Davy Wotton High water tactics for Tailwater Trout
OK, guys high
Here on the White
and Norfork, high water for most guys is when they can no longer
wade the shoals and riffles.
Two units on at Norfork will do that. The White will differ,
depending on how far you are from the dam. So two on at the dam with
a given cfs and depth of say 4ft, will not be same at Calico, 4ft if
rise. That due to how the volume of water is displaced by the
surface area and depth of the river.
High water does a number of things as we know, increases depth and
speed of flow. But it also changes many things other than that. It
creates new zones that fish can now find a food base and zones that
they can avoid direct flows of fast water.
So look at it like this.
High water caused by flood run off which turns the river into a
muddy trashy mess, go home if l were you.
Unless you are close to a dam zone, there you may well still find
clean water conditions, which is the case here on the AR rivers.
Once that starts to settle down, the river levels starts to drop and
the water clears up, then fishing can be good.
Fish will be hungry after a period of high water by that cause.
When water is released from a dam it does many things.
It introduces organisms into the river from the lake above,
zoo-plankton for one, possibly small bait fish and in some cases
other forms of invertebrates.
It may also change both water temperature in the river and also the
amount of dissolved oxygen, both of those may at times may
adversely affect how fish will feed or not.
That factor is often seasonal related.
As that rise takes place it will cause organisms such as scuds, sow
bugs, caddis larva in the river to be dislodged, and bring about
very good feeding activity from the fish, on that rise.
It will do the same also to terrestrial bugs found along the shore
lines, be that spiders, beetles, hoppers, mice, worms etc.
So in many ways a rise of water can often produce first class
fishing, and that is certainly the case here for the White and
However, the further you are down stream from the dam, then the
water may be unfishable as that rise will cause trash to be washed
from the shore lines, leaves, dead timber, mud, silt etc.
That rise may also dislodge moss, and other trash from the bed of
Here on the White, sand, silt and gravel will also be moved.
If that rise of water remains consistent for a time, then the river
will clean up as all trash will of course be pushed way down stream.
If that river is say subject to frequent rises of water that are in
the same ball park, say 4 ft, then the continual process of that
may allow for cleaner water lower down the system.
So, all of these factors l will consider to make the choice of where
l will fish along say the 100 miles of the White river.
The Norfork due to its short length as a rule will remain reasonably
clean with the two units there open full bore, unless it is during
the fall or winter when falling and washed off leaves are a problem.
Or water from the lake above is bad.
Ok, we know that a rise of water changes many things.
It will cause the fish to move around and look for comfort zones.
I can tell you from my experience here that knowing the substrate of
the river when it is low is one big plus factor. I know there will
be certain zones l will find fish in high water situations.
I may not be able to see in the water those zones but l know from
shore line markers such as trees, rocks etc where they are,
Then you have also the obvious ones such as back waters, eddys,
creeks that run into the river, behind islands, all of these are
zones fish will look for in high water flows.
Then you will have locations along the shorelines, may be over grass
In other words knowing the river is very important.
Fishing from bank side locations may still be very productive if you
can of course access to the river, as many fish will be found close
to those zones, for sure.
Other than that you go afloat.
High water can be dangerous, and it is not always easy to control a
boat and fish by your self, you are way better off to have a
fishing buddy and take turns to fish while the other takes care of
Wearing a life support is always a good choice !!
So how do you go about fishing high water flows?
I will be back here in a while with that.
All for now, Davy.
No 1. Know the river and its structure.
No 2. Know the depth you are fishing over.
No 3. Know that you have, if nymph fishing, both weight and length.
No 4. Use flies that the fish can see.
No 5 Use the right line to deal with the choice of fishing.
These are the primary foundations of dealing with high water.
No 1, As my previous post, very important. Fish will as a rule seek
out given locations, and will be found there on a regular basis when
high water flows take place, given at that time the depth of that
Now the only way you are going to know that is either by catching
fish there your self or knowing that some others also do.
If you have figured that one your self, l will tell you to shut up
and say nothing !!!
No 2, Depth. There are a couple of ways to do that. One is to know
the exact height, more or less or a object that is visual, at low
water and then when the water has risen.
I also will stick my fly rod down to see if l can touch bottom, from
a boat, while drifting.
