If you imagine a perfect day on the water, pleasant temperatures and sunshine probably come to mind. But rain, which is a common summer afternoon occurrence, leaves most anglers packing up their cars and heading for home.
But, if you’re willing to stick it out through the bad weather, you’ll reap some major benefits. The moment the first drop falls, people will start heading for home, and that’s the first advantage to staying out. Most likely, you’ll get the water to yourself.
Apart from that, the fishing itself is likely to improve as well. Some people love fishing in the rain, since the low light conditions and abundance of food can trigger heavy feeding in fish. Fishing during a rainstorm, though, requires different tactics than on a bluebird day. Not all rain is created equal, either, so knowing how to approach each situation is key. Tailoring both your fly choice and presentation to the conditions can make or break a rainy day on the water.
The Calm Before the Storm
While fishing in the rain can be an opportune time, don’t discount the cool, calm time before the storm. Fishing right before it rains can be just as effective as during or after a rainstorm.
Opinions differ on what exactly causes this increase in activity before inclement weather. Two of the main guesses are barometric pressure and low light conditions.
It’s hard to argue against the idea of low light conditions being a good thing. Low light, with or without rain, often causes an increase in fish activity. Hatches may start to come off, harsh direct light goes away, and fish may be harder for predators to spot. Fish respond well to all of these things.
As for barometric pressure, many anglers swear by it, while others think it’s more of a correlation than causation. Pressure tends to fall dramatically right before a storm, and it’s during this time of rapid change that fish are thought to feed the most aggressively.
It’s well-known that fish can sense pressure changes due to organs like the swim bladder, which are acutely tuned to pressure. The thoughts about why pressure affects fish, though, vary widely. One idea is that a drop in pressure may cause small baitfish and plankton to rise in the water column, leading to a feeding frenzy among predators. Another guess is that the predatory fish themselves will rise temporarily in the water, making them easier to target in the shallows. A third idea supposes that fish make the connection between pressure drops and bad weather, so they choose to feed before the rain mucks up the water.
Whatever the true cause of the action, it’s evident that the fishing improves before a storm, so target this time aggressively.
Different Types of Rain
Fish respond differently to different types of precipitation, so it’s important to cater your techniques to the type of rainstorm.
A quick, mild drizzle likely won’t affect fishing much at all. If you don’t even think to look for your rain jacket, you probably don’t need to worry about switching your rig, either. Fish may take dries or nymphs during a light rain, although rises may be hard to spot among the raindrops!
If the rain picks up into a steady shower, it’s probably time to switch tactics. Fish will likely stop rising to the surface for tiny insects, so swapping out for a nymph rig is a good idea. The other option is to use large, gaudy dries like hoppers. Rain knocks tons of insects and other food sources into the water, so fish may sit along the shore ready to gobble up terrestrials as they tumble in. You can get the best of both worlds by tying a nymph off the bottom of your hopper.
When a heavy downpour rolls in, the water starts to rise and turn muddy. This may effectively eliminate dry fly activity, as well as small nymphs. Now’s the time to throw on something large and juicy like a San Juan worm or streamer. Flies in this type of water should be visible and appetizing. Save your delicate flies for the nicer weather.
General Rainstorm Tips
Use quicker retrieves – If you’re fishing the high-activity period right before rain, try fishing any stripped fly more aggressively than normal. During this frenzy, fish key in on fleeing prey, and you can take advantage of the chaos by giving them something to chase down.
Adapt – Probably the most important thing to keep in mind when fishing in the rain is that you must be willing to make adjustments along the way. If you keep the same rig from pre-storm to post-storm, you’ll probably strike out through most of it. Changing tactics frequently to match the weather is the way to go.
Look for slow eddies near shore – Especially in a medium-strength rain, try to fish the slower pockets near shore. Not only do these pockets give fish a safe haven during rising water levels, but they also collect insects that fall in from the banks.
Prepare for another bump in activity after the storm – While the calm before the storm is great due to pressure and light changes, don’t forget to fish after a storm, too. If you catch it just right, you may be rewarded with massive hatches of insects as clearing weather meets with a cooling evening. Get ready to throw your dries back on as soon as the rain stops.
Fly Suggestions for Rain
The three top categories of flies during a rainstorm are terrestrials, large nymphs, and streamers.
Any terrestrials can mimic bugs falling in from the shore, but sticking with large ones like hoppers or big ants is probably best, especially if the surface is disturbed by rainfall.
As for streamers, try visible colors like black or dark brown to make them stand out against the murky water. A black woolly bugger is perfect.
If you’re nymphing, stick with large, visible flies like a Pat’s Rubber Legs or San Juan worm. Prey items like worms and chubby stoneflies get kicked up during rough water and make for a juicy, highly visible meal.
This article was developed by Flylords’ content team member, Katie Burgert.