Saturday, November 4, 2017

Stalking Large Browns

Catching trout on a fly is fun, regardless of the size or species.  As with any pursuit, once one gets the basics down, there are often areas of specialization to explore.  Some fly fishers focus on stalking larger fish, often enduring days on the water without a fish, using techniques designed to lure the very largest fish from their lairs.  In many regions, this most often means Brown trout, and night fishing.  While some trips result in fish, all of them result in learning.

One key to understanding trout, especially big ones, is their tendency toward conserving energy.  This impacts where they hang out, what they eat, and how they eat.  They will not fight the current when ready shelter is close by.  They will choose larger prey as it provides more protein per portion. Let’s look at food, habits, and shelter to increase our chances of taking a larger fish.

What will Browns eat? Of course, the range of aquatic insects remains in play at all stages, but the small size of most insects makes them problematic for larger fish.  The venerable sowbug deserves its reputation as a trout food, and is a great fly for nymphing.  Many an observant angler has seen a larger Brown ramming into a matt of weeds or moss to dislodge multiple sowbugs to gorge on.  Terrestrials are also sought after food sources, though again, size matters.  Ants, hoppers, and the periodic hatch of “katydids” (cicada) are sought after by trout. They will eat smaller fish, including those of their own species, as well as leeches, a favorite food of many other large fish, including Largemouth Bass.  The crawfish pattern, often used for Smallmouth Bass, will regularly catch trout, which may say something about the extent to which they are also trout food.  The largest fish will also eat small rodents, and by some accounts, even small birds or fowl, given the opportunity. No doubt the amount of protein offered here is attractive. Because trout hunt as much by feel as by sight, fishing for them successfully requires a lure that will move water ahead of it, activating lateral line sensors and attracting fish.  Sensitivity to motion and pressure waves also means you want to minimize wading and movement once you begin fishing.  

Let’s translate these food preferences into what to fish with.   I’m a creature of habit.  Forced to pick a fly, I will pick a woolly bugger first, as you’ve seen in my writing by now.  When probing for larger fish, I’m going to tie on a larger fly, size 6 or larger, using olive drab or lighter during the day, and black at night.  While larger fish may often take a smaller offering, there is a point at which smaller fish will shy away from larger flies.  So an important concept for me is to fish with a larger fly to discourage smaller trout.  I like a beadhead because of the extra weight.  I believe it is worth it to use a sinking tip line instead of split shot, as I generally don’t like the way split shot makes me cast (we all need something to blame poor technique, on, right?) but I know that under some conditions, a split shot or two is invaluable, especially in helping your fly to stay close to the bottom as you try to bump a fly through deeper water.  My woolly bugger technique is simple, drift and strip back.  The rate and speed of the strip is varied in order to cover more water: slower for deeper, faster as you attempt to work the middle and top of the water column.  

Larger, even oversized terrestrials are also useful, at the right time of the year.  Most often, these are fished on top, with the plop of the fly on the water serving as a dinner bell for feeding trout. This is typically the fall, when water is low and the weather has been dry, but of course the cicada hatch brings its own action when it occurs.  Observing the stream and fish activity prior to fishing is an important step in selecting the right fly.    Mouse patterns are often used for larger fish, and while Browns are notorious for eating rodents, Rainbows and other trout may also partake, given the opportunity.  Hard to prevent this, but enjoy the take and the fight no matter what species “takes the bait.”  A good mouse pattern is lobbed over a likely spot and skated back to you in order to simulate a swimming motion.  High sticking works well, as the tight line allows you to not only stay near the surface, but to impart some side to side motion.  You might practice this in a pond or back yard pool before hitting the water, in order to observe and critique your efforts.  Finally, you could choose a fish pattern, the various streamer and minnow concoctions that seek to mimic the younger of the the species.  A number of anglers use a “drop jaw” streamer that produces a larger wake in front of the fly.  I fish these similar to a woolly bugger, drifting and stripping at various levels of the water column to ensure that I’m reaching all areas that might hold fish.

Where are the large trout? Trout will choose the portion of the water column that best protects them from predators, in addition to providing a suitable hunting ground.  Too often, anglers focus on the surface . . . the speed and direction of the current, actively feeding fish, seams that indicate changes or confluence of current, and visible structure including logs or rocks.  These are important, but are only the start of effectively reading the water.  Just below the surface, conditions can be quite different.  Water may move more slowly, (which might mean that your strike indicator is dragging that nymph along at an unrealistic rate) and there may be fish cover that, while harder to see, directly impacts the feeding habits of fish. Consider large rocks or boulders in the stream.  Those that emerge out of the water are easy - you know that they provide a lee side where fish can hold out of the current, watching for food, and easily slip out to feed, and return to less turbulent water.  Drifting the right fly past that rock is often an effective tool for catching fish.  But what if there’s a boulder there that you can’t see?  Perhaps only two to three feet above the bottom, it provides the same shelter from the current, in a much calmer environment, where the trout is not exposed to predators like birds of prey.  This is how trout grow old and big.  

