Fly Fishing For Trout

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Arkansas Fly Fishing Columns
By John Berry

Bait Fishing Dress for Success Gearing Up for Dry Fly Fishing
Big Ugly Fishing Buddies High Sticking Dry Flies
Crooked Creek Fishing from a River Boat Introducing Your Significant to Fly Fishing

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Bait Fishing By John Berry

This past weekend was Hooked On A Cure. While I was guiding Lori Anne Murphy, my lovely wife, Lori, decided to fish Crooked Creek for smallmouth. She went to Kelly Slab outside Yellville and decided to fish upstream for a change. It was a tough wade, not because of the current but due to an accumulation of silt on the bottom that tried to suck the wading boots right off her feet.

She finally got in position and started carefully working her way down stream. The going was slow; she picked up a few long eared sunfish but no smallmouth. Then she noticed a commotion near the left bank. She carefully cast her olive woolly bugger at the spot and immediately got a bump. Half way through the retrieve the fight became more serious. Then she saw it, a magnificent Crooked Creek smallmouth. As usual, Lori didn’t have a net with her and decided to attempt beaching the fish. After a long and frenzied struggle the fish was finally coerced to the bank.

As Lori knelt down to release the gorgeous bronze back, he spit out a long eared sunfish still hooked with her fly and very much alive and kicking. She had caught two fish on one fly! Obviously she had hooked the small fish and the large smallmouth slammed it as she retrieved it in. Its dorsal fin dug into the smallmouth’s throat and got lodged. It was Lori’s largest smallmouth and I wasn’t there to photograph it. That was a major disappointment for me.

As Lori told the story later that evening at the Hooked On A Cure social, a couple of anglers questioned whether or not this constituted bait fishing. I don’t see it that way. That was certainly not her intent.

After the charity auction we were talking to Dave and Emily Whitlock and Lori told them the about the incident. Dave explained that this has happened to him and he frequently employs a similar technique in the pond at his Fly Fishing School. He has a student (usually a child) dap the water along his casting dock with a small nymph and hooks up a small bream. He then has them pull the hooked fish to the front of the dock where there are several large mouth bass waiting for such an opportunity. Wham! Fish on!

Now does this equal bait fishing or is it another tactic that should be put in the fly fishers arsenal? I don’t know but as a guide I am always impressed with any technique that produces fish and doesn’t harm the fishery.

But when you analyze the situation there are three things that become abundantly clear. First, don’t be afraid, to use a really large fly when fishing Crooked Creek for smallmouth. Second try an erratic or frenzied retrieve. This may just produce the result you want. Remember these guys are predators and they are definitely opportunistic feeders. Finally, shouldn’t I be sitting at my vise developing a fly that imitates a long eared sunfish instead of writing this article?

Give them what they want!

Big Ugly By John Berry

A few years ago Lori and I went to West Yellowstone, Montana on vacation. It was her first fishing trip out west and our first trip together. It was a magical time. We fished some of the great western streams, the Madison, Yellowstone, and Gallatin Rivers. We even shared Slough Creek with a grizzly. We would fish like demons all day. We had our lunch streamside and reveled in the wildlife. At night, after a late supper, we would walk through West Yellowstone stopping in every fly shop to read the bulletin boards and talk to anglers, guides, and shopkeepers trying to figure out where and what to fish the next day.

One night in one of the many shops we visited, Lori saw it, the big ugly. It was a huge stone fly pattern with a spun deer hair and foam body. It was garishly colored and had twelve rubber legs. It looked more like a bass bug than a trout fly. The guy in the fly shop assured her that this was the hot pattern on the Yellowstone and her life would never amount to anything unless she bought one. I on the other hand was not impressed. This was not my first time out west. Over the previous twenty years I had accumulated hundreds of patterns on various trips and I had all of them with me. I was sure that there would be no hatches we would encounter that I was not prepared for. As a fly tier it corroded my soul to pay $2.75 for a fly I could tie myself (if I had brought my vise and invested $25.00 in materials). I told Lori that the fly would be difficult for her to cast and I would be impressed if that ugly thing could catch anything. She immediately bought one and spent the remainder of the evening romancing it.

