Off-colored water is not necessarily unfishable |

On the Fly column: Off-colored water is not necessarily unfishable

Kara Lewis catches fish during runoff.
Justin Moore

As we move later into spring the most significant change we will begin to see is the changing of water clarity, especially along the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers. While water clarity certainly affects fishing conditions, it sometimes is to the angler’s advantage. While we are blessed with our local rivers running practically gin clear most of the year, the first signs of discolored water often scares anglers from getting out to wet a line. However, as our local water conditions change from gin clear to slightly off color, this change can make for exceptional fishing with some slight adjustments.

The first adjustment anglers need to make when they approach off-colored water is to distinguish between just being off colored or is the river truly blown-out and unfishable. As a general rule of thumb, green is good, brown is bad. This guide metaphor simply means that if the river has taken on a green color that it is more than fishable, but if it is chocolate brown, then it is probably time to head elsewhere.

Before you perceive the river as blown out, you need to determine if there is any visibility at all. This can quite simply be determined by actually wading out into a foot to two of water and looking down at your boots. If you can see down a foot, it is fishable. If you can see your boots in two feet of water it is more than fishable. Also take note of the fact that the clearest water is along the bank, which the fish will move tighter to.

The next step to taking on off-colored water is increasing the size and brightness of your flies. Larger flies and brighter flies will be noticed more readily in the off-colored water. Generally speaking, fly patterns such as San Juan worms, Pat’s Rubber Legs, Red Copper Johns, large Prince Nymphs and large stonefly patterns will produce well in discolored water. Remember that just because things are changing a bit does not mean that it’s time to give up. Always keep in mind that the Fryingpan River will always run clear from the base of the dam downstream for three miles or so when everything else in the valley gets too muddy to fish.

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or

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