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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Water Flows: Grey Reef's Intimidating Factor

I just received a call, from an out-of-state fisher, regarding the current water flow on the North Platte River at Grey Reef. When I said the flow was 1200cfs and probably going up there was a silence followed by a groan on the other end of the line. This got me wondering why folks are so intimidated by flows over our 500cfs minimum.
I understand that the water at Grey Reef is not easy to read at increased flows, but it should be. The North Platte River is full of big trout that got that way because of an easy, glutinous lifestyle. When the waters at Grey Reef rise do the trout quit eating?...of course not. But, you may not find them in the same place that you did when the river was flowing 500cfs. They move into feeding lanes that provide the main ingredients in successful trout living:
1. Food
2. Oxygen
3. Current that doesn't over extend their calorie intake
4. Protection from predation

The trout at Grey Reef won't always adhere to all of these rules, but it is a good place to start.

When you are about to start to fish the "Reef" ask yourself:
1. What are the trout eating?
2. Are the trout oxygen starved?
3. Based on conditions, where are the trout hanging out?
4. Are the trout at risk of predators?

Numbers 1 and 3 are the key questions. What the trout are eating dictates where they will be. Where the trout are is dictated by what they are eating. So we have got this thing broken down into some pretty easy terms. Questions 2 and 4 are not really an issue. There may or may not be a short period of time in the summer when oxygen deprivation becomes an issue. I am certainly not a biologist, but oxygen levels can become limited as water temps increase. But, Grey Reef's infamous summer algae bloom work against that principle. Predators are always present, bald eagles, osprey and pelicans. I don't believe they significantly impact the behavior of the trout. Sure, if a few pelicans move into a hole it might disperse the fish, but they will move back in a short time.

FISH GO WHERE THE FOOD IS regardless of the quantity of water in the river. The max controlled release at Grey Reef is 5400cfs. The last time we had 5400cfs was in 1999. The fishing was incredible, both by boat and wading. The trout eat all year long and at all water levels. As the water comes up there are lots of new pockets, holes and runs created. You will have to fish in different areas than you would at 500cfs. But, this is the beauty of increased flows! We get a new river every time the water comes up. I have always embraced increased flows, because it breaks the 500cfs monotony. I would be ecstatic to get 3500cfs or 4000cfs. I would get to fish in places that I haven't been able to for nearly 10 years.

This lesson becomes pretty elementary, FISH WHERE THE FISH ARE. If you are not familiar with Grey Reef stop into a local fly shop. They will be able to tell you what the hatch is, where the fish most like to eat those particular bugs and the best place you can access the appropriate water. IF the answer is red worms and nothing regarding a "real" hatch, try the next shop.

Erik Aune


bpmiv1 said...

First time I fished the North Platte 3 years ago flow was at 500. Second trip up it was almost 2000 cfs. Scared the hell out of me.With some advice from local veterans, particularly the Reef Fly Shop and the North Platte Lodge gang I had an unbelievable trip. Gobs of hook ups, dozens landed. I now fish the North Platte at least once a month religiously. I PRFER THE FLOWS TO BE 1500-2500 CFS. THE FISH ARE THERE, THEY STILL EAT, AND THERE IS ALOT MORE ELBOW ROOM for the ever increasing numbers of anglers on the river. When it hits 2500 this summer that's me out in the middle. Wave as you drive by on your way to wome other water.

Montana Teal said...

The Reef does fish differently than most all the other rivers within a 1000 mi area, especially when the water is high. All other rivers in the area fish next to the banks when the water levals are high. Not Grey Reef!
Fish from the banks out towards the middle. The fish are in lanes and they are stacked in those lanes. If your off by even 6" from their lane you will not get eaten. The Reef is so abundant in "bug" life, the fish do not have to forage hard to find food. Hence, they will not move far out of their lane to take a fly.
This does not include the predatory instinct of attacking high energy food such as minnows, small bait fish, crayfish and leaches. Fish will expend the energy to get a larger yield. That is why streamer fishing is so much fun and produces bigger fish.

The Reef Fly Shop said...

Both excellent comments! Remember if you are in over your knees, chances are your are standing where the fish want to be.