Navigating the Rapids: Can You Fly Fish a Flooded River?

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Hey fellow fly anglers! Ever think about grabbing your rod when rivers rise and spill their banks? I’m here to tell ya that floating your flies on flooded water can lead to some truly awesome catches. But you gotta be smart and safe about it.

When heavy rains cause rivers to blast out of their banks, it creates new structure for fish to hang in. They pile up in flooded fields, brush and trees chasing baitfish. Floating streamers, nymphs or big dry flies through these high water hotspots can trick both resident and migratory fish into biting. Wading gets dangerous though when the river is raging, so focus on fishing from your boat or the bank. Use heavy enough tackle to manage the current, and don’t take risks in the fast flow. Follow those tips and a flooded river can serve up some of the most exciting fly fishing around if you’re prepared to take on the challenge. Just get ready for a battle!


Can you fly fish a flooded river?

Fly fishing in a flooded river requires skill, adaptability, and an understanding of the river’s dynamics (1). While it presents challenges, it also offers unique opportunities for adventurous anglers to test their abilities and experience the thrill of conquering nature’s obstacles. With the right techniques and knowledge, fly fishing in a flooded river can be a rewarding and exhilarating experience.

Tips for Fly Fishing in Flooded Rivers during Winter

Source: Trout Hunting NZ

When cold weather rains cause rivers to flood their banks, it can make for some epic winter fly fishing! Here are tips to make the most of high water when targeting steelhead, trout, and salmon.

Focus on fishing from the bank or a boat instead of wading. Raging currents and fast depths make wading super dangerous. Play it safe by looking for slots along the bank or floating the main channel.

Use fly rods and lines heavy enough to punch casts into the stiff current. Short, compact casts with minimal false casting helps maintain control. Don’t go too light or you’ll struggle.

Add plenty of split shot and use weighted flies to get down in the column. The river flow will cause your rig to rise, so getting it down requires more weight than normal.

Pay close attention to your line and strike indicators for subtle takes. The turbid water makes it tough to see strikes, so you need to feel them out. Set the hook on anything suspicious!

Finding Productive Backwaters and Side Channels

When the main river is a churning mess, look for backwaters and side channels created as water spills over the banks. Target the slower water here where fish tuck in out of the current.

Scope out oxbows that break off the main flow or pockets behind islands. These areas give fish a break from fighting the heavy flow.

Look for current seams at the edge of side channels where fast water meets the slow. Fish hold in these zones to ambush prey while expending minimal energy.

Check floodplain lakes and ponds that connect to the river during high water. Feeder creeks backing up into fields also hold migrating fish when flooded over.

Focus on soft inside bends and behind debris piles where slack water gives fish a place to stash. You can often spot schools hanging in the calmer spots.

Fishing Strategies for Edges and Softer Water in Flooded Rivers

When fly fishing a flooded river, target the edges and seams between fast and slow water (2). Here are some productive techniques.

Make short casts parallel to the current seam and let your fly swing across. Leave slack in the line so it can wiggle and pulsate in the soft water.

Cast quartering upstream across eddies and slack pockets. Mend your line to extend a smooth drift, then be ready as the fly swings down below you.

Strip streamers in choppy spots to imitate baitfish struggling in the current. Try slow pulsing retrieves or fast and erratic strips depending on the conditions.

Toss big dry flies or stonefly patterns into quiet bankside pools. Pop them along to imitate a crawling insect falling in, triggering savage grabs.

No matter where you cast, stay alert! Fish can surge out of nowhere to crush a fly in flooded water. Lightning-fast reflexes help convert more grabs into hookups.

Using Big, Standout Flies for Fly Fishing in High Flows

When rivers are raging, beef up your flies and tackle to match the mood of the fish and the water.

Tie on articulated streamers, oversized woolly buggers, or long Intruder-style patterns. The bigger profile stands out in dirty water.

Use bright colored flies like chartreuse, orange and pink for increased visibility. Dark patterns tend to disappear in off-color water.

Add a foam head, rattle, or flashy materials like Flashabou to make noise and vibrations. This triggers instinctive reactions from aggressive fish.

Rubber legs, marabou, or Soft Hackles give streamers flutter and movement in the fast water. The more action the better when flows are ripping.

In fast seams, a weighted Scandi or Skagit-style line helps quickly sink big flies to trigger reaction bites down deep. Think meaty!

More on how do you cast a fly rod on a river.

Adapting Fly Techniques for Fishing Unconventional Water in Flooded Rivers

When rivers jump the banks, fish can end up in very unexpected places! Here are some unorthodox spots and techniques to try.

Scan fields and woodlands that get inundated by the floodwaters. Fish often swim far into these areas chasing baitfish and getting washed out.

Toss streamers tight to flooded bushes and trees. Aggressive fish hide in branches waiting to ambush tasty morsels carried by the current.

Strip crawfish patterns quickly over flooded structure like fences, benches, and bushes. This imitates prey getting knocked around by the flow.

Use heavy nymph rigs to dredge the bottom in flooded parking lots or playgrounds. You never know where river fish will end up when water spills overtop!

In flooded marshes and backwaters try large dry flies that imitate rats or mice. Big fish gorge during floods and get extra aggressive.

So in high water be creative and think outside the box for where fish may be stacking up. Flooding drags fish out of their normal haunts and into some wild spots!

More on what flies to use on a river.


As you can see, fly fishing flooded rivers can definitely pay off big time if you know what you’re doing. Target new structure and let your flies swing through those tasty looking slack water pockets along the edges. Just make sure to wear your PFD, anchor up properly, and use heavy enough rods, lines and leaders to manage the current. Safety first!

Alright folks, now you’ve got the inside scoop on successful and safe fly fishing on flooded water. So grab your heaviest fly rod and start watching the weather reports for the next big rain event. Those high flows will kick the fish into feeding mode and leave them eager to attack a well presented fly. Just use good judgment and catch ’em up! Tight lines out there.

More on what time of day is best to fly fish a river.



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