The River High and The River Low

by Rebecca on March 2, 2010

in Fly Fishing

~Can't Catch a Fish? Stack Rocks~

When I was out fly fishing last Sunday, one of the comments I got was a general observation, but it’s the one I’ve been thinking about as a general river theme. One man remarked after asking me how the fishing was (not good),”Well the river is pretty low right now.”
Yes. And that means? I wanted to ask him, but held my thought to myself.

This is where my personal experience, a sheltered bubble of fly fishing innocence (or ignorance) falls into play. My lack of interaction with all things common fly fishing opinion and technical knowledge over the past 10 plus years puts me into an undisturbed, uninfluenced state of fishing spirit. 80% of what I do or know has been established through personal trial and error rather then credible advice or instruction. I’ve yet to decide if that is a good thing, or a bad thing.

The thing is, when I turned the chapter in my fishing life from metal chucker to fly floater, I had assistance in several of the basics: fly choices, casting, presentation among other beginner instruction. However, I was pretty much left to my own devices when it came to river choices, time on the water, areas to visit and reading the water. Although I had heard rumors about things like river flow and water temperature, I humbly admit, I shrugged it off. Such technical assessments I deemed best left to those who actually knew what they were doing. I just wanted to go out and fish, regardless of prevailing ‘conditions’…

Because I didn’t know any better, or didn’t care, I’ve fished rivers when they were roaring over their banks flooding into the trees and I’ve fished when everything was just a trickle with tiny little holding pools. Some of my best memories or fishing days —the type where you force yourself to stop casting because the sun has been behind the mountain for almost an hour and tying on a new fly by the light of a match starts to burn up a lot of tippet— were on rivers that may have been considered ‘unfishable’ ….sometimes, ignorance really is bliss.

The one exception or perhaps it’s a concession, is blown out rivers that have turned the color of brown hotel carpet. Although I have caught fish under such conditions, it wasn’t easy and times like those earn a humble place in the tenacious (desperate) category of a fly fishing life. Not exactly memorable, but earns points for effort.

Over the years I’ve read fishing reports that made it seem like if you simply drove to a river, tossed in some dental floss with a safety pin tied to the end you would catch fish–”"The river is on FIRE it’s so smoking good”"– yet when I got there it didn’t seem that great, or even good. Just the opposite, I’ve read reports that moaned depression like conditions in a sluggish river economy and I’ve hit the jackpot in fishing riches. (To be fair, I have ! read fishing reports that were spot on, which is always a nice surprise) So either some fishing reports are just screwing with me, for fun and all, or everyone forgot to inform the fish what was expected of them or… simply defies logical expectation.

So all of that begs the question. How much do you all put into fishing reports, river flow, optimum fishing conditions? Will a flooded river put an end to your day? Will a dire fishing report inspire you to stay home and finish your ‘honey do’ list instead?

An inquiring mind wants to know ~ Me



{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

BenNo Gravatar March 2, 2010 at 5:20 pm

In my experience, you’ll learn more about the fishing by watching the weather and water conditions and matching this to your experiences than you will by listening to other people and their theories.

But sometimes, here anyway, the floods really do mess up the fishing. I think this is mainly because the fish are so hard to locate – they hang out and feed in totally different places and at different times because the light conditions underwater are different when coloured. Plus presenting a passable bait or lure to a fish in flood conditions is that much harder, so the chances of success are less.

So if heavy rain is forecast for a few days before fishing, then I’ll think twice about having a go. But when the river stats to level out and fine down, that’s always been a productive time to fish, or maybe it just feels productive after fishing flood conditions!

Check out the Angling Times piece on my blog about that big pike I caught, I had some ideas about how pike feed in different water conditions in that one.

Tight lines,



KirkNo Gravatar March 2, 2010 at 5:40 pm

First, I put zero value on fishing reports, because when someone else encounters a stellar day of hooking up with fish it doesn’t, and seldom does mean, that I will catch anything. A good fishing report is often just a false sense of promise, so I fish when I can, regardless of what reports say. Most reports come from shops/guides, and of course they want you to think the fishing is hot right now so you’ll come pay them a visit! River flows are another matter, however. I will save my gas money when rivers are running higher than a certain level. Some are fishable to a certain level, but above that they become difficult, and that’s when I stay home. And I will try to avoid fishing a river on the rise, preferring to visit them on the downturn because that is allegedly when the fish start to feed (on the rise and they tend to be seeking shelter).

