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Is it better to fish when the river is high or low? : Is it better to fish when the river is high or low?

Is it Better to Fish When the River is High or Low?

Key Takeaways

  • Fishing in high water conditions offers advantages such as increased water depth and currents, improved access to fish habitats, and the potential for catching big fish.
  • The best fishing techniques for high water levels include embracing fishing in high, off-color water, nymphing with weighted flies, fishing with big, bulky streamers, fishing as the water level drops, and targeting diversions and pocket ponds.
  • Fishing in low water conditions provides access to moderate flows, the opportunity to fish fast-moving runs and riffles, and the use of dry flies for rising fish.

Fishing is a popular recreational activity that offers individuals the opportunity to relax, enjoy nature, and potentially bring home a delicious meal. However, one question that often arises among anglers is whether it is better to fish when the river is high or low. While both high and low water conditions have their advantages, understanding the benefits of each can help fishermen make informed decisions and maximize their chances of success.

The Advantages of Fishing in High Water

When the river is experiencing high water conditions, there are several advantages that anglers can benefit from:

  • Increased Water Depth and Currents: High water levels result in deeper pools and faster currents, providing fish with more habitat options. This means that anglers have a higher chance of encountering fish in various locations.
  • Improved Access to Fish Habitats: High water conditions can open up previously inaccessible areas, such as jetties or submerged rocks. These spots often serve as prime locations for fish to congregate, offering anglers an excellent opportunity to target specific species.
  • Potential for Catching Big Fish: High water can attract larger fish seeking refuge or searching for food in the deeper sections of the river. Anglers who are targeting trophy-sized fish may find success during these conditions.
  • Use of Streamers and Nymphs: The increased water flow and turbidity make it easier to use streamers and nymphs, as fish are less likely to scrutinize the presentation. These fishing techniques can be highly effective during high water levels.
  • Protection from Predators: Stained water resulting from high river flows provides fish with protection from overhead predators. This can make them less wary and more susceptible to being caught.

The Best Fishing Techniques for High Water Levels

When fishing in high water conditions, it is important to adapt your techniques to the specific challenges presented. Here are some techniques that can be effective:

  • Embrace Fishing in High, Off-color Water: Instead of avoiding murky water, embrace it and adjust your approach accordingly. Fish are less likely to be deterred by visibility concerns, so focus on enticing them with your bait or lure.
  • Nymphing with Weighted Flies: High water conditions call for weighted flies that can reach fish in deeper pools. Nymphing techniques, where the fly is presented below the water’s surface, can yield positive results.
  • Fishing with Big, Bulky Streamers: Large streamers that mimic injured fish or other prey can be highly effective in enticing larger fish during high water flows.
  • Fishing as the Water Level Drops: Pay attention to the water level and fish as it begins to recede. As the river returns to normal levels, fish may concentrate in specific areas, providing excellent fishing opportunities.
  • Targeting Diversions and Pocket Ponds: Diversions and pocket ponds often form during high water conditions. These areas can become temporary fish magnets, so be sure to explore these productive spots.

The Benefits of Fishing in Low Water

While high water conditions have their advantages, fishing in low water can also yield positive results:

  • Access to Moderate Flows: Low water conditions often result in slower currents closer to the shore. This allows anglers to fish comfortably and effectively in these areas, increasing their chances of success.
  • Fishing Fast-Moving Runs and Riffles: Low water levels tend to concentrate fish in fast-moving, bubbly runs and riffles, often referred to as “hot water.” These areas are known for holding fish and can be targeted successfully.
  • Using Dry Flies for Rising Fish: Clear pools in low water conditions can provide opportunities for anglers to use dry flies and target rising fish. This can be an exciting and rewarding experience for those who enjoy the delicacy of dry fly fishing.

The Best Fishing Techniques for Low Water Levels

To make the most of low water conditions, anglers should consider employing the following techniques:

  • Approach the Stream Carefully: Low water levels mean fish are more likely to be spooked by disturbances. Approach the stream quietly and avoid unnecessary splashing or disturbances.
  • Fish the Fast-Moving Runs and Riffles: Concentrate your efforts on the fast-moving sections of the river, as fish tend to seek refuge in these areas during low water conditions.
  • Use Dry Flies for Rising Fish: Take advantage of clear pools and target fish that are actively rising to feed. Presenting dry flies delicately can be highly effective in enticing these fish to strike.


When it comes to fishing in high or low water conditions, both scenarios offer unique advantages that can be leveraged to increase angling success. High water conditions provide deeper pools, improved access to fish habitats, and the potential to catch larger fish. On the other hand, low water conditions offer moderate flows, concentrated fish in specific areas, and the opportunity to use dry flies for rising fish.

To decide whether it is better to fish when the river is high or low, anglers should consider their fishing goals, the specific conditions of the river they plan to fish, and the techniques that align with these conditions. By adapting their approach and utilizing the appropriate techniques, anglers can enjoy a fulfilling fishing experience regardless of whether the river is high or low.

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Q: Is it better to fish when the river is high or low?

The decision of whether to fish when the river is high or low depends on various factors and personal preferences. Both high and low river conditions have their advantages and can attract fish. It’s recommended to try both conditions and experiment to find what works best for your own fishing style.

Q: What factors contribute to river conditions?

River conditions are influenced by factors such as rainfall, snowmelt, and dams. Heavy rainfall and snowmelt can cause the river to be high, while reduced precipitation and dam control can lead to low river conditions.

Q: What are the advantages of fishing in high river conditions?

Fishing in high river conditions can be advantageous as it attracts fish and makes them more active. The increased water flow can dislodge insects and other food sources, creating a feeding frenzy. Tips for fishing in high rivers include using larger bait and targeting areas with slower currents.

Q: What are the advantages of fishing in low river conditions?

Fishing in low river conditions can concentrate fish in specific areas, making them easier to locate. The reduced water flow and clearer water can also make it easier to spot fish. Tips for fishing in low rivers include using smaller bait and targeting deeper pools.

Q: What other factors should be considered when deciding to fish in high or low river conditions?

When deciding whether to fish in high or low river conditions, it’s important to consider factors such as different fish species preferences, weather conditions, time of year, and personal fishing preferences. These factors can all influence the success of your fishing trip.

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