The next day we got an early start and drove to Buffalo Ford on the Yellowstone River. After lunch, which included an unexpected visit to our picnic table from an inquisitive buffalo, we were fishing near a blow down and observed a large trout feeding on the surface. There were probably five hatches occurring at the same time. We saw stoneflies, gray drakes, two different caddis flies and pale morning duns coming off. I tied on a gray drake and was fishing to some nearby risers. I smirked as Lori tied on the Big Ugly and cast toward the blow down. Her fly hit with a loud kerplunk and drifted downstream about two feet. Suddenly a monstrous trout broke the surface and rolled over the Big Ugly like a ton of bricks. It took off like a bullet and Lori’s four weight was bent nearly double. The fight went on for several minutes but the huge fly was impossible for the fish to shake. The fight finally ended when the twenty-five inch native Yellowstone Cutthroat slid into my net filling it to capacity. It was a fat, gorgeous, brightly colored male. It was without a doubt the largest, best-looking Yellowstone Cutt that I had ever seen and was the biggest trout Lori had ever caught. As we were taking the photos she asked me if I was impressed.

That night I bought a Big Ugly.

Crooked Creek By John Berry

I just called the dam and noted that the ten inches of rain that we got earlier in the spring (the worst flood since 1982) had raised the lake level about twenty-three feet. This translates into a high water year. They are going to be generating a lot this year and wading conditions on the Arkansas tail waters are going to be extremely limited for the next few months. My first recommendation would be for you to hire me to take you high water fishing in my boat. Another option would be to give fishing for smallmouth on Crooked Creek a try.

Lori and I have been fishing Crooked Creek for the last few years. Last week we went to the Kelly Slab access. Recent improvements have made this a popular destination with local anglers and kids looking for an old time swimming hole. The pressure has not improved the fishing. Armed with five weight rods with woolly buggers and small poppers we started fishing at the access and slowly worked our way downstream. The only fish we caught were small long eared sunfish (goggle eyes). There were a plenty of them and they were interesting to catch but they weren’t what we were after.

I decided to pick up the pace and cover more water. As I went along, I caught a few small fish including a little smallmouth. I ended up about a mile and a half down stream of the access. I came up on a nice deep run that had a rock shelf on the bank side. I cast my woolly bugger over the rock shelf and let the current sweep it over the shelf and into the run. When it dropped off a nice smallmouth slammed it. After an intense battle I released the fish and cast into the run again. Standing there I landed five smallmouth and just as many goggle eyes.

I looked up and I noticed that Lori was working her way down stream. I motioned for her to join me. She walked on down and joined me. Fishing a small popper she had caught several goggle eyes but had only landed one little smallmouth. I put her in my hole and gave her my rod. She cast over the shelf and immediately hooked up. Over the next thirty minutes she netted five smallmouth and several goggle eyes. I could not believe that we pulled ten smallmouth from one run but it does show what crooked creek can be.

What we learned that day is that to catch fish you need to go far from the access. A good alternative to wading down from Kelly Slab is to launch a canoe there and drift down to the Yelleville access. This is a float of only three miles but there is plenty of water to fish. To do this you will need two cars or arrange for a shuttle.

The next time they are running water on the White give Crooked Creek a try.

Dress for Success By John Berry

Yesterday Lori and I went fishing and it looked like summer was over. It was 41 degrees, there was no sunshine and the wind was howling. I landed a fat eighteen-inch brown and Lori landed an eighteen and a nineteen-inch rainbow. In addition we landed a lot of other good fish. For me truly great fishing begins in late fall and continues through winter. Here in Arkansas we have a twelve-month season. But to take advantage of the most productive time you have you need to be able to stay outdoors to do it. To be comfortable you need to have the proper clothing.

The first consideration is waders. While neoprene provides insulation and a certain amount of flotation they do not breathe and tend to get a little clammy. My first choice is breathable waders. To provide the necessary insulation I wear capeline or polypropylene underwear and pile pants. What you have to remember is that the water at a constant 57 degrees is probably warmer than the air. When it is bitterly cold and windy you may find yourself wading deeper to stay warm. I buy my wading boots two sizes larger than I normally wear so that I can wear two pair of expedition weight capeline socks and still have room to wiggle my toes. It is more important to be able to wiggle your toes than to have additional insulation. Tight shoes will be very cold.

Next you should consider your clothing, which should consist of three layers, the wicking layer, the insulation layer and the shell.

The wicking layer is the closest to your body, your underwear. The idea is to wick moisture away from your body in order for you to stay dry and dry is warm. New synthetics like capeline or polypropylene are the ticket here. What you want to avoid is cotton. When cotton is wet, as the water in it evaporates it cools. The property that makes it a fantastic fabric in the summer makes it the wrong choice for winter.

The insulation layer functions as it sounds it holds heat. The fabrics of choice are pile or wool. Wool is a traditional fabric and functions well. It will keep 60% of its insulating value when wet. I prefer pile garments made from polartec or synchilla. These can be wrung out when wet and then put back on. The thing you have to consider is that they are not wind proof. Down garments should be avoided as they lose all their ability to insulate when wet. You can wear several insulating layers and remove them as the weather warms.