The White is most time clear water for med flow, but not so when
real high water is running.
I am not familiar with your rivers at the time of generations so
they may differ.
You can also if you have it use a depth finder, and if not a
weighted plum line, either way it is important to know this for dead
No 4. There may be times that in the slack eddy and back water, or
off main line current seams fish will rise to the bugs that have
been pushed into those zones, that is common for many places here on
the White river when high water is running.
In that case l use combinations of dry, wet, soft hackles, emergers,
ect, for those fish. as a rule with a dry line. You may well
encounter good surface activity even though there is a large amount
of surface trash on the water, the fish will rise in between that.
Not the easiest of places to fish, but hey the fish are there.
I have also had great surface fishing over very deep water with
small flies at such times when there has been a caddis or a mayfly
Fishing into shore lines with large streamers, and l mean large at
time, 4 ins or more can be deadly for a big trophy fish. Fished on
the surface or at depth.
Here at Bull shoals dam l will work with on a dry line my shad fly
patterns and some other versions, l have caught and so have many of
my clients some great fish this way, even though there are no shad
at that time. If a fish sees the fly the right way, he may well come
and nail it, you never know.
Deep water nymph rigs, fish larger flies and those they can see,
typically San Juan worms, stone fly nymphs such as bitch creek,
black stones etc.
Some guys like to use eggs and jigs.
You can also fish dead drift flies like wooly buggers, white marabou
streamers, if they see it you have every chance they will take it
But that is not always the case. If water is colored then, yes,
choices say or red, pink, SJ worms, eggs etc.
If the water is clean and clear, then l will also use scuds, sowbugs,
hares ear and flies of that nature.
Bottom line is, the fish has to see your fly.
Fish will naturally feed on small organisms, that may be all they
have. High water does not stop fish feeding!! Unless it is trashed
up real bad or in flood stages.
No 5. High water for me does not include the use of a 3wt outfit,
forget that. Do not handicap your self with the wrong rod and line
As a rule l will use rods of 9 to 10ft with at least a 5wt or more,
at times 7 and may be 8,that related to the line and means of
fishing at that time.
Running shore lines, casting to from a boat.
There are times that a dry line works well, particularly for Browns,
late evening to dark, with surface or close to fished flies.
I will use a dry line when fishing surface techniques at the dam
zones, and also down stream also for more mid water fishing.
Sink tips are great lines also to work off shore lines if you have
the right one. They do vary in sink rate and also the length of that
sink tip section. I prefer a 10ft at least sinking section and at
least a class 2 sink rate or more. I use a 7wt line, as that gives
me more options for fly size, either small or very large or with
added weight such as tungsten cone heads. I light weight line does
restrict this option.
I also use at times a intermediate line, with a 1 to 2 ips rate.
That is one of my favorite line to use, again a 6, if not a 7 wt
Faster full sink lines for high water also have a place. Here again
you need the rod to deal with such lines, at least a 7 wt for me.
Again gives me the option for fly size and weight choices, but also
you do need some beef when you hook a big fish down deep.
Bottom line here is use the right line to present the fly and one
that allows you options for both size and weight of fly, as that can
make a great deal of difference at times, believe me.
If there is one other factor that does relate to fishing flies such
as streamers, it is your ability to be able to cast, 30 ft does not
cover much water, 60 to 80ft casts way more.
And you may if you are fishing too close to the shoreline spook the
fish out down stream of you before they see the fly, by boat drift.
In the case of fishing with streamers for sub surface fished flies,
l do not bother with tapered leaders as such, there is no point as
you are not looking for exact turnover as you would for a dry fly.
You are not fishing dead drift and also you will be stripping the
fly, so that pulls the line/leader and fly in line.
So, as a rule for any fishing other than dry line by this means l
just use a straight section from the fly line of anything from 6 to
12 lb mono. That l use from bulk spools, and l do like P-line for
that, there are others out there that would be well ok.
Leader length would vary from 4 to 8ft as a rule for this.
For dry line surface work that does differ as l may well use a total
leader length of up to 15ft at times, more so when l am fishing bait
fish patterns. The added length does allow for the fly to animate
more natural on the surface and that can be very important.
In this case l will be fishing these flies dead drift with some
The added length also keeps the fly well away from the fly line as
often fish will come from deep water and take that fly.
