Saturday, November 16, 2019

Stillwater Angler Fishing Report

Warm temps bring off-color waterways

Warm temperatures last week caused the Stillwater to climb and run of color, with quite a bit of debris in the water. Flows should drop and clear a bit this week with cooler weather. Much depends on the intensity and amount of rain though.
So, we could get a small window of fishable water again. Anytime we’re still fishing into the month of May, I consider it gravy! However, runoff is imminent, and sustained high, off color water is just a matter of time. The moisture this week should produce additional high elevation snowpack, which could be critical to summer stream flows.
On the other hand, the Yellowstone has gained significantly in both volume and color. It’s likely runoff is here to stay. There may be a small window yet in the upper river, but probably not down this way. There are several tributaries that will likely be dumping in off color water from low land snow melt and rain runoff.
So, as I do every year about this time, I thought it appropriate to make a couple of comments regarding fishing in high water. Unless one can find some smaller side channels, I’d pretty much advise against messing with the Yellowstone.
She’s going to start raging pretty soon and in addition to poor fishing conditions, it can make things unsafe to be near or on the water. It’s certainly unadvisable to wade fish unless it is in a calmer, clearer side channel. Tailwaters like the Bighorn and Missouri are usually the beneficiary of runoff on the freestone rivers. Both the “Horn” and “Mo” are currently fishing well, and if you have the time, may be the place to head.
The Stillwater and smaller tributaries may afford some safe fishing opportunities for the determined angler during runoff. Fish are still going to feed; it’s just that their location in the river will change with the increase in flows. Initially, fishing streamers or heavy nymphs near the bottom will most likely be productive. Once the flows really start climbing and dirtying up that will change. Look for the fish to be pushed out to the edges more; in some cases, literally on the bank.
Look for trout to be holding in softer water like along gravel bars and in side channels. Generally, shallow, slow moving water where the current flows towards the edge will hold fish. Here they can get out of the torrent of the current, yet still be in a position were food sources will drift in. Fish holding in these types of water will be easily spooked and skittish, so move cautiously in these areas when scouting for fish. Use extreme caution though as swift, cold, off color water can be unforgiving.
Tactics need to be adjusted to adapt to these conditions. Streamers and nymphs that are drifted from the faster water into these slower current lies can be very productive. Smaller streamers can be dead drifted and allowed to swing into the likely holding water. Raising and lowering the rod tip, or slow retrieves and pauses are good tactics to give slight movement to the streamer. Sometimes that is all that it takes to solicit a strike from an otherwise lethargic fish.
As for color, darker patterns would be my first choice. For nymphs, big, ugly rubber leg variants are usually good selections. Patterns like bitch creeks, girdle bugs and yuk bugs make excellent offerings. The good old San Juan worm is always an excellent option too. With the off color water, use heavier than normal leaders and tippets too.
While generally tough to come by during full blown runoff conditions, there may be some occasional dry fly action to be had in softer water. Caddis can often appear at random starting this time of year. A well-presented dry fly can always result in a voracious strike, so don’t dismiss the possibility. Probably more so than any other time of year or condition, high water presents distinct challenges to the angler. Be creative in tactics and techniques, but above all, be safe.

Chris Fleck owns and operates Stillwater Anglers Fly Shop and Outfitters in Columbus. He can be contacted at 322-4977 or via