But what do I know? I’m just one who is unaccomplished.


NerverackerNo Gravatar March 2, 2010 at 5:47 pm

In my short tenure fly fishing, I’ve learned a few things through trial and error and through just being taught. Coming from a predominantly lake and saltwater fishing background, I had to un-learn a few things. Weather plays a significant part, but less to the area of high and low pressures on rivers. It’s more of a sunny to cloudy, raining to not raining, and more importantly rising or falling of the rivers.
In most rivers, it seems that weather pressure systems do not have as much of a significant affect on the fish as it does with larger bodies of water such as lakes or oceans. But, those bright and sunny days? While I love them, the fish don’t. So, it makes fishing the rivers more difficult. Cloudy days, seem to be the best. More bug life and more activity in the water. And as always, falling river is best. I’ve fished rising and falling rivers, and I’ve learned that I can catch fish in both, but I catch more fish when the river levels are falling than when I do when they are rising.
To me, the river levels are king. I’ll watch them very closely especially when chasing steelhead, and even more on point, winter steelhead. When the river is holding steady, if it’s high, the fish are most definitely on the move, if the river is low and holding, so are the fish. Once the river starts dropping, then the fish seem to start kegging up in deeper holes with some type of structure or easy currents. These seem to be the best times.
Also, one other thing that factors into fishing, and many people don’t put much stock into, but I do. Moon phase. The moon phase, I believe, exerts more influence over fish and any other wild-life, be it an elk, a deer, a cow, a bird, a whatever. I put a lot of stock in moon phase and peak times of the day. I’ve seen it a few too many times for me not to put stock into it. Try it and see, you might be surprised. The next time you go out, take notes write down the hot times of the day according to moon phase, and record what times you catch the most fish. I’d be willing to bet that most fish caught are going to coincide with the hot times during the lunar cycles.
Only a blown out river that looks like a 5 year old just made his chocolate milk with 1/2 a bottle of Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup keep me away. The way I figure it… even the worst day fishing is better than doing just about anything else. At least I’m outside enjoying being alive, and doing something that I love to do.



ShoremanNo Gravatar March 2, 2010 at 5:56 pm

I’m so with you about the fishing reports. It’s the reason I started my blog. The fishing report would say that the hoards are catching limits of 14″ trout at Angels Point with pink Power Bait and when you get there, there’s no one there and the fish, if there are any, aren’t the least bit interested in pink Power Bait. I’ve found that the best way to find out what’s going on is to go out there and watch the guy that’s catching fish and see how he’s doing it. then do it the same way. See my post from today for just that idea.



ScottNo Gravatar March 2, 2010 at 6:12 pm

I don’t put much stock in fishing reports. I’ve seen great reports and had lousy days and bad reports with great days. I do pay a little more attention to flow and weather but will pretty much fish any day on any water. It took me a long time to get a handle on river flows and what they meant… I eventually sucked up my pride and asked someone for a detailed explanation.

I must say that I really love your blog posts. They are written with such wonderful honesty and I imagine they speak to more of us than you might expect.



john wooldridgeNo Gravatar March 2, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Hi Rebecca,
I think that, as in all sorts of hunting whether with rod, gun, bow or camera, that the gaining of knowledge will be obtained from more than one source. Certainly the majority of my (limited) fishing knowledge has been gleaned from my own experience and mistakes (lots of them) but that doesn’t mean that I have not listened to the advice of others. Some folk may have local knowledge or may have found a method that works in a particular circumstance; others may have gained experience over a lifetime and just want to pass some of it on. It does not follow that given advice may work for you or that it’ll work in other circumstance but there can be no harm in taking the advice onboard, after all it can be ditched and chalked down to experience if it does prove to be a lemon. Oh and as for fishing reports there is one general rule that seems to apply to majority ;- they suck!
Best regards,


ken morrowNo Gravatar March 2, 2010 at 6:18 pm

the very best way to catch fish is to go fishing. and the very best way to get better at it is to go as often as possible. fishing reports have nothing but entertainment value, weather forecasts are of some value for planning for safety and comfort, and stream conditions are important to know for safety reasons. but for the most part the fish don’t leave unless the water is gone. and if they are there they can be caught…somehow.


WolfyNo Gravatar March 2, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Fish when you are able to fish. The only absolute in fishing is this: If you stay at home, you will not catch any fish.

