Unicoi Outfitters is north Georgia's premier guide service and fly fishing outfitter, located on the Chattahoochee River near alpine Helen. Look for fishing reports, gear and book reviews, and general musings here from our staff and guides.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Fishing Rising and Falling Water Conditions

With all the rain we've experienced over the past couple of weeks, we thought we would ask Landon Williams to be our guest blogger and help you understand how we continue to catch fish even under adverse water conditions.

How to Deal With the “Rise” and “Fall” of Winter Weather
Landon Williams

The monsoon of last week may be over but our rivers and streams are just now starting to get back to recognizable flows. Fishing when the water is lower is always less demanding physically but when it’s high from events such as the recent rain, conditions can not only be unfavorable for the fishing but also dangerous with the raging water and decreased visibility. However, there are the periods of rising and falling water that provide very challenging and sometimes even rewarding fishing conditions in themselves.
Raging Dukes Creek - The Swimming Hole
The “rise” occurs when water levels begin to come up in our streams when a heavy rain period occurs.  Rises are very interesting fishing-wise as conditions generally become more dangerous for the fisherman as time continues and water levels rise. At the same time, they also provide a wonderful fishing opportunity if you can time the period right. Fish that have often been restricted of movement during low flows often move out of the deeper slow pools into the runs and riffles to feed on dislodged food items from both below and above the water’s surface. Below the surface, increased flows often knock mayfly, caddis, and stonefly nymphs from the stream bottom and into the drift, easy pickings for a hungry trout. As water levels continue to rise due to rain, the soil alongside the streams often become saturated enough for perhaps the highlight of the event, the worms! If you are fishing in higher water, check the parking area wherever you are fishing. If you see our long tubular friends, then there is often a chance that the trout are also seeing them and actively feeding on them as well. This is your big hint on perhaps what you should be fishing that day (hint: San Juan worm varying with the color of the stream. Go brighter with your fly selection the dirtier the water gets).
Dukes Creek Bow in High Water
Depending on the level of rain that our streams receive, water levels may become too dangerous to wade. That is not to say that even after a heavy rain, fishing opportunities are not available. Areas below dams (hint: Smith Creek and the Hooch immediately below Buford dam) are always clear as the dams act as a big buffer. Also smaller creeks and rivers clear fairly quickly if their watersheds are small. They run high really quick but also drain that water just as quickly. This is especially true of watersheds such as Dukes Creek, Noontootla Creek, and even the Hooch around the Helen area.  The falling period of water is often times just as productive fishing wise. The same principle applies in that you should fish big and ugly flies when the water is higher and downsize and naturalize your offering as the water recedes and clears.
Finding the High Water Refuge
I took my own advice the last few days and put some fish in the net while many thought the water levels too high to fish productively. This past weekend, I had to watch my step while the Hooch through Helen was ripping past me and I stuck to the banks for both easier wading and to find the fish seeking refuge from the heavy flow in the middle of the river.  I dragged a mohair leech and a bright pink San Juan worm through pockets along the bank with enough split shot to get them down and was rewarded with many scrappy holdover rainbows and even a couple of wild fish. Today, I fished Dukes Creek with water just now getting back to good flows. The fish were there but had much clearer water to see my offering and a size 20 zebra midge accounted for the majority of the fish, even with plenty of water still over their heads. This trend isn’t exact but is a good general rule to follow.
More importantly, keep yourself safe when wading this time of year. Wear a wading belt, use a staff, and fish with a buddy if possible. Also keep an extra pair of warm clothes at hand in case of a dunking. Perhaps most importantly, have a camera… Just in case!

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