• James Garrettson

The Dirty Dozen for Pre-Runoff


This piece was written for Fulling Mills blog. The original can be read here


Believe it or not, spring is almost here in the Southern Rockies. Currently, I’ve forgotten that I live in high desert, as the sage stays buried under a blanket of snow. This is good for our rivers, as last year New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah suffered historic droughts. Most snowpack in the region is above 100% which will give us our much-needed runoff.

Pre-runoff is one of my favorite times of the year to fish. Snow is starting to melt and the rivers aren’t quite blown out yet. Synonymous with Nicolas Cage’s acting style, the start of run-off is wildly unpredictable and chaotic. Pre-run off is a catch-all term for the time in between winter and when rivers look like the opposite of clear. Here are 12 of my favorite flies for fishing our beloved pre-runoff, get it while it’s hot because you’ll never quite know when the rivers will blow (out).


#1) The Squirminator (Hot Head)

Much like tweed jackets, bamboo rods, and single malt whiskey, worm patterns are classy and an integral part of our fly fishing heritage. The squirmator is one of my favorite patterns for pre-runoff, especially when premature snowmelt gives a tinge of color to the river.


#2) Black Rubber Leg Stone

Rising temperatures in early spring not only melt the ice but warm the waters in which trout live. A spike in water temperature kicks trouts metabolism into high gear. Pre-runoff is an excellent time to fish big-ticket meals like stones. Trout will gorge heavily on them just after ice off. Enjoy fishing the big stuff while it lasts, as in a few months the fish wise up.


#3) Canons Bunny Baetis

Spring, specifically pre-runoff can be a great time to intercept some risers during baetis hatches. I love comparadun style patterns because they sit low in the film, often coaxing stubborn fish to eat.


#4) Spanish Bullet Quill

Sticking with the small mayfly theme, the spanish bullet is a must for early spring. Perdigon style flies like the Spanish bullet sink quickly, which is an asset during the constantly fluctuating flows of pre runoff.


#5) Heisenberg White

Throwing steamers in early spring can be hit or miss. But when it’s on you won’t want to be without a Heisenberg. When the trout want some meat why not give them a filet mignon. White is a great color because it fishes well in both stained and clear water.


#6) Greased Lightning

Midge and baetis hatches come and go sporadically throughout the day. The greased lighting is a great little attractor dry that sits low in the film. You can hedge your bets with this pattern and fish it during both hatches. Much like a spork, it does two things.


#7) Duracell Jig

From high water to tailwaters this fly flat out catches fish. It has saved the day for me on many a pre-runoff guide trip.


#8) Orange Head Mary

Flies with hot beads are a staple in my early spring box. During clear water the small orange bead can also be taken as a micro egg. During high water, the bead shows up really well and gives the trout something to key in on. There’s just something about the orange head mary.


#9) CDC Double Wing Caddis

Here in New Mexico we anxiously await our early spring caddis hatch on the Rio Grande. This often comes just days before the river turns into a mud slick. I love CDC caddis patterns because you can skate them like an X games gold medalist. Skate or die.


#10) Micro Midge Cul

Another midge/baetis pick. I’m sure you’re noticing a theme here. Trust me you’ll be happy to have a couple different low riding midge/ baetis patterns in your box, especially for picky tailwater fish.


#11) Complex Twist Bugger Brown

A great pattern to coax out some early season fishing sulking deep in the tanks. This is basically the trout equivalent delivery pizza with a side of cheesy bread. The trout will be happy you brought this to their front door.


#12) Redneck Midge

An awesome little midge pattern that does well fished deep or as a dropper. While it’s called a “Red Neck” you don’t need a collection of 7 rusting cars in your front yard to fish it.

As we all anxiously await some warmer days and trout snouts, many of us are building up our early season boxes. There are many similar themes with the above patterns, lots of attractors, hot beads, and smaller dry flies. Consider these elements as you begin buying or tying your spring collection, 2019. Pre-runoff can mean low and clear water one day, to high and stained water the next. Whatever conditions you may face this pre-runoff, may the odds be in your favor. Hope to see you on the water, or not.


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