Everyone loves to watch a big ole butter belly come out from his layer and grab a six inch yellow chicken, or to cast a headlight caddis at a pod of gracefully rising rainbows. But in reality, when you are on the water well over 200 days a year that just doesn’t happen every day. Sure, nymphing may be the sluttiest form of fly fishing, but it works.
On Arkansas’s tailwaters, there are a few bugs that anyone can go catch fish with almost anytime. We have healthy populations of Sow bugs, scuds, caddis, Mayflies, and Midges. So I pretty much nymph to separate ways. We will classify them into two different categories: classy rigs and unintelligent rigs.
These include generic stuff like the pink worm to a soft hackle, or the egg to the midge. I will often incorporate small leaches or fry patterns into these rigs as well. I fish them under an indicator so I move them from the streamer class into unintelligent nymphing. I mean, if you rig up a small bugger in a size 14-16 hot green soft hackle, you can’t fish it wrong. If you can’t mend the line, who cares? The fish certainly don’t. Usually those rigs come out in slightly higher flows. I like using the attractor pattern as my point fly usually with split shot 12-14 inches above them, and pick a semi-generic fly as my dropper. As much as you may not want to admit it, everyone has pink worms and eggs in their box, and when you are in the business of catching fish those flies come out a lot.
Now when I am trying to rig up a classy rig, it will depend on what lies beneath. I typically tie my Sow bugs and scuds pretty heavy and use them as anchor flies. Not only does it help eliminate the need for as much split shot, it also helps keep my dropper fly suspended. More often than not, I use some form of a soft hackle as my dropper. I tie a soft hackle that we call the bi-wire soft hackle, in various color combos. One combo will be the winning ticket that day no matter what time of the year. In spring and summer, you can’t go wrong with chartreuse or hot yellow incorporated into the mix. In the fall, you’ve got to have red or amber in the combo.
Dave Whitlock once said, “You don’t have to tie in all of the assholes and elbows to fool a trout.” I keep a few caddis patterns in my box: The Holy Grail, the SLF caddis, a rock worm and a few generic cdc emergers. I keep one version of the Sow bug, just changing the size and color. Tried and tested patterns work. Flies like the hare-n-copper, hare’s ears and pheasant tails work. Sometimes it’s best to not try and reinvent the wheel.
Matt Milner is a bearded genius when it comes to putting clients on the best fish in Arkansas. You can book him through Jamie Rouse Fly Fishing Adventures, or just yodle from the tallest knoll in Heber Springs.