This of course brings us to the shell. The shell is designed to keep the wind and rain off of you. While you want the shell to be wind and waterproof you also want it to breathe. Once again dry is warm. The fabric of choice is Gore-Tex. It has tiny openings in it that allow water vapor to escape but keep out water in its liquid form. Another choice is waxed cotton. These cotton jackets have been treated with wax, which keeps the fabric from absorbing water. Waxed cotton is very functional, durable, and can be easily retreated at home. It does tend to be heavy and a little pricey. You should always have a hood on your shell to keep your head warm and dry.

Always wear a hat. If its not too cold, I prefer a felt cowboy hat. The broad brim provides a lot of sun protection and they just look cool. If the weather really turns cold I wear a pile hat with a brim and ear flaps (think Elmer Fudd). I also wear gloves. I prefer fingerless wool but also have a few pair of fingerless pile gloves. I always carry an extra pair in case one gets wet. If it’s bitterly cold I wear neoprene gloves and polypropylene liners. They are waterproof and warm.

If you follow these suggestions you can easily stay out in the worst weather and catch the big one while your buddy is huddled up in front of the fire trying to stay warm.

Fishing Buddies By John Berry

Yesterday I went fishing with my two favorite fishing buddies, my brother, Dan and my wife, Lori. It was a spectacular day. The temperature was 72 degrees without a cloud in the sky. As we arrived in the pasture at McClellan’s the river was on the bottom after a long summer of high water. The two cars there departed leaving the finest stretch of trout water in the state of Arkansas to the three of us. I looked downstream and for the first time in months I saw that my favorite hole was available. Due to the fine weather and perfect water conditions I decided to wet wade. I hastily threw on my boots, grabbed my rod and vest, and made a beeline for the hole.

When I had traveled about halfway down, I heard Dan on my walkie-talkie. He was heavily involved with a monster fish. He had severely injured his right hand earlier in the year and while he is healing was not only casting left handed but also fighting a trophy fish left handed. The fish fought like a maniac, jumping like a wild bronco. It was an epic struggle, but after a lengthy battle, Dan landed an incredibly fat, brightly colored, and fully finned twenty-two inch rainbow trout. This fish would have been a challenge for the rest of us to land with the full use of both hands.

Dan was my first fishing buddy. He introduced me to fly-fishing and is my partner in business. We have fished together from Montana to the Smokies. I stood there for a while and watched him cast. Left-handed he was banging out sixty feet with perfect loops. It was easy to understand that he was the first FFF certified casting instructor in Tennessee and his injury has not slowed him down. He can still out cast and out fish the majority of us. In an odd way, I think his injury has made him a better instructor. It has forced him to hone his skills with the left-handed cast.

I continued downstream and Lori joined me. We began casting Norfork bead heads in the run and started catching fish immediately. We were in doubles almost constantly for three hours. The smallest fish we caught was a fifteen-inch brown and the largest was an eighteen-inch rainbow. The fish were fat from constantly feeding in the high water this summer. All of them fought ferociously.

I took a break from the action to try a hopper. As I was standing there rigging up, I watched Lori. She is a fish-catching machine. I have never seen anyone that fished with that much intensity. Nothing existed but the trout and the indicator. She caught them one after the other and never tired of the process.

Lori is the love of my life and also my business partner. We are soul mates. My only regret is to have met her late in life. Together we have also fished from Montana to the Smokies. When we have a rare day off from guiding we spend it together on stream.

We only fished a few hours but enjoyed a magical afternoon. On the way home, I thought about how important our fishing buddies are to us. They can teach us concentration or how to cast. They can make a tough day better and turn a good day into a memorable occasion. They are there to take the picture of the biggest fish you ever caught, show you their favorite hole, or give you their last cookie. They share the triumph of landing a trophy fish, the pride in tying your own flies, or the beauty of a heron in flight.

They are what make fishing special!

Fishing from a Riverboat By John Berry

Fishing from a riverboat is one of the most effective ways to catch trout and it may be the only game in town on high water. I am constantly amazed at just how easy it is to catch fish this way. The basic concept is to cast your fly out from the boat and let it drift with the boat when a fish hits you set the hook. You can either motor upstream and drift back down to where you started or you drift downstream from point a to point b (this requires that someone shuttle your car and trailer from point a to point b).

The problem with the concept is that someone has to steer the boat. The river is a very dangerous place and someone has to be constantly monitoring where you are and where you are going. For this reason I really enjoy fishing with my cousin Quinn. He has his own boat and lets me sit in the front and fish without having to run the boat. For me it’s like a busman’s holiday.

