “5 QuickTips for Fly Fishing Highly Pressured Waters”

  1. Spot on. Observation is so critical to success on pressured water. I’ve also had success fishing on days when “nasty” weather keeps the crowds at home. With it comes increased room to move around to the best possible fish and wintering holes, fewer spooked fish from other anglers, and sometimes warmer temps that come with lower barometric pressure and cloud cover. Lastly, Don’t be afraid to throw a small streamer with varying retrieves will still produce nice fish, even on pressured water.

      1. 1) Fish gotta eat. If you can get your streamer down to their level and put it in a place where they don’t have to exert much energy to eat it- their opportunistic nature can lead to interest and sometimes a take.
        2) Available food source. In pressured winter water (most often tailwaters here in CO) we know that fish see midges, mayflies, my sister shrimp and the occasional winter stonefly drift by them all winter. But they also see other smaller fish, and most notably, brown trout fry and juvenile parr. And because emerging fry are both nutritious, available, and vulnerable, I’ve had success fishing small olive buggers with an orange hot spot using an erratic strip. This has work equally well with rainbows, cutties and browns.
        3) Sometimes I just want to catch a big fish on something other than a size 24 nymph. It’s thrilling to lob a streamer into the rocks and strip it out and feel a fish whack it. And it’s particularly gratifying to do so under the incredulous stares of my fellow anglers lobbing triple nymph rigs through a different section of the same run.

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