Along the bank is another opportunity for larger trout habitat.  The overhang and vegetation that may exist there, including the occasional tree or large branch that has fallen into the water, provides desirable cover.  Again, using our theory of conservation, we can assume that fish would prefer to hold along the bank where there may be slack water, rather than in the middle of the stream.  This is especially true when the dams on our beloved tail waters are called into service for producing electricity and water levels are up and fast.  In this case, casting streamers or mouse patterns into the bank and stripping them back will often bring fish to the fly in spectacular fashion.  

The limb or tree that has fallen into the water brings additional opportunities for those seeking large trout, as there is not only cover at the surface, but likely branches extending downward into the water, perhaps far enough to provide shelter for larger fish who are sifting the current for food.  Care is needed here, and perhaps a stripping approach, as too much drifting near these deadfalls will result in your contributing another bauble to adorn the branches.

Man made structures can also be holding spots for larger fish, including bridge footings, extended aprons of boat ramps, and even boat docks that have been in place for a period of time.  Of course, access to these may require a boat, rather than wading, except in periods of low water.  Treat these structures as you would boulders or branches.  They will provide cover and protection from current, attracting fish seeking to minimize effort and maximize protein intake.

When to fish for the really big ones is a subject of much discussion.  I firmly believe that night is the right time.  The larger fish really seem to be nocturnal, probably from a defensive mechanism, and our techniques will work well in that environment.  The lack of fishing pressure is also attractive, giving you better access to desirable portions of the river.  I find the milder winter evenings to be very enjoyable, and I think you will too.  Don’t forget to take time to enjoy your surroundings, from the splash of an otter to the blazing trail of a shooting star, or the glow of a rising moon.

The casual angler will approach a stretch of water with the standard techniques, and perhaps do quite well in terms of quantity of fish taken.  Our angler in search of the very largest fish, however, will employ different techniques, designed to explore areas of the stream, as described above, that will likely hold trophy size fish.

From a practical and a safety standpoint, take time to learn about the water you are going to fish at night, before it gets dark.  Doing so will help you to understand the water and the habitat, and help you to plan your night fishing.  Plan a day trip to your desired stretch of water, and do some fishing while observing the habitat for signs of large fish cover.  While wading is possible most of the year, winter will be a better time due to less generation.  In summer, under normal conditions, your best bet is from a boat, except for the coveted periods of no overnight generation.

I’ll leave you with three suggestions

1) Fish the water you know
2) Choose larger flies and learn to deliver them well
3) Be patient

Tight Lines!


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Father and Sons

A rare lull in generation provided an opportunity for a morning’s fishing on the North Fork River below Norfork Dam.  Having picked the boys up at camp near Branson a day earlier, we bivouacked in Mountain Home, and headed to Quarry Park on Saturday morning.  The boys were still recovering from their camp experiences, so an early day was not possible, even though I knew our best chances would be before 9 a.m.  Sometimes you make do.  Our first visit was to Dry Run Creek, for Hank, the youngest, to try his luck on this outstanding fishery.  Designed for children under 16 to learn to read water and entice trout to take a fly, the creek is a magical place.  We found the flow rate rather high, but determined to do our best, began to work a favorite pool that has produced consistently for years.  A variety of trout could be seen holding throughout the pool and the emptying run.  
We prepared Hank with a smallish Sow Bug and a strike indicator, and soon he was casting across the current and working the drift.  These are tight quarters, and on more than one occasion a leaf or limb was the victim of an errant cast.  Overall, he was able to make several good casts and execute a proper drift.  Cast, mend, drift, repeat.  These trout, holding in the current, barely sniffed at his fly, and several actually moved to avoid it as it drifted downstream!  We noticed a couple of larger fish working against the far bank, but neither seemed interested in our offerings.  Perhaps they’d been up early feeding, and we had not.

 It was already a hot day, though down by the creek it was not quite so bad.  We wanted to try the river, just across the parking lot from Dry Run, so Hank secured his gear and we headed back to the truck.  

