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Tips for Fly Fishing in Dirty & Muddy Water

June 08, 2021

In a perfect world, every day would have ideal conditions for fishing. But when water is fast-moving, dirty, or muddy, it can be challenging for even the most seasoned fly fishermen.

Still, that’s one of the beautiful things about fly fishing: Every day is unique and presents different challenges. So, how can you tackle dirty or muddy water head-on and still have a successful day on the water?

Wild Water Fly Fishing is here to hash out the tried and tested tips for fly fishing in dirty and muddy water ‒ so you’re always prepared and ready for the challenge! We’ll also cover the difference between dirty vs. muddy water, the best techniques, and which supplies and fishing gear will optimize your day when the water conditions are less than ideal.

For more tips and information about fly fishing and supplies, stay tuned to our blog or contact us today.


The Difference Between Dirty vs. Muddy Water

Believe it or not: There is a difference between dirty and muddy water ‒ and each condition presents its own set of challenges.

Pretend you have a 12-inch ruler that you insert vertically into shallow water. (You can also do this the next time you go fly fishing and aren’t sure if the water is dirty or muddy.)

Let’s say you aren’t able to see the ruler for more than half its length; then the water is substantially muddy. Even if you were able to see the ruler for most of its length, the water can still be considerably dirty.

With all that said, anytime large quantities of debris and sediment push downstream, causing dirty or even muddy water, it can change the way you’ll fly fish if you want quality catches.


How Dirty & Muddy Water Affects Fly Fishing

If water visibility is low, chances are the water level is also high and fast-moving. This is what’s known as high water or a blown-out river or stream.

In these conditions, fish have a hard time deciphering what’s food ‒ and what’s a threat. So they’re likely to veer towards the edges of a stream, along the banks, or side channels, where water is softer than the midstream currents. Fish are going to stick closer to the bottom, where the water is slower, as well.

In high, muddy water, you can also target fish in the river eddies or the sections of the river that move upstream and swirl in a reverse current.


Tips for Fly Fishing in Dirty & Muddy Water

Don’t let dirty or muddy water deter you from enjoying what you love. When up against dirty or muddy water, you just have to change your technique ‒ and by following these tips for fly fishing in dirty and muddy water, you can secure some quality catches.


Choose a Heavy Tippet & Leader

When fly fishing in dirty or high, muddy water, having extra weight on your line can help you target the fish lurking deep down along the river banks and side channels. You can add extra weight to your line by choosing a thicker tippet and leader.

Tippets and leaders come in a variety of diameters. When visibility is low, and water levels are high, opt for a tippet and leader that are denoted as 3X or less. By increasing the strength of your tippet and leader, you’ll have an easier time catching fish in dirty, fast-moving water. But keep in mind that the heavier the leader, the slower it will sink towards the bottom ‒ so be patient. You can add a split-shot a couple of inches above your fly to get down faster.

It’s also important to use a heavier rod when you’re fishing in more aggressive water. A 9-foot rod with a heavier tippet or leader should suffice.

Bigger and bulkier flies are also more effective at attracting fish when visibility is low. The faster the water, the heavier the fly should be to help produce the most vibration through the turbid currents. But there’s more that goes into personalizing your lure on a day when conditions are dirty or muddy. We’ll explore that next.


Strategize Your Fly

The dirtier the water, the flashier you’ll want your flies to be. Stay away from brown or natural green hues, as these can resemble the color of dirty or muddy water. Black and red are the best colors because they accentuate the silhouette of the fly, making it more noticeable to fish.

Streamers and nymphs can also come in handy. Nymphs or streams that are patterned and have vibrant colors should be enough to catch the attention of fish.

Because visibility is slightly better in dirty water than muddy water, you don’t necessarily need to use the flashiest of streamers or nymphs. As long as you avoid the fast-moving currents in the middle of the river or stream and stick closer to the side channels, a patterned or colored lure should suffice. If you’re going to fish at a greater distance, a streamer can be more effective.

Noisy flies can also attract fish in high, muddy waters. Tying in a few clicking or rattling brass beads, or mylar tubing, to your line can add noise to your flies.


Cast Half Your Normal Distance

When visibility is low, you should cast half the distance you normally would.

Make shorter drifts and cast only a few inches further out stream. Fish will only be able to see a few inches in front of them in muddy conditions. Because they’ll be closer to the banks, there’s less of a need for you to wade in the water.

If you’re using streamers, you’ll want to move slightly faster than with nymphs. You’ll need to give fish more time to spot your fly when the visibility is low, or the fish are seeking refuge at the bottom of a riverbank.


Don’t Let Dirty or Muddy Water Deter You from Fly Fishing

As a fly fisherman, you’re going to encounter dirty and muddy water at some point ‒ but you shouldn’t let it turn you away. By following these tips for fly fishing in dirty and muddy water, you can have a successful and memorable day out on the water.

Looking for more fly fishing tips and information? Visit our blog and stay up-to-date on all the latest in the world of fly fishing!