This time of year, in the west especially, water flows tend to be on the lower and slower side with smaller creeks running well below 100CFS (cubic feet per second) and larger rivers ranging from sub-100 to a few hundred CFS (or more, depending on confluence and reservoir discharge conditions). If you’re looking to fish water with slower flows, you might want to consider changing up your chase style.
Here are 5 tactics to try when flows drop, but the draw to the water is strong.
Use smaller flies
As temperatures drop, big hoppers and larger fly hatches start shutting down; alas, the season of big bugs has passed. The good news is that fish are still feeding. Try getting on the water later in the day when the water and air temperatures are a little warmer. If you’re lucky, a small fall Baetis hatch will be in full swing. Tie on a smaller dry fly with a dropper nymph, like a size 18 or 20 blue wing olive pattern (I’ve also fished smaller Griffith gnat with success) and your favorite bead head pattern and give it a go.
Use lighter tippet/leader
In low water, consider using a longer, smaller weight leader and lighter tippet. Thinner water could also mean spookier fish. Bumping your leader to a 6x will reduce the likelihood of fish spotting your line before your fly. If you rebuild your leader with tippet, be sure to use longer lengths to reduce the number of knots in the line. More knots on your line means more opportunities for fish to see it before your fly.
Load a lighter rod
Put your 5 and 6 weight rods away for a while and setup a 3 or 4 weight option. A rod like our 4 weight Nympster and 3 weight Nymphster EXT are light and agile, yet still able to throw the flies you need to land more fish.
In fall conditions like this, those deeper pools you loved so much over the summer are now few and far between. That means you’ll likely be fishing more of the riffles and runs, so stealth is key. Walk low and slow to the water, cast upstream, move from downstream to upstream as you wade and try not to disturb the water too much while doing it. Combined, you’ll increase the likelihood of filling your net.
Keep them wet and release them quickly
Trout, specifically, need a special combination of water temperature and oxygen content to survive. In lower water, fish are a little more stressed since lower flows tend to mean lower oxygen content. When you land a fish, land it in your net, snap your shot and set it on its way. Don’t worry, it’ll thank you.
Based in southern Colorado, Ryan is a photographer, outdoorswoman, fish chaser, and proud mama to two wild Outdoors-loving kiddos. When not wrangling little ones or cattle dogs, you’ll find her on the water, on a trail or on the road looking for the next piece of water and (hopefully) high country trout.