R e d c h a s e r . c o m


Getting The Drift




w . w . w . r e d c h a s e r . c o m

Fishing Southern Tailwaters.


There are quite a few Southern river systems that now hold healthy populations of trout that were historically the home of Small mouth Bass, Bluegill, and other warm water species.  Through a series of construction project for reasons as varied as flood control, power generation and urban water supply the U.S. Army Corpse of Engineers built dams on Southern waterways.  Once the dams were constructed, deep impoundments were formed.  Due to the nature of dam construction and operation, most dams release water from the bottom, particularly when they are used for power generation.  Releasing water from the bottom of the dam means that the water that is being drawn through the dam is coming from the bottom of the reservoir or impoundment, and since the water is coming from such depths it's cold.  In fact in many cases the water coming out of the dam is so cold that native warm water species can no longer survive in the river system below the dam.  This is where the trout come in.


The Corpse of engineers is obligated (in theory at least) to replace any fishery that is destroyed through their actions with an "equal" viable fishery.  Since the water in many tail waters is now too cold for warm water species, the corpse of engineers maintains trout hatcheries and stocking programs.  Many of these tail waters are little more than put and take rivers, where each years class of stocked trout are almost completely removed by anglers.  But there are also quite a few of these tail waters where many of the fish "carry over" and in some cases even spawn.


In Arkansas, several of the tail waters of river systems support thriving populations of wild brown trout that were not stocked as fingerlings, but instead were hatched in egg boxes in the river, and are now a self sustaining breeding population.  Several of these rivers, including the White, Norfolk, and Little Red River, have earned a reputation as great areas for trophy trout.  In fact the all tackle world record for Brown Trout came out of the Little Red.  Part of the reason these rivers produce large trout is that these Southern Rivers tend to be much richer in biomass than Northern waters, and offer a much longer growing season for fish and food because of milder winters.


One trait that is common to many Southern tail waters however is that they lack somewhat in the department of dry fly hatches.  Don't get me wrong, they get their share of March Browns, Pale Morning Dunn, Blue Wing Olive and Caddis Hatches, but not as frequently and usually, at least from my experience, not as intensely as many Western Rivers.  So what do you catch