It is better to have fished and lost than to never have fished at all.



wandering owlNo Gravatar March 2, 2010 at 8:43 pm

I guess I don’t put a whole lot of stock in fishing reports. I’ve read reports of flood stage, and still went to check out the situation. I may be a little dense…

Flood stage and near flood stage are about the only things that will keep me from giving the fishing a try. Or if I get that feeling that the morels are popping!


nimrod243No Gravatar March 2, 2010 at 10:09 pm

I think that conditions do have a lot to do with how well the fishing goes. I also think that fishing reports are usually out of date by the time I get on the water (too much work, too little fishing). I agree with Ben’s comment above. It is best to pair up your experiences with the conditions at the time. If the fishing is good on a cool overcast day after a rain shower, there is a good chance the fishing will be good in similar conditions in the future. Of course, this is probably more theory than actual practice speaking. I think there is a science to it all that can and is figured out by the pros. The key is time spent on the water. The more time you spend on the water making observations and taking notes for future reference, the more skilled we will get.

Thanks for another interesting post!

Tight Lines!


trout whispererNo Gravatar March 3, 2010 at 6:53 am

reading water…..learning the lies…..i’d call that “the second book of rebeccca, chapter two, verses one through whatever……all the best to you tw


fishingpoetNo Gravatar March 3, 2010 at 7:03 am

Great post. Even in the same water, nothing is ever the same from one trip to the next, and you learn, firsthand, something new every time you get your waders wet. Sort of like getting sage advice from kindred spirits you meet streamside. That’s better info than any report you’ll read the night (or week) before. All that matters in the end is whether the trial and error is enjoyable…which I’m betting it is.


RebeccaNo Gravatar March 3, 2010 at 9:59 am

@Everyone ~ Good sage sound advice and perspectives! Where have you all been over the past 10 years?

Although, one thing…..I love, as in one of my favorite times to fish….is a flooded river. Water up over the banks into the trees is the best. As long as the water isn’t murky brown, I’ve had incrediable days on the river when the water is really high and raging. The fish hug the banks or even come over the banks and hang out under the trees or bushes that aren’t normally in water. Add in a hatch of dropping bugs off those tree branches and it becomes a FISH ON fiesta. You just have to wade close to the water line or stay on land to avoid possible death =) Does no one else do this?


DennisNo Gravatar March 3, 2010 at 10:09 am

When fishing local I fish when I can, regardless of conditions or reports…I mostly consider them fiction anyway, or a like a false blaze in a trail…I’m suspect of other fisherman ;) …lol.

When planning a 5hr ride to fish the Assateague Surf I will keep a close eye on surf conditions…it can be too wild to fish down there, and when it’s like that I save the fuel money for my next opp to head down.


ColoradoAnglerNo Gravatar March 3, 2010 at 10:34 am

I’ll agree with Nevercracker…moon phases play a bigger role, more often than not.


Kentucky JimNo Gravatar March 3, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Rebecca, every time I rea one of your pieces, it’s got a whole lot of comments in front of mine. I didn’t read ‘em, so forgive me if I’m repeating what someone else said.

For me, when the Kern is out of its banks, I stay away from it. So, yes, an overflowing river will cause me to change my plans. That said, I think (again, just for me) that part of the fun of fly fishing is trying something different, and finding that it works. I look at stream reports sometimes, but mostly I go fishing when I want to go fishing. “Water’s kinda low”? Indeed, what does that mean?

Haven’t heard from you about my new short story.



Fishing JonesNo Gravatar March 3, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Someone smarter than me said the best time to go fishing is whenever you can.

And a guide once told me, in the way of advice, that the fish are either sitting shallow, deep, or somewhere in between.


troutrageous1No Gravatar March 3, 2010 at 6:31 pm

My opinion is somewhat similar to many of the others…I don’t care what the fishing report is. I don’t necessarily go fishing to catch fish (which sounds silly) all of the time. Fishing is an escape into nature & solitude and away from the stresses of the every day. If a fish snags himself on the end of my hook, that’s just a bonus.


ken morrowNo Gravatar March 3, 2010 at 7:41 pm


don’t tell everybody about the secret terrestrial “hatches” during high water! lmao

you are right about the key being to find the backwater. it isn’t always “in the trees,” but overhanging or emergent vegetation sure does help. there are actually about 101 unusual things to look for when fishing during high water events to find actively feeding fish. and fish have the same basic survival instincts of all other sentient beings. so of course they try to stay out of the raging torrent – just like we would if we had to stay in the river to breathe. and…of course…they have to find food eventually. so they do.

you’ve actually opened up a subject here that is neither common knowledge nor the proper domain for the casual outdoorsperson. such conditions can be dangerous in unexpected and invisible ways. but nature is an awesome sight to experience in all of her various conditions. and the fishing can be…as you say…exceptional if you know where to find it and how to avoid danger in the process.

you have this self-deprecating writing style when you speak of your own fishing experience, knowledge, and skills. but something tells me you bring a bit more to the party than you may let on.


