It’s runoff time. Your favorite river looks like Willy Wonka’s chocolate river and you want to fish. What do you do with all this new-found free time? Cry and binge watch conspiracy documentaries on YouTube? Send your ex a “how are you?” text. Perhaps a deadly combination of all three? No. You fish the small water.

During runoff, you have to think a little bit differently about small creeks. Here in Northern New Mexico and the southern Rockies, even our medium sized streams are puking like a frat boy after his 5th Jager bomb. This time of year I like to do “Inception fishing”. Instead of a dream within a dream however, I start fish a stream within a stream . . . tributaries. Yes, tributaries aren’t “streams within streams” but it works for my Inception theme. Depending on the water flows, you may be able to dive 4 or five layers deep in the small stream space.


Higher water in smaller tribs also affords the angler the ability to target creeks where fishing would be much tougher later in the season. Either because of lower flows, or ethically irresponsible because they’re too warm.

With the water higher and slightly stained, it allows you to get right on top of the fish in a way you couldn’t in a low/clear water scenario. This provides the angler a huge advantage when fishing small brushy creeks where a back cast, or any cast for that matter is impossible. In these conditions I like to fish my 7’3” #2 Carbon XL. The length suits this fishing well because I can jam it through the brush and dap micro buckets without beating brush all the way to the bank. Most of the time I’ll have 2 feet of leader out of my rod tip and pick slower side pockets and dinner plate sized pools. Usually I’ll only fish one fly, preferably with a tungsten bead so I can get down in the increased flow, and avoid hang ups in the brush. Hey, no one said this kind of fishing was glamorous.


You may have told yourself a long time ago that small fish and brushy creeks were the opposite of fun. Fishing the small stuff during runoff is fun. Fishing the small stuff during run off is fun. I just Incepted you. Now go dig out your favorite small stream rod and find yourself your own little blue line that most will say is “too brushy” to fish. You’ll reminisce on the incredible solitude you had during runoff when your favorite river is packed after flows settle down.

James Garrettson is a fly fishing guide and  ECHO Pro Staffer based in Taos, New Mexico. A trout specialist, he calls the San Juan and Rio Grande home. When he’s not on the water, you can find him at Taos Fly Shop or spending time with his wife and baby girl. 

Photos: Tyler Justice Allen