On the North Fork River we found, as promised, that generation was non-existant, with only the minimum flow water coursing from the dam.  By now we were all in waders. Entering near the Quarry boat ramp, we began to trek downstream to find space to fish.  There were a number of folks on the river, but few were fly fishing.   Luke, fresh out of high school and headed to study engineering as a Razorback this fall, tied on an olive Wooly Bugger, and began to drift and strip it back, through the deeper run against the far bank that held the most current.  I chose to drift a Sow Bug in a bit shallower water, so as to gauge the location and appetite of the fish.   We both had some interest from a few fish, but the action was slow and the fish seemed sluggish, probably from the heat.  Hank stood nearby, and I had hopes of handing off the rod once a fish was on.  As is typical of middle schoolers, he soon lost interest in my casting, and, taking my wading staff, began to explore the shallows around the near bank.  Of course, once he was some distance away, a nice rainbow decided my Sow Bug was the chosen one, and I had a fish on!  After several nice runs, he came to the net, and Luke used the GoPro Hero to record the moment. 
By noon, the flow in the river had slowed, likely due to increasing generation on the White River just a few miles downstream, and we had miles to go - and a waiting mother hen who was ready to see her chicks after their week at camp.

It’s hard to have a bad day on the White River system, and today was no exception. A lack of fish was far overcome by father and son time, and the beauty and serenity of the North Fork.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

New Tackle Store in the Memphis Area

Having heard about a new tackle store in Bartlett, here in the greater Memphis area, from our friend Larry Rea and others, my son and I decided we should go have a look.  David Best’s new store “Primary Tackle” is a treasure of warm water fishing gear and advice.  He features a wide selection of plastic worms, spinner baits, hooks and related terminal tackle, along with rods and reels.  Videos are playing with “how-to” advice on rigging your gear, and fishing tactics that work.   David took us into the back room where he has an aquarium set up to demonstrate the proper use, and resulting action, of various baits.  
Here’s Luke spending some of his hard-earned graduation money on a McCain Swamp Series, “The Beast” rod. 
Primary Tackle is offering fishing classes on Tuesday evenings, using their ample classroom space. These classes will help the beginner better prepare for their next trip, while more advanced anglers will learn new techniques to step up their game.

In an era of big box retailers, it is great to see a local store catering to local interests.  Please go by and meet David and his staff, and pick up something.  I promise it will not be your only visit to Primary Tackle!

Learn more at

Tight Lines!


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Fly Rod of Your Own - Great Stories for Fly-fishers

I think I discovered Gierach about the time I discovered fly fishing.  I can’t claim to have read all his books, but certainly most of them.  I mean, who could resist the title “Trout Bum?”  When I saw that Gierach had a new book out, “A Fly Rod of Your Own” I immediately ordered a copy (and yes, in a fit of self indulgence I ordered an autographed copy.) 

I always feel like I’m just along for the ride when Gierach tells his stories.  His style makes you comfortable, and you just settle in as the story unfolds.

Many of the stories in this most recent book involve the north country and the primary mode of transportation there: bush planes.  For me, these locales increase the lure of the stories, as steelhead, char, and the like are foreign to my experience. I’ve never fished out of the continental US!  Not all of the stories are about exotic locales, however.  He writes about fishing a crawfish pattern in a local lake with the familiarity of a hockey player leveraging the sweet spot on the boards on his home ice.

Other stories range from fishing trips across the lower 48 to thoughts on guiding, choosing a fishing partner (or do they choose you?) and other musings on this pursuit that so many of us hold dear.  I’m afraid to go into too much detail for fear of spoiling a story, but here are a few examples.

In an almost autobiographical comment, Geirach says
“This river is like a favorite author who could write a book about knitting and we’d still read it . . . “ and of course, in spite of advice from experts to the contrary, they fish the river that day.

In discussing camp food, he wisely advocates for simplicity: “Like fly-fishing itself, the simplicity of it can easily be smothered under too much equipment and technique.”  Think about that for a minute or two.

One quote in particular stays with me “. . . the best advice you can give either a fisherman or a writer is: Don’t do what everyone else does.  Avoid cliches’."
Gierach gets it.  The “it" of why we travel and fish and talk about fly-fishing.  His writing is always engaging, and you will have to pace yourself in order not to miss the subtlety of his observations.  Don’t read this one all at once!  Get a copy for yourself, and a friend, your dad, even a random stranger.  

Tight Lines!


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Spring Flooding in the Ozark Region

Here's my special report regarding the recent flooding on the White River system in southern Missouri and north Arkansas

Fly Fishing the Little Missouri

Here's my article from the May 2017 Southern Trout "Ozark Edition" about a trip to the Little Missouri in SW Arkansas.  My article begins on Page 92

Saturday, April 1, 2017

A Report from the Final Day of Sowbug Roundup 2017

I awoke on Saturday looking forward to a return trip to the Sowbug Roundup.  Yesterday’s activities had but whetted my appetite.  I wanted to meet Dave Whitlock, and also to see as many fly tyers as I could.  

