Spring Runoff Trout Behavior and Where Do They Sit | Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

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Trout Behavior During Runoff:

Fish behavior during spring runoff is influenced by their need to find suitable locations where they can conserve energy and avoid the strong currents that characterize this time of year. Understanding where fish sit during spring runoff is essential for anglers seeking to optimize their fishing strategies and increase their chances of success.

One of the key areas we are well aware of is that fish seek refuge during spring runoff behind big rocks. Large rocks in rivers and streams create eddies and pockets of calm water behind them, providing fish with a respite from the fast-flowing currents. These calm spots serve as natural shelters where fish can rest and wait for food to drift by. Anglers can capitalize on this behavior by targeting their casts near big rocks, as fish are likely to be actively feeding or resting in these quieter waters. 

During runoff it is often not the exposed rocks that we can see but more so the underwater boulders that were there before rising water. Knowing your waterways and the features when water is low can significantly increase your chances of targeting hidden gems for fish holding positions. One of the common things I do and hear of anglers doing is making mental or even taking notes, photos, etc. of waterways during low water. This is common for me to do with my local reservoirs where you are limited and don’t have the electronics to determine depths, drop offs, etc. Having that information can quickly enable you to target the right spots for success. 

In addition to seeking shelter behind big rocks, fish are also drawn to areas with circular currents or eddies during spring runoff. These circular patterns in the water create pockets of slower-moving water where fish can position themselves more easily to feed. The swirling motion of the water brings food particles and insects closer to the surface, creating an ideal feeding ground for fish. Anglers who can identify these circular currents increase their chances of encountering fish actively feeding in these productive zones. I like looking for the dead calm waters where tons of spinners, duns, and topwater trash like leaves, sticks and twigs have gathered. Typically, this is a sure sign that water is holding because of an eddie.  Some of these eddie pools can be really small and others can be quite large.  Identifying the eddie lines or seams and then targeting fish that utilze the calmer and more efficient waters during high water can be deadly. The calm waters are often a reprieve from the unrelenting currents and current shifts of a rising water level. 

River bends are another favored location for fish during spring runoff. The curvature of the river causes the current to slow down, creating areas of reduced flow where fish can conserve energy. River bends also tend to accumulate debris and food items carried by the current, providing a buffet of resources for fish to feed on. Anglers targeting river bends during this period may find success in hooking fish that are actively feeding or resting in these calmer waters.

In this case, don’t overlook the inside bends.  During high water and inside bend can be a welcomed reprieve from the heavy water being pushed from the outside.  Conversely, higher water can sometimes cause outside bends to pool up and provide relief.  Observing the water features and understanding the food chain the water is delivering can open many new opportunities for feeding fish that were or are not there regularly.

By understanding and recognizing these preferred spots where fish seek refuge during spring runoff, anglers can strategically position themselves to increase their chances of encountering feeding fish and enticing them to strike. By focusing on areas behind big rocks, circular currents, and river bends, anglers can enhance their fishing experience and deepen their understanding of fish behavior and habitat preferences during this dynamic time of year.

In conclusion, knowing where fish sit during spring runoff is crucial for anglers looking to have a successful fishing outing. By targeting these specific areas where fish seek shelter and feed, anglers can improve their chances of hooking into fish and enjoying a rewarding fishing experience. This knowledge not only enhances the fishing experience but also deepens our appreciation for the behavior and habitat preferences of fish during this dynamic period of the year.

What Do Trout Eat During Spring Runoff?

Fish are opportunistic feeders during the spring runoff period, making the most of the abundance of food that is carried downstream. This time presents a unique opportunity for fish to feed on a variety of organisms that are swept into the water. Understanding what fish eat during spring runoff can provide valuable insights into their behavior and feeding habits.

One of the primary food sources for fish during spring runoff is aquatic insects. Migrating nymphs and adult insects such as caddis, stoneflies, and drakes are abundant during this time, making them a significant part of the fish's diet. These insects provide a rich source of nutrients and energy for fish, allowing them to replenish their reserves after the winter months.

In addition to aquatic insects, fish also feed on other creatures that are carried into the water by the runoff. Leeches, baitfish, frogs, and even mice can be swept into the river or stream during this period, becoming easy prey for hungry fish. These creatures offer a diverse range of nutrients and flavors for fish to enjoy, further enhancing their feeding opportunities.

Perhaps my favorite food source for runoff is aquatic worms. Fishing a wire worm is likely my most productive pattern. I often fish it a bit higher in the column but prefer the pattern for it’s simplicity and weight. The wire worm is so dense and smooth that it will sink to the desired depth immediately. I also prefer that the colors can be changed and they are quick to tie.

During high water there is new debris being swept down the river and losing flies to that debris is more than common. I can fish a wire worm with a slightly heavier tippet and really yank on it to clear or remove garbage. Furthermore, if I lose a wire worm, they only take a few seconds to tie so I’m not feeling any remorse from being aggressive. 

The influx of food during spring runoff not only sustains fish but also triggers feeding frenzies as they capitalize on the abundance of resources. Fish become more active and aggressive in their feeding behavior, darting through the water to catch their prey. This heightened feeding activity is essential for fish to replenish their energy stores and prepare for the upcoming spawning season.

It is important to note that the type and availability of food during spring runoff can vary depending on the specific water body and environmental conditions. Fish adapt their feeding preferences based on the food sources present in their habitat, making them versatile and adaptable feeders. By understanding the diverse diet of fish during spring runoff, anglers and researchers can better predict fish behavior and optimize their fishing strategies.

Overall, the spring runoff period offers a unique opportunity to observe and study fish feeding behavior in response to changing environmental conditions. By recognizing the importance of aquatic insects, as well as other creatures swept into the water, we gain valuable insights into the dietary preferences of fish during this dynamic time of year. This knowledge not only enhances our understanding of fish ecology but also enriches our appreciation for the intricate interactions that shape aquatic ecosystems.

Where to Fly Fish for Trout During Spring Runoff:

Avoid fishing the same spots you would during low water conditions. Instead, focus on exploring new areas that can yield successful fly fishing opportunities during the spring runoff period. Understanding where to fly fish during this dynamic time can significantly enhance your chances of a fruitful fishing experience.

One key area to target during spring runoff is "pocket water." These are sections of the river characterized by small pockets or depressions where the water is turbulent and fast-moving. Pocket water provides fish with shelter from the strong currents and serves as a prime feeding ground. Look for pockets behind rocks, boulders, or other structures that break the current, creating calmer zones where fish can hold and feed.

Another productive location to consider is "tailouts." These are the areas at the end of fast runs or riffles where the water begins to slow down and deepen. Fish often congregate in tailouts during spring runoff as they offer a transition zone between the fast-flowing water and calmer sections. Target the seams and edges of tailouts where fish can comfortably hold and intercept food being carried downstream.

"Back Eddies" are also worth exploring during spring runoff. These are circular or oval-shaped areas of calm water that form behind obstructions such as rocks or logs. Back eddies create a natural refuge for fish, allowing them to conserve energy while still having access to food carried by the current. Cast your flies into these eddies and let them drift naturally to entice fish hiding in these sheltered spots.

Additionally, consider fishing in "confluence zones" during spring runoff. These are areas where two different currents meet, creating a mix of turbulent and slower-moving water. Confluence zones attract fish seeking a variety of food sources brought together by the merging currents. Target the seams and eddies formed at confluences, as they provide ideal feeding grounds for fish looking to capitalize on the abundance of drifting insects and other prey items.

When exploring new fishing spots during spring runoff, pay attention to "transition zones." These are areas where the river changes depth, speed, or structure, creating a shift in the flow dynamics. Fish often patrol transition zones to take advantage of the changing conditions and the concentration of food sources. Look for subtle changes in the riverbed, such as drop-offs, gravel bars, or submerged logs, as these can attract fish seeking shelter and feeding opportunities.

Lastly, don't overlook "pools" as potential fishing hotspots during spring runoff. Pools are deeper sections of the river with slower currents, providing fish with a sanctuary from the fast-flowing water. Fish in pools tend to conserve energy and actively feed on insects and other prey items drifting by. Target the head, tail, and seams of pools, as these areas are likely to hold feeding fish waiting for food to come to them.

By exploring these diverse fishing locations during spring runoff, you can adapt your strategies to the changing river conditions and increase your chances of hooking into active and feeding fish. Remember to approach each spot with stealth and precision, presenting your flies naturally to entice fish in these dynamic environments. However, don't hesitate to explore the edges and other newly created trout feeding zones before you toss in the towel.

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Christian Bacasa, Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

By Christian Bacasa
Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast
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