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High Water Cutthroat Fishing

Sean Visintainer - 04/22/13

High Water Cutthroat Fly Fishing on the St Joe River. Photo by Sean Visintainer

The days are getting longer, sometimes warmer, and you have fly fishing on the brain more. Stillwater doesn't interest you and the river levels are a little higher than your favorite month of July. So what do you do? You go fishing on the Coeur d'Alene or St. Joe River!

Below are 5 facts and 5 tips about fishing the Coeur d'Alene and St. Joe Rivers during spring runoff higher water levels.

5 Facts about fishing higher water during spring in Idaho:

  1. Visibility - Trout keep feeding as long as they have SOME visibility (18" or better usually). 12 months out of the year.
  2. On The Rise - Cutthroat on the CDA and St. Joe are more resilient to big fluctuations in water changes versus rivers like the Clark Fork River in Montana. Example: We floated the St. Joe River twice this season when the river had tripled in size within a 48hr period... and still caught fish.
  3. Clear Water - The Coeur d'Alene and St. Joe River stay relatively clear throughout runoff making them good options during higher water.
  4. Side Channels - At really high water levels the cutthroat will get pushed into any "back water" pieces or side channels off the main river. While some of these areas can be like fishing a pond it's better than nothing.
  5. Bugs - Some of the best insect hatches occur during the higher water periods on the St. Joe and Coeur d'Alene River. The fish can be extremely aggressive with the combined flows and large amounts of food.

5 Tips for fishing for cutthroat in Idaho during high water levels:

  1. Tight-To-The-Bank - Focus your efforts on on the first couple feet of the bank. This is where most of the "soft" water can be found. Mr. Cutty likes easy livin'.
  2. Streamers - This can be one of the best times to fish streamers for cutthroat. Careful to not fish them too fast through a pocket... remember they have to be able to catch it!
  3. Go Big - Fishing with larger/stronger tippets will help you land more fish and cast beefier flies. This is not 6x season.
  4. Lunch Rush - Cutthroat don't wake up early, especially to deal with fast currents... and so you shouldn't too! During the spring runoff, the best time of the day is the middle.
  5. Control - Short, controlled drifts are the name of the game. The pockets are small and the fish takes are quick. Make your drifts short and sweet and be ready for the take.

And most importantly of all be safe! Most of the time with high water you do not need to wade into the river as you can just fish along the bank. Good luck and enjoy learning a new time of the year!

Fly Fishing the Back Eddies for Cutthroat Trout. Fly Fishing Back Channels for Cutthroat Trout. Fly Fishing Soft Current Seams. Fly Fishing Streamer Patterns. Fly Fishing Foam Patterns.
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