Privileged to Meet Dave Whitlock!
Mr. Whitlock was great.  He signed a book for me “Trout and Their Food” and spent several minutes talking about common interests, ranging from the natural fellowship of fly fishers to warm water fishing to our shared love for writing.  What a gentlemen, and such a legend in our sport!

My first fly tyer of the day was Jamie Franklin, from North Louisiana Flyfishers. We discussed his home state and the waters that his group has to travel to in order to fish, including one of my favorites, the Little Missouri.  Keeping with the Louisiana flavor, I then talked to Harry at the Boyd Rod Company, just some awesome bamboo rods made in Louisiana . . . I had to know the angle there.  Turns out, Harry was introduced to fly fishing at Roaring River State Park in Missouri as a 10 year old.  Like many of us, it turned out his addiction was serious and would only worsen with time, to the point that he now has devoted his career to rod building (with a little fishing thrown in).  Should you want a gorgeous, hand crafted bamboo rod, check out You will feel like Isaak Walton! 

Grant Adkins from Wichita Falls, Texas had great stories of a long career in fishing and tying, as well as his career with RCA that took him around the country, including a stint in my home area of Memphis, Tennessee.  Grant tied a pink attractor pattern for me, and I’m eager to see how it performs on the water.  He reports that he’s now retired - but operates a cattle ranch which “keeps him busy.”  I bet!  He travels to Southeastern Oklahoma to fish as that’s the closest cold water fishery for him.

Allan Fish from Indiana tied an Elk Hair pattern for me, while we discussed some of our favorite waters and techniques.  He travels to SowBug regularly to keep up with old friends and make new ones - a testament to the camaraderie we enjoy in our sport.  Reach Allan at to learn about his fly tying, rod making, and rod repair services.

Yes, I bought a few things.  Product reviews coming soon!  I also contributed to the event via the purchase of raffle tickets, but I was not burdened with any prizes to carry home.

A few items I "needed" - of course every outdoor writer needs another journal!
Sowbug is a great time.  One of my favorite things is the “free” table - where North Arkansas FlyFishers members bring items they no longer need - to give away!  I was able to pick up a pair of waders that will fit my 11 year old, and saw others making similar finds.  Start your planning today to make the 21st annual Sowbug Roundup in 2018.

Friday, March 24, 2017

2017 Sowbug Roundup "Roundup" Day Two

Today was the second day of the 2017 SowBug Roundup here in Mountain Home, Arkansas.  I arrived about 1pm, with my cousin and novice fly fisherman Jim Fleming in tow.  The event, set up in a large building on the Baxter County fairgrounds, held true to its roots by featuring literally dozens of outstanding fly tyers showing their skills.  A highlight for me was Mark Crawford’s presentation on fishing the Spring River.  A local boy and self described hillbilly, Mark is a 14 year veteran of fly fishing the Spring.  He offered great insights into the types of fish in the river, flies and techniques for catching them, and discussed the potential for active management to transform the Spring into a world class trout fishery.  
I was also privileged to visit with a White River legend, John Berry, of Berry Brother’s Guide Service. John also manages Dale Fulton’s Blue Ribbon Fly Shop.  Mr. Crause, also with Berry Brothers,  tied me a gorgeous sow bug, and Minnesotan (how did he even find Mountain Home?) Scott Nordby tied an intriguing red “Sunny Chumb” for me.  I visited with Tom Hoskins of who offers beautiful hand made nets in a variety of woods, shapes, and sizes.  

The event is so well organized, there are drawings and silent auctions, seminars, and of course, continual fly tying demonstrations.  Sowbug Roundup runs one more day, from 9-5, and tomorrow I’m looking forward to meeting Dave Whitlock, seeing more flies tied, and attending at least a couple of seminars.  There’s still time to get here!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Muddy Water Memoirs

Another Southern Trout story - this one about a boy growing up in Northeast Arkansas who discovers clear, cold water and the trout that thrive in it.

"Too thin to plow and too thick to drink" begins on page 188

A Fishing Companion

Here's the first story I had published, and so far it is my favorite.  A short piece about striving to have a little solitude in your fishing, and a surprise visitor.

My story is on page 208

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Articles in Southern Trout "Ozark Edition"

Here's a link to the January 2017 issue of STOE. My article on fishing Bennett Spring State Park starts on page 58 - but you will want to read this one cover-to-cover for great stories about some of the outstanding waters in the Ozark region.

And here is a link to the inaugural issue of Southern Trout "Ozark Edition" with my cover story on the Spring River in North Arkansas

Tight Lines!