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.

Fish Netting Techniques: Stress Of Netting Trophy Fish

The stress of being the net man can be overwhelming at times. Especially in situations where a fish is hooked in faster water. Having “crackered” off a few fish myself with a net I have learned that you and the angler have to communicate to get a big fish into the net. Recognizing when the fish is ready to throw in the white flag is key to getting it quickly to the net. Many times anglers are so excited to get the big fish into the net and in front of the camera they pull real hard and lose the fish at the net. Let the fish wear itself out. Of course not to the point of killing itself but where it is coming to the surface and its runs are getting slower.


As the net man I like to be down stream and out of line sight from the fish. The angler should try and guide the fish into 2-3 feet of slower water where a net can easily be placed under the fish. It is difficult to net the fish in water that is shallow faster moving water. The fish tend to see you and will make a run to deeper water, this is where a lot of anglers will put more pressure on a fish and pop the hook. If slower water is present work the fish into it and get its head to the surface.ForkRainbow Once in a good landing position the angler should work the fish towards the net man. As this is happening the net man should keep a keen eye on the fish as it gets near. Pick your chance to swoop with the net and commit. Keep the net out of the water until you are ready to make your move. The best time to make your move is when the fish has its head near the surface of the water if the fish’s head is still pointed down it can swim easily out of the net. This is a good time to coach your angler. Tell them to  get the fish’s head up before you go in with the net and make sure you get the net below the fish. Too shallow of a scoop can hit or spook the fish. Go deep and come up quick. Once the fish is in the net tell the angler to drop the rod tip and take tension off the hooks. Keep the fish in the water until ready to take a picture, deep rubber baskets are great for keeping a fish in the water and allow them to stay oxygenated after a long fight. Follow these simple steps next time your client has the big one on. The key is not to rush. Tell your angler to enjoy the battle.

Spring Streamer Tactics: Double Trouble

There is a Spring like feel in the air this morning and it got me thinking about streamer fishing. It may only be February but  Spring will shortly be here and for me that means some of the best fishing of the year. One of my favorite spring time tactics is stripping streamers. I am fortunate enough to live by the Eagle River and once the water levels start to bump you can turn what seems like every fish in the river with streamers. Here is how I like to set up my spring streamer rod.

eagle river brown trout

There is no need to get technical with your leader. I like to keep old 4-5x leaders that have gotten short and use those as my streamer leaders. Fish are not leader shy when you are moving big leech patterns through the water. My leader is typically 5 feet long and heavy( 0x-1x).Tequeely At the end of my leader is where I tie my first streamer fly. In the spring I like to use a pattern called the tequeely. I don’t know why but this pattern works extremely well in the spring. It is supposed to imitate a bird that has fallen out of a tree. And we have developed a technique called the struggling bird that will actually entice a trout to leap out of the air for this streamer. We will discuss in a later post.


Off the bend of the Tequeely I attach 2 feet of 1x tippet and tie on a heavy fly such as a slump buster or Sculpzilla. The heavier fly in the back sinks the front fly just enough so you are fishing slightly different depths. Unlike many fishermen who tend to strip streamers upstream, I make sure my patterns are either coming straight off the bank or swimming downstream. I tell my clients if you were getting chased by a bear you wouldn’t run up hill. Same goes for baitfish. They are going to swim with the least resistance to escape predators. I am also constantly moving. I will cover 100 yards of river in 20 minutes. So many times I have watched anglers fish a typical trout run for an hour with a streamer. Not effective at all. Sure you may get one fish to grab but you will increase your chances by covering water and hitting every pocket in the river. If a fish is there it will chase or spook then it is off to the next piece of water. A heavier rod with a overweighted line will help control a tandem streamer rig. I typical fish a 7 weight with a switch line. This allows me to roll cast quickly and make tight casts under trees and cut banks.  Try these techniques next time you are streamer fishing and let us know how you do.