In this case l will use a tapered leader to about a 10lb tip and add
additional to that with what l need by length and BS.
If l am after the big boys here at the dam it may well be in the
10lb region as l know very well what a big fish can do when he has
the high water to help him out.
If l am using dry line with say flies l am working into shorelines,
then l would not use long leaders, hard to throw a large fly or
heavy fly accurately this way. Also as a rule l am setting that fly
right on the shore line and hoping to pull a fish within a few yards
of it, which is generally the case here. That may be with floating
or sunk flies.
As a rule at least a 6wt line, 7 being more versatile for larger
and weighty flies.
No 3. Nymph--Dead drift.
Simply the bottom line is that the fly is close to the river bed. In
10ft of water a 10ft leader is no use unless you have a ton of
Long rods are mandatory for me for this reason. If you are fishing
in 10 ft of water, your indicator has to be more than 10ft from the
fly, as a rule.
Short rods are difficult to work with in this case.
Remember we are not looking for surface presentations here, we are
looking for a means to get a fly down to depth and keep it there .
Back in a while, have some visitors.
All for now,
So how do we deal
with depth and speed when dead drifting.
Hope fully you have taking some notice too my previous posts.
As a rule, but not always fish will be close to the river bed a this
time, or at least they will look for comfort zones out of the direct
flow of water.
In order to dead drift at depth you have to have WL, weight and
length. That is from the indicator.
Remember we are not dealing with fineness, and surface presentations
And not chuck and duck either.
Question... At what position should l place the indicator
Answer.....As close to the end of the fly line as you wish. In this
case it does not matter. Other methods l would say other wise.
Remember that the indicator will be a point of stop at the rod tip .
Below that you may well have a long length of leader/tippet.
There does of course come a point that the depth of water is way
over, one that you really cannot deal with by dead drift.
Look for water that is less than 10ft, more like 8 or less, it is
way easier to deal with this depth.
When drifting in a boat as a rule that will also move at the same
pace as the water surface unless wind changes that. Up stream
retards, down stream increases, cross winds can be a bitch at times
to deal with.
There may also of course be some surface water movement within seams
that can also have a bearing on this.
It is important that the boat is controlled in such a way as the
down stream drift does not cause the fly line to be dragged off
line, or that it runs over the line, as this will aggravate a good
In the case of myself l use a motor and l use that as a means to
deal with this, same also for a drift boat with oars.
Aside from the rig up, l consider this to be very important, for if
this factor is not handled , it matters not what you have done so
far as setting up your tackle for dead drift.
Boat control is of number 1 importance in my book. The longer you
can maintain a good drift then so the fly will remain at the
Also keep the fly in the water and avoid pull out and re-casts, a
very common mistake, it does not matter that the fly be down stream
from the boat always ,as long as you are not retarding the drift,
holding it back, if you do then the fly will rise high in the water
The deal is to read the water, as there may well be some difference
say from drifting 40 ft off a shoreline and trying to fish dead
drift 10ft from that shoreline.
At that time you need to figure out. Do l need to make a way up
stream presentation of the boat position or can l cast directly
across to that shoreline and maintain with the boat drift the same
speed of drift.
I can of course read that, and l will tell my clients where l wish
them to make that initial cast.
OK, rigging up.
I cannot be exact here, unless l was there with you on the water.
But as a good guide line go with this.
If you look at the articles page you will see how l set my leader
system up using Amnesia.
To that l add the continuous length of tippet l wish to use, and the
finer that diameter is, for the better, as it will allow for the fly
to sink way faster.
So in consequence of the 4/5/6 x, 5 l use most of the time,
The Amnesia section is the one l set the indicator on, never on the
addition of the tippet for high water fishing. I adjust length wise
and weight wise that below the Amnesia to tippet connection.
Weight is added as a rule around 10 ins from the fly. I also at this
point add the section for the fly to the tippet and the reason why
is that the knot stops the shot moving down to the fly, as this will
often happen when you use fine tippet material and shot sizes of
You do not want to compress that shot too hard either as that can
reduce the strength of the tippet.
So assume we are dealing with water 8ft in depth.