When the water is low you rig up just like you would if you were wading. I generally fish a nymph, a dry or a nymph on a dropper below a dry. It is important that you cast the fly at least 30 feet from the boat. As you drift down stream you can see fish scattering away from the boat If you fish too close to the boat you will not catch as many fish. On the other hand you should not be casting 70 feet. You would be working too hard. Why not just drift the boat closer. At this water level you would essentially fish the main channel. I generally concentrate on shoals and deep runs.

When there is low generation (one to two generators) I use the same rigging as I do for low water. I find the fish in different places. The trout have generally moved to side channels. When you locate fish drift over them repeatedly. At this water level navigation will be easier. My favorite flies for this situation are San Juan Worms on heavy wire hooks.

For heavy water the trout are located in weed beds, over submerged islands or close to the bank. I fish large streamers and San Juan Worms tied on 1/32-ounce crappie jigs. In addition to being weed less these things sink like rock. They are so heavy that I have to use huge strike indicators. Note: if you hit yourself in the back of the head with one of these you are going down. With this much water you are not going to have much top water action. Another technique is to troll a large streamer on a full sinking line behind the boat.

One other thing to think about is having more than one person casting from a twenty-foot boat. If you are not careful you will spend your time untangling lines instead of fishing.

Gearing Up for Dry Fly Fishing By John Berry

Spring is finally here. The weather is definitely warmer and the spring hatches have finally begun. Lori and I have already had some spectacular days fishing hatches with dry flies. In order to take advantage of my favorite time of year you need to get your gear ready. This is particularly important if you didn’t fish all winter.

Dust off your dry fly rod. I prefer a nine foot four weight with a sensitive tip. I use a four weight because I will be casting small flies. I like to use a nine-foot rod because the length allows me to easily mend the line, which is critical for me to achieve a perfect drag free drift. The soft tip helps protect the lighter tippets I favor when fishing dries. I have a friend that insists on fishing dry flies with a stiff rod. He cannot understand why he is continually losing flies. Lubricate your reel. Here again you need to consider lighter tippets. While you’re at it adjust your drag. I prefer to set mine very light so that I don’t break off trout.

Clean your fly line. I fish a floating line and I have found that it floats much better if it is clean. This also makes it much easier to cast and mend. To clean the line I put it in a sink of water with a mild soap and gently agitate it. I then rinse the line and dry it with a soft cloth. Finally I apply a line dressing approved by the manufacturer.

Change your leader and tippet. These items deteriorate over time. As a result manufacturers mark them with a use by date. Discard any leaders or tippets that have expired. I prefer a nine foot four X leader with a five foot six X tippet. If you haven’t fished lately and don’t know when a given tippet will break try this. Rig up your rod with a leader and tippet. Tie the tippet to a fixed object. Set the hook as you would when you are fishing or gently increase pressure until the tippet breaks. This will give you a feeling for how to set the hook. Don’t forget that on stream with fish rising your adrenaline will definitely kick in.

Check your fly box and make sure that you have the flies you will need for the season. For this area you need to stock certain patterns. The one I use the most is the elk hair caddis in size 14, 16,and 18. Next I use sulphur duns in size 14 and 16. I carry adams in a variety of sizes from twelve to twenty. I carry royal wulffs in the same sizes. For later in the season I carry a selection or terrestrials that includes ants and grasshoppers. These flies should cover most of the dry fly situations you will encounter.

Make sure that you have fly floatant so that you can waterproof the flies before you fish them. In addition I carry dry fly crystals to dry the flies after hooked fish have submerged them. It is important to use both of these items so that the flies float high and look natural.

If you follow these suggestions you will be ready to fish the coming hatches. Good luck!

High Sticking Dry Flies by John Berry

As time passes I spend more and more time fishing dry flies. When I first started fishing them I was overwhelmed. The casting was fussy and had to be precise. The flies were so tiny that they were almost impossible to see. Success did not come easy but I eventually began to catch fish by traditional dry fly methods. I had a lot of trouble seeing the fly if I was fishing over twenty feet of line. One day I was high sticking nymphs when I had a brainstorm, high sticking dry flies. I was catching fish that were just a few feet from my body. Then a fish hit my strike indicator. I tied on an elk hair caddis and fished the same water that I had been nymphing. I only had a couple of feet of fly line out and I fished it just like I would a nymph. I flicked the fly up stream and let it drift down. It went about five feet and a nice rainbow slammed it. I landed that one and quickly revived the fly with dry fly crystals. Again I flicked the fly upstream and let it drift down. This time it went ten feet before an eighteen-inch cutthroat rose from the depths and nailed it. I stood in that riffle and caught a dozen good fish. The technique is simple and effective.

