Dirty Water Fishing Tips

Runoff is here. This bout of cooler, wetter weather will undoubtedly slow down the melt and might clear the rivers temporarily, dirty water is something we’ll be dealing with for the rest of the spring. Some places are worth avoiding all together, but there are still. Here’s a few of our favorite dirty water fishing tips.


Large, dark fly patterns stand out better in the dirty water than shiny, small flies. Fish something dark. Big stonefly patterns are a good choice this time of year. They live in the river for a couple years before hatching into adults. The elevated flows keep them moving through the river, and the premiere stonefly hatches are not that far away.

A big, dark colored streamer is a good bet this time of year. Black, brown and olive are good bets. Have an array of profiles and sizes. Dead drifting a streamer with a rubberlegs behind it works well in dirty water. As water temps warm up the streamer bite picks up. It’s a good break from all the winter nymphing!

Photo: Calvin Connor


Dirty water isn’t the same during runoff all the time. At times it’ll still be high and off-color, but visibility can get to more than a foot. 4-6” of visibility is a good minimum for fishing dirty water, and anything more than that is always good. The water might have better visibility than you think at first glance, always double check by taking a closer look.

Here in the Bozeman area we are lucky to have several different river options close by. If one spot is too muddy, go somewhere else. Be willing to drive around a bit and stay mobile to find the best spot. This dirty water fishing tip might burn you a bit of gas, but hey, at least it’s cheap right now! And there’s a lot worse places to drive around all afternoon than Montana.


The higher water during runoff pushes a lot of fish toward the banks. The current is a bit slower and holding near the bank takes less energy for fish than their normal hiding spots. The banks are most easily fished from a boat, rent one of our NRS fishing rafts here! Only $99/day for the month of May.

If you are wading, and trying to get out in the river a bit to get a better angle on the bank, please be extremely careful. The increased current makes wading difficult, and not being able to see where you are placing your feet adds to the challenge. Studs on your boots and wading staff are musts for wade fishermen this time of year.


During runoff, you’ll be fishing subsurface more often than not. Being able to get your flies into the fish’s strike zone is important. Since the current is quicker you’ll need weight. Most of the time you’ll need more weight than you think regardless of the season. Consider a lead alternative like bismuth or tin. If you’re not hanging up from time to time, you aren’t deep enough.

Runoff can be a challenging time to fish, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. Hopefully these dirty water fishing tips help! Tight lines out there.


Share Post

Read More