Fly fishing is a fun and relaxing activity, but when the sky starts to darken and rain begins to threaten the outing, many not-so-brave souls tend to head to the car and pack it up for the day rather than fight the elements. And while this (leaving) strategy is indeed an option, you should keep in mind that rain does not necessarily translate to a bad day of fishing.
In fact, in some cases, a hearty rain can trigger a flurry of trout activity and the outing could potentially turn out to be one of the most successful ones you’ve ever experienced. However, fly fishing in the rain will require certain equipment—fishing equipment and personal apparel—and will almost always rely on specific techniques in order to fill your creel with fish.
In this article we have covered some of these tips and techniques—tips and techniques you should apply before, during and directly after a storm to guarantee yourself the best chance of success.
Get The Right Apparel
If you regularly fish with boots and waders, as most experienced fly fisherman do, there really is no need to alter that apparel during a rain storm. If you don’t have these items, we recommend you get some before making any rock solid fishing plans. Waders and boots can help keep the lower part of your body dry and comfortable while also allowing you to wade into shallow or semi-deep water in search of the perfect cast.
One apparel item that you will need to add when fishing in a rain storm is a waterproof coat or jacket of some kind. Fishing in the rain without one of these jackets will not only make you cold and susceptible to the mountain winds, the rain water you accumulate on your clothes will almost certainly weigh you down unnecessarily.
We recommend you get a quality over garment that is both waterproof and lightweight. This way, you’ll remain dry and comfortable during the storm and still have the freedom of movement you will need for the ideal cast. Make sure the jacket also comes equipped with a large hood, which will keep your head dry and block the wind from hitting your face.
Before the Storm Hits
Before a storm hits, when clouds fill the sky bringing low-light conditions to your fishing surroundings, the trout bite can be out of this world. Because of this, it is important to take advantage of these conditions.
Generally speaking, trout—and the aquatic insects they like to chow down on—are much more active in low light conditions. This is why the early mornings and late afternoons are generally the best time to fish for trout. Before a storm hits, even in midday, the clouded sky essentially tricks trout into believing it is earlier or later than it actually is.
So why do trout tend to bite just before a storm? According to expert anglers, the reasons can be many. Perhaps in the low light conditions they feel less vulnerable to predators from above, or it could be the change in barometric pressure that occurs when a storm front moves in.
However, regardless of the exact reason for this flurry, cloudy skies are a good indicator that you should be on the water and ready to take advantage of the pre-storm conditions.
Cloudy mornings or early afternoons prior to a storm will often produce excellent catches. For this reason, it is imperative that you arrive at your fishing destination with a good selection of dry flies. To know exactly what “types” of dry flies to bring, ask around and see what types of flies have been known to produce the desired results on the stream or river you plan to fish.
Also, be certain to throw in a few emerger imitations, which mimic hatching bugs as they rise to the surface. Finally, if you are not experienced with dry fly fishing, you can always use fishing nymphs, which are known to be particularly productive during a hatch.
Although there is no need to alter your normal fly fishing tactics in the hours before a storm, you may be wise to reach for dark-colored fly patterns to go with the low-light conditions. Darker colored flies produce more contrast against the gray sky, and that contrast is very important if you want the trout to see your flies in the water.
During the Storm
When fishing during a rain storm the first thing you want to do is look for lightning. While the rain itself is no reason to quit fishing, lightning is! There is nothing worse than being surrounded by tall trees and waving around a long graphite pole. So if there is lightning in your vicinity, pack it up and wait for the storm to pass. The fish can wait.
In the absence of any lightning, there are only two basic rules to follow when fishing during a rain storm: target the slower water and be open to experimentation. One of the most advantageous things that happen when fishing in the rain is that the insects in the streamside or riverside brush and banks get washed into the water.
This includes all types of insects, large and small, such as grasshoppers, ants, worms, beetles, crickets and more—all the tasty treats that trout enjoy to snack on.
If the rain is not pounding on the river too hard—at too fast of a clip—you should be able to find great success with big foam dry flies that mimic the look and action of grasshoppers or beetles. This will help your bait match the influx of insects that are getting bumped or washed into the stream or river during the rain.
It’s important to keep in mind that when rain is entering the stream, especially during a prolonged storm, the water level will most likely begin to rise and the speed of the current will turn more rapid. This means that your favorite fishing areas—the riffles and seams at which you normally have success—might become blown out and thus not fishable. So where should you present your flies instead?
Most experts agree that when fly fishing during a rain storm you should look for pockets and eddies of slow moving water, usually right along the banks of the stream or river you are fishing. In these areas of slack, slower moving water, the trout have a much easier time dealing with the change in river conditions caused by the influx of rain water.
This usually includes an increase in water turbidity as well as temperature. When fishing in these slower moving pockets and eddies, you might want to try fishing a hopper nice and slow through these pools, targeting any foam lines or prominent structure—tree, rock, etc.
You should also give your fly an occasional twitch or jerk to mimic the action of a grasshopper or other insect, which may entice the trout to strike.
While this is one of the best strategies for fly fishing in the rain, there really is no need to limit yourself to fishing terrestrials exclusively. Periods of heavy rainfall are ideal for experimenting with large streamers, especially those that have a dark color palette, such as black, brown and even olive.
Most people use the rain as an excuse to give up fishing in the main part of the river, but by experimenting with different streamers and color patterns you might find the trout to be especially active. You can also experiment with things like nymphs in the rain.
Simply put, there really are no hard and fast rules when fishing in the rain, save for the two we discussed at the outset. Seek out slower water, reach for the darker flies and never be afraid to experiment.
After the Storm Has Concluded
If you have managed to survive the rain and you are still on the river or stream when the rain concludes there is a very strong likelihood that you will be rewarded for your efforts and determination—mightily awarded with an epic hatch and a trout flurry unlike no other.
In many trout streams throughout the country and the world, there are many types of fly fishing baits that tend to get hit very hard after a big rain storm. These include, but are certainly not limited to, winged olives and midges.
Because of this, after you experience a large storm—and after the skies seem to open up (as they usually do after a mountain storm)—you should definitely tie on your favorite imitation fly, cast out and mend line to achieve an awesome, drag-free drift down the river.
Depending on the area of the country in which you are fishing, you may just be fortunate enough to experience a stonefly or salmon fly hatch after a big rain storm. If that is the case where you are fishing, we recommend you attempt fishing with a large stonefly nymph bait or even go for the big-daddy winged adult stonefly.
With the proper clothing, the right gear and a little old-fashioned know-how, fishing in the rain cannot only be a bold and adventurous experience, but a truly successful one as well.
image: Flickr, CC2.0