This is contrary to everything that my brother Dan does. He prefers seventy-foot casts over glass smooth water with tiny flies. He sets the hook when he sees a rise near where he thinks the fly is. You cannot see a size 18 fly that is seventy feet away.

High sticking gives you three things, you see the fly, you can make an effective presentation, and you can better control the line. You can see the fly because it is only a few feet from you. With this method I can easily fish dries as small as a 20 or smaller. You make an effective presentation by just flicking the fly up stream to for a soft landing. Since there is nothing touching the water except the fly it is easy to achieve a perfect drift when you do not have to deal with complex currents. The shorter line enhances line control because you can easily set the hook at any part of the drift because there is no slack in the line.

I prefer to use this method when fishing riffles. I particularly like fast riffles that run over gravel and have a drop off. The broken surface helps to conceal my movements and allows me to get very close to fish. The greater water speed does not allow the trout to study the fly. He must decide whether to take the offering very quickly and without hesitation. Finally riffles are generally loaded with fish making them more productive. Since I fish heavy water I have to fish flies that can handle the current. I favor elk hair caddis and Wulff patterns because they float like corks. Hoppers and power ants work well later in the year after the major hatches are gone.

The next you notice some top water action try a method that is easy and effective, high sticking.

Introducing Your Significant Other to Fly Fishing By John Berry

Introducing your wife or significant other to fly-fishing can be the best thing that ever happened to you or it could be an invitation to hell. My most cherished moments in life are those spent on stream with my wife, Lori. The whole thing hinges on how the introduction is done. This article is written from a male perspective but most of the information would be applicable if the tables were turned.

Have a professional casting instructor teach her how to cast. Even if you know what you are doing you bring too much baggage to the lesson to be effective. While you are criticizing her back cast the only thing she can think about is that you forgot her birthday last week. I don’t say this because my brother and I make our living teaching casting. Remember if anything goes wrong it’s your fault. (Berry’s Law – Whenever You And A Significant Other Undertake A New Sport Seek Professional Advice). Better yet, consider a fly-fishing school. That way she could learn knots, entomology, and all the other skills needed. Lori regularly teaches a ladies fly-fishing class.

Next make sure that your significant other has the right equipment. This is not the time to give her all your old stuff so that you can get new gear. Sometimes you can borrow good gear. Just make sure that it fits properly. The most important thing is waders. If you haven’t noticed women are shaped differently from men. Most of the wader manufacturers now make waders for women. Make sure that the waders fit properly and are comfortable. If she is dry, warm, and secure she can stay out there all day. If she is cold, wet, and miserable the day is over. In addition she will need a fly rod and reel. Do not use that old fiberglass rod with the automatic reel that belonged to grandpa or the twelve weight that you use for tarpon. Get a rod and reel of appropriate weight and length for the species that you will be fishing for. Pay particular attention to the size of the grip. In general women have smaller hands and are more comfortable with smaller grips. A larger grip can be sanded down to an appropriate size.

Choose the location for the first outing with great care. Avoid treacherous water with heavy currents and bedrock bottoms. Go for mild currents and gravel bottoms that will be easy to wade where she will feel secure. Make sure there are restroom facilities nearby. Finally choose water with plenty of fish where you will have a good chance to catch a few. Carry a good picnic lunch and maybe a bottle of wine. If there are no picnic tables carry a couple of comfortable chairs.

For the first trip I would suggest hiring a guide. If you don’t do this leave your rod in the car. The object of the exercise is for her to catch fish not to watch you nail them. Carefully rig her rod and patiently show her what you are doing and why. Put her in the best water you can find and demonstrate the best techniques for that location. Avoid being critical. This is the crux of the matter! If you stand there and constantly correct her casting, tell her she should cast further, and ridicule her every time she puts a fly in a tree you are inviting a catastrophe. If she loses a fly smile, tie on another one, and tell her how you did the same thing two weeks ago. DO NOT BECOME FRUSTRATED AND RAISE YOUR VOICE! When she makes a good cast tell her. Net her fish. When she catches a fish photograph it. When you wade heavy water hold her securely by her wader belt and wade together with you on the upstream side so that you can break the current. When she gets tired quit.

If you follow these simple suggestions you will create an environment that your significant other will be comfortable in. As her skills improve she will become more independent and you will have a new fishing buddy.


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Copyright and credits. 12 March 2003