Flooded Chatfield Reservoir

Fishing in High Water

While this seems by far the wettest May I have ever seen in Colorado, surprisingly it is not.  But the snow and rain have just seemed endless this month, and with still relatively cool temperatures until this weekend when it is expected to get in the high 70’s.  It has rained nearly every day, and either for long periods of time, or large downpours that dump huge amounts of rain and snow in a short amount of time.  Luckily we did not have a lot of fires last year; a wet spring after a summer of fires is a flooding disaster.  But the snow in the mountains hasn’t even started melting yet, and we are already experiencing extremely high water conditions in our lakes and rivers.  I will write another article soon on fishing high rivers, but tonight I want to focus on fishing flooded lakes.

The reservoir right by my home is higher than I have ever seen it in the 30 years I have been fishing there.  The South Platte River and a few other creeks flow into Chatfield Reservoir, and even though the river is flooding further downstream in northeastern Colorado, the Corps of Engineers have to let out a lot of water to maintain capacity for what is about to come when the snow starts melting, so both the river and the reservoir are very high.  As a result, the spot where I usually park my truck to put in my kayak or canoe is about three feet underwater the last time I checked a couple of days ago.

But high water in a reservoir or lake can often lead to excellent fishing conditions, especially if the water has not warmed enough (55 – 60 degrees) for largemouth bass to begin spawning.  Higher water in a lake creates new feeding opportunities for fish, and I am sure the fish in Chatfield are gorging themselves on all kinds of things right now, and I intend to find out this weekend.

The first thing I want to mention is boating safety, and a boat is the best way to fish a flooded lake.  As the water rises, all of the driftwood that was on the shore is now floating in the water, and the higher the lake rises, the more debris gets pulled into the lake.  If you are driving a motorized boat you have to be very careful for logs floating on top of or just below the surface of the lake.  Hitting a log at even a moderate amount of speed can severely damage your boat or motor.  Even in a man-powered vessel such as I use, hitting a big log could cause me to overturn, especially if there are large waves on the lake.

Now to the fishing tactics; as we all know, the rain brings worms to the surface of the ground, and in a situation where a lake is flooding into grassy areas, worms are exploding to the surface of what was previously dry ground.  This is a perfect situation to approach shallow water in a kayak or canoe and toss a Texas-rigged or Carolina-rigged worm and work them slowly back to you over these grassy areas in 2 to 4 feet of water.  A soft plastic crawfish on a jig head is also a good combination, as is a top water mouse lure at dawn, dusk or darkness. This is also one of my favorite conditions for fly fishing in a lake with worm, crawfish, or mice patterns.  The thing to remember is that as the water encroaches on the ground, fish food is falling into the water, and that applies to terrestrials, too, like grasshoppers, ants, or beetles.


Flooded timber and grass

In a flooded lake situation it is tempting to follow feeder creeks upstream where there may be clearer water.  I resist this temptation as the feeder creeks will often have colder water, and in the spring time you want to find warmer water.  Rather than following a feeder creek upstream, instead fish the edges of the underwater channel as it comes into the lake (electronics or a topo map will help you find these channels).  In a situation like this with fish food being brought into the lake, larger fish will sit by the sides of the channel out of the current and let the prey come to them.  This is an especially good technique when there are spawning areas nearby (click here to read more about bass spawning).

A lot of fishermen and women are naturally drawn to flooded timber when waters rise, and for good reason; so are bait fish.  Bait fish find all kinds of safety in flooded timber, even a single tree or bush, so don’t overlook these areas.  The challenge in this situation is not getting hung up in the cover.  One of my favorite lures for this type of fishing is a weed-less spoon, and I often put a curly tail jig on the hook for added attraction.  I caught one of the biggest largemouth bass in my life by tossing one of these lures and hitting a tree trunk, then letting it flutter down.  The bass heard the lure hit the tree and smacked the spoon with amazing force within two seconds, it was an amazing fish.


Weed-less Spoon

Finally, do not overlook flooded human structures, especially flooded picnic tables, grills, or small structures.  These man-made items will create structure and protection in an area that is surrounded by flat, often sandy ground where people would generally be walking around.  For fish, this is a new hiding spot to ambush prey, so don’t pass these by.  In a situation like this I like to use a diving crank bait that digs into the ground causing a disturbance that will attract a big fish waiting in the shadows.

I will be getting out this weekend and hopefully giving all of these tactics a try, but I know that if I have success with my first choice (the flooded grass), that may be all that I need to try.