Dealing with the Spring Runoff

By Scott Richmond

If you "wintered" in Tahiti, you might not have noticed what the rest of us have been living with since November: cold, wet weather. The ground is saturated, snow packs are far above average, and snow keeps falling in the mountains, even in late March (and probably into April).

Eventually, all that white stuff in the Cascades, Coast Range, Blues, Siskiyous, et al, is going to melt and make its way to the sea. That means high, cold water in most of our rivers.

When rivers suddenly increase their flow, fish tend to hunker down. Also, cold temperatures slow their metabolism and they don't need as much food. That means they means they have neither the energy nor the urge to chase after food--and there's not much to eat anyway because the critters that fish eat are also affected by high flows and cold temperatures. In addition, high flows can increase the silt load. Fish don't like that because the silt gets in their gills.

So what's an angler to do? First, realize that all is not lost; don't re-pack the suitcase and take the next plane back to Tahiti. Second, read these tips for dealing with high flows this spring.

  1. Constant, clear flows--even if they are significantly higher than normal--are not necessarily bad for fishing. Check the charts on the river levels page. If the flow has suddenly gone up, stay home. But if it has remained near constant for several days, fishing may be okay. You might want to call a local tackle store and find out how clear the river is.
  2. Try a spring creek, such as the Metolius or Fall rivers. Spring creeks are not fed directly by rain or melting snow. Their flows and temperatures vary little with changes in season or weather.
  3. Pick your destinations with care. Use every source you can to check up on fishing conditions. Check here, the ODFW weekly angling report, local tackle stores and fly shops, other anglers. It's been a hard winter, so there may have been winter kills in some lakes. Utilize every source you can think of before you pick a place to fish.
  4. Don't fish the same old places. When the river is high, fish will be in different spots. Often, you will find them near the bank, in places that might normally be dry land. They will tend to be in the slower water so they can get a break from the heavy flows, be less affected by cold water, and have less silt moving through their gills.
  5. Keep an eye on tailwater fisheries. For good or ill, dams regulate the flow. They might be spilling water to increase the capacity of the reservoir. Or not. Use the river levels page to check the output from key dams.
  6. Fish the lakes. But even here, you need to be careful. Some lakes have substantial inflows from rivers, and--guess what?--that can make the lakes high and cold, too. For example, Crane Prairie gets a lot of water from melting snow; I could be wrong, but I think it will be mid-July before we have decent fishing at Crane. Just a few miles away at Davis Lake, inflows are less and the lake should be warmer and have better spring fishing. On many lakes, you will have better fishing farther from the inlet streams because the water has had a chance to warm up.

Scott Richmond is Westfly's creator and Executive Director. He is the author of eight books on Oregon fly fishing, including Fishing Oregon's Deschutes River (second edition).