I will set the indicator 2ft from the fly line. That leaves me 3ft
of Amnesia. To that l will add around 7ft of 5x to that 1ft of 5x.
To that l will add as a start 1 BB above 1ft knot. The fly then to
the 1ft section.
Amnesia is as a rule visible below the indicator and you will see
the relative angle that it is. Is it looking like it is pointing
directly down or more so at a level up stream.
Remember it is the surface drift that determines drift speed.
If you see the Amnesia more or less in a straight line down, the
odds are you fly will also be way down there, if it is not then the
fly may not be.
So to deal with that you add weight. It does not matter that the
weight drags the bottom as the downstream drift caused from the fly
line will pull it along, on the other hand if you are fishing over
bad structure you do not want to hang up on a regular basis.
As a rule the faster the water this happens less so.
Even so that is something you have to live with fishing this way.
unless you know the zone you are fishing like the back of your hand.
There is if you like a fine balance here not enough or too much
I would rather have too much, than not enough.
If l was to say this l will not be far wrong from the truth.
The failure to catch fish when fishing high water is that there is
insufficient weight to get the fly down, and that the leader length
is too short.
Second to that is not maintaining a long enough drift for that to
happen, both angler, boat drift or both may well be the problem
One other interesting factor is this. I have watched 100s of fish
intercept and take a fly fished in high water, here at Bull shoals
dam the water is as a rule very clear and with a good over head
light condition you can see well.
I have seen the fish, turn around downstream and take the fly, swim
at all angles to intercept and take the fly.
You have no choice in how you can set the hook other than raise the
rod when you see the indicator move.
You cannot alter the relative angle of hook set. All you do is to
take up the tension to the fly and hope that you did it in such a
time as the fish is hooked and not missed.
One other point l forgot to add is this.
When fishing high water, you can speed up the hook set by hand strip
at the same time as you raise the rod, more or less like you were
making a single haul.
All for now,
I use ultra chenille, standard size, that is 2mm.
Size of worm 1.1/4 to 1.1/2 ins works best.
Hooks, l have used many in the past but l do like the TMC 3761,
size 14. There are a couple of hooks also l use from Partridge but
you might find those hard to get here.
I see no advantage to use curved shank hooks Mike.
The color can make a big difference at times, if you go with, red,
orange, light and dark tan and pink, you should be good with that.
I have used worms also with beads, hard to say if that are any
better than those without.
I will post some images of some variations that l have used at a
later date ok.
No, l will not always use larger flies, depends on water clarity.
If clear l will often use sow bugs and scuds from 14 to 18 hook
Hares ear ,prince nymph can also be good.
And l have often used soft hackles, various, size 12 and 14.
But l personally do not use eggs, l know some guys choose to do
that. And also small jigs.
Rise or fall. As a rule a rise can be good if it is not pushing
trash with it, at least the early stages of that rise.
What we try to do is follow that rise as it moves down stream.
If l am at the dam l will stick it out there as a rule.
If there after a mean flow is maintained, then the fish will settle
down to that after a period of time.
Falling water can be a waste of time, but l have also known times it
has been good.
I think what happens here is that the fish sense the change and are
more concerned with looking for safe zones, when that fall does
start to settle then they will often feed real well.
Big fish, overall the answer here would be yes when generation
starts. Low water does make the larger fish way more wary thatís for
I will not fish for trout that are pre or post spawn while in
collective known zones that they do so.
But you will of course catch fish while they are moving up stream to
those zones, in the case of Browns anytime from mid September
onward. Bows have no real select period of time these days due to
the changes in genetics from hatcheries.
Mike, those big browns will be there thatís for sure. Many of the
big fish here will be found in shallow water zones and close to
shore lines. At this time of the year running shore lines last hour
of light and into dark can be killer fishing.
I am not aware of the fact that they banned drag chains. You cannot
use them on the Norfork, that has been a reg for a number of years.
Yes, l do use chains, l do not believe Mike that they are
detrimental to the river bed. Hoards of waders is way worse, and so
is low water, so far as killing aquatic vegetation and causing food
source to be depleted.
Fish growth is low at that time, and harvest of fish way greater.
The interesting thing here on the White is that high water is good
for the river. It reduces big time the harvest of fish, fish grow
fast and the entire body of water is overall so much the better for
All for now,