ClifNo Gravatar March 3, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Good god you’ve got a lot of commenters already. Nice work!

I’ve always found fishing reports interesting. Around here, a lake report usually comes from a single tackle shop owner but I don’t know why they would know much more than me. How many people do you know who go to the store AFTER they fish?

Needless to say, I don’t put a ton of faith into fishing reports. I fish when I have time.


RebeccaNo Gravatar March 3, 2010 at 10:11 pm

@Dennis ~ I suspect those darn fisherman have something to do with wild goose chase reports as well =)

@ColoradoAngler & Nervecracker ~ Ok, I’ll admit, not once have I ever looked into the moon phase effects. It’s now on my to do list to learn, but if it starts feeling like astrology compatibility study….well, I’ll come fish with you two when you tell me the moon is right ~

@KJ ~ You might be missing out on something pretty special if you avoid high rivers, just saying…

@FishingJones ~ You have wise mentors in your life. I believe I can adhere to those two pieces of advice!

@Troutrageous ~ I understand exactly what you mean.

@Ken ~ Thats a secret?? Damn, I didn’t know. I just find it hard to believe others are missing out on such divine fishing times. At least that explains why I rarely if ever see people out fishing a flooded river…I am extremely careful. If I wade, it’s in the shallows, below the knee zone.

@Clif ~ LOL good point about people usually don’t visit the tackle shop after the fact of fishing.

I think the general notion to be found from this whole entry and comments is FISH when we have time. Thats an idea I can live by ~


ken morrowNo Gravatar March 4, 2010 at 6:03 am

We were all told since we were small children, “Don’t go near the water when the river/creek is high.” After heavy rains our folks always admonished us to, “Stay away from the river!” It is programmed into most people. Well, if it is programmed in like that: flooded stream = near-certain death, how would many anglers know that the fishing can be good during times when streams are out of their banks if they take the time to learn how to fish them in these conditions?

Of course it’s a “secret.” It is one I myself only learned because I am an avid duck hunter. I’ve spent more time in flooded river bottoms in a pair of chest waders than I care to try and estimate.


BigerrfishNo Gravatar March 4, 2010 at 11:33 am

I have to put a very high value on fishing reports..let me see if this comes out right…1st, reports tell you where fish can be found, 2 the flows are important, could make a diference on what shoes you wear or how many cased caddis are scrambling for their lives..third and most important.. the reports are not made by people like us who just want to hang up a fish, there made by people who make money from the obvious group of people, therefore the reports tell me what the fly-shops want you to buy inturn what has been sold inturn what most of the folks on the river are using at the moment, inturn (are you sick of hearing “inturn”) inturn this is what the fish are seeing. put the ratio of naturals seen by a fish and patterns that it sees its our turn to fish,,are you going to give em what they all give least we know, cause we read the reports……………….


BigerrfishNo Gravatar March 4, 2010 at 11:38 am

bout the moon……..think about what the reflection of the moon looks like on the water…do you think bugs see this as they see your porch light? if they do, they would be driven to the surface in an unlimited spectrum..right? we all know fish love the night..point is, full moon, lots of bugs, fish eat all night..slow fishing the next day..maybe..


SwittersBNo Gravatar March 5, 2010 at 8:14 am

I have found fishing reports re salmon/steelhead pretty helpful if I am on the water on a regular basis. If not…I seem to often fall into the “you should have been here yesterday” category.

River levels are helpful to me re wading safety…is it worth the effort to drive there, hike in and safely wade or fish the edges, roll casting all day? Also, if the river is coming up it is flushing the fish holding low in the river or tidewater.

Nothing beats fishing 2-3 times a week to know more than the reports or equal the guides…if not out there that much, then I am fly blind most of the time and have minimal success.

Moon/barometric pressure: I have never been able to dial into this on rivers. It is very apparent on lakes for me.

Great questions! Great answers here. What I like about you, is you share the full breadth of your experiences and ask questions. We all learn from that.


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