Over the past few seasons, mild winters and reasonably dry summers have made for some low water conditions on our home river at Alaska West. However, this year we’ve been experiencing significantly higher water levels of late, and we really dig it!
Due to a few substantial rain (and even hail) storms, we’ve seen a couple big bumps in water levels during the back half of our season. Most anglers dread such spikes in water levels, most often due to the decrease in water clarity caused by excess sediment being deposited in the river. However, believe it of not, high dirty water actually makes for some pretty exciting fishing opportunities in our neck of the woods, particularly late season, that wouldn’t be available otherwise. Therefore, we love a healthy ‘blow-out’ every now and then, and here’s why.
- Skinny water salmon. While making their way upriver, salmon are programmed to take the shortest route possible, while still maintaining a depth that makes them feel comfortable. In the case of silver, pink, and chum salmon, this depth can actually be quite shallow. Thus, when coupled with high dirty water, fish are able to push up and hold comfortably in amazingly shallow water. Case in point, we’ve seen far more waking and even tailing (yes, like a bonefish) silvers of late, which makes for a heck of a lot of fun!
- More side channels. More water means more side channels to stomp around in in search of trout and dolly varden – one of our favorite ways to target them. Especially during periods of dirty water (think peak of a blow-out), our trout will often seek refuge in the clearest back channels they can find making for some excellent sight fishing for trout despite the dirty water in the main river.
- Popper fishing. Slow shallow water, stacked with a whole bunch of fish is the recipe for good popper fishing for salmon. High water tends to create more holding water in ‘sloughy’ areas for salmon, often creating some great popper conditions. Plus, due to decreased visibility, fish have less chance to inspect your goofy offering, making a loud surface-chugging fly a good pick.
- Less Picky Fish. In high dirty water, generally the perfect imitation is not overly important when it comes to fly selection. With decreased visibility, more particular fish like trout have a shorter window of opportunity to decide what’s food and what’s not, meaning as long as you get your fly in the zone, there’s a good chance there’s going to eat it.
- Flesh hatch. Just like high water is known to dislodge insect life from the river bottom creating a buffet of food in your typical trout stream, such is the case in Alaska too. Big water dislodges salmon carcasses from submerged structures, as well as washes carcasses left high and dry on the bank back into the river, thus feeding our trout, dolly, and grayling populations. Plus not only does it feed our trout population, salmon provides necessary nutrients to the surrounding ecosystem as well, and the more in the water, the better.