Fishing A Flooded River


It seems this year I have fished more rivers and streams that have been extremely high or flooded than I care to admit. It started in February with a trip to Pennsylvania with Rowan Lytle ( Connecticut Fly Angler ) and has continued all season since PA has had the wettest summer on record at least in the State College area – and further east.

Our summer in Connecticut has been pretty wet, too, especially August. I guess this is a good thing since our past three fall seasons have been warmer and drier than normal. This year has been hot as well but the added water no doubt has helped keep trout alive. This year’s spawn should be a good one. Eastern Connecticut streams definitely needs a cool and wet fall.

As you might guess, this article has some pointers on fishing flooded river and streams. The fly rod has some unique advantages as well as disadvantages. Let me explain some of them to you.


First off, stay out of the water for safety reasons. That riffle that you normally wade and know by heart might now have a submerged tree limb, branch or log, that can trip you up. Also, floating debris might knock you off-balance, too. Finally, the main channel or thalweg will most likely be running extremely fast and deep. Fish that normally would be located there most likely have hunkered down on the stream bed , in the deepest depressions, or moved towards the bank or back eddies for shelter from the currents. When a river becomes so flooded that stream bed reconstruction occurs,  the currents are too turbulent and fish will  move to the flooded banks, back eddies, and backwaters for shelter.

Stay on the bank and look for softer water(s), undercut banks, and side channels. Although spinning gear might get you deeper with a heavy lure or bait rig set-up, the fly rod could do the same these days with heavy streamers and nymphing. It offers the advantage of being able to lift out and over a river’s bank much like ” the old days ” of dappling with long cane poles.


As mentioned earlier, banks and undercuts offer a lot of soft water, velocity changes, and shelter from the currents. Trout are not the only ones that look to find these shelters. Fallfish, sun-fish, bass, and all species of dace, minnows, and chubs will be competing for these areas.


Here is one example: A small bass took a Stroup River Mini fished slow and occasionally twitched and bounced along the bottom as it drifted down a slower current seam.


Another example: This slightly larger fallfish took the same Stroup River Mini the same way. Stroup’s River Mini is a great ” minnow ” imitation !

When fishing flooded rivers, you generally want to slow down and fish slower and deeper. The currents are tremendously fast and a fast stripped streamer might be a big turnoff. Also, a streamer stripped fast or even moderately fast might not give the fish time enough to see it. Don’t forget, their noses will be tucked right to the bottom in most cases unless you are within the slower water of a flooded tree line or ” dead ” backwater. A subtle difference of a few cubic feet per second makes all the difference to a fish and their survival !


This is a prime area to target ! It is a large back eddy made even bigger and deeper by a flooding river. These kinds of areas offer a tremendous amount of food and shelter from the main current(s). A fly rod gives you an edge because you can fish from top to bottom. Yesterday, I saw small fallfish rise to insects in this crazy stuff so don’t dismiss using dry flies or top water flies. However, I would suggest using larger patterns. Humpies, Stimulators, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles and ants, could be afloat in the foam lines as well as along the bank(s). Small rodents like mice could get washed in by a torrential downpour, too.  Flashy, colorful, and larger wet flies could be very successful as they swing into the softer water. Finally, larger nymphs could be drifted along the current seam(s) and then swung as a wet as well. There are many ways to fish a piece of water like this. A long fly rod would give you the reach you require to hold your line over the bank’s edge, a log or downed tree, etc. 20180912_211625

It is extremely difficult to see my fly line in this picture but if you look closely, I’m doing several things that I’ve mentioned already. First, I’m using a 9 foot rod. Yes, a short 6 or 7 foot rod might give me more casting room but not the reach or line control ! Second, I’m fishing a velocity change near the bank. Third, I’m fishing slow and deep. Streamers can be fished like a nymph, too !


Ok, so here is another advantage of a fly rod but, I wouldn’t recommend you try this with your heirloom bamboo rod ! I have a long leader on with a weighted streamer and several additional split shot on as well. I was still not getting deep and slow enough so I stuck my rod tip down into the water. I didn’t pick up any fish on the drift this time but I was able to get as deep and slow as possible and fish the undercut bank that I was standing on. I’ve done this on many occasions and been pleasantly rewarded.


Yesterday completed another day of my Orvis ” 20 Days in September ” Challenge. It has been fun thus far but, I don’t really need another excuse to fish more. As you can tell, I fish in all kinds of conditions, all the time ! However, I do fish safely and you should too !

Finally, it wouldn’t be an article by me without a plug for conservation. This picture says it all. Land development and loss of our wetlands and buffer zones along  rivers, streams, and brooks, remain a major conservation issue to this day. Please get involved with your local conservation group or Trout Unlimited. It doesn’t take much time, money, or effort to make a huge impact. I know for a fact that Thames Valley TU ( Chapter 282 ) as well as other TU chapters are in need of more active members. We will always welcome more people ! As always, I hope to see you out there some time and please come to this month’s TVTU presentation by my friend and fellow guide, Steve Babbitt. It will be an informative presentation on the Willimantic River.

Thames Valley TU Presentation & Meeting :

” An Inside Look at the Willimantic River TMA ” by Steve Babbitt.

Moose Lodge

115 Fitchville Rd

Bozrah, CT., 06334

Fly Tying and socializing starts at 6 PM. Meetings generally start at 7 PM.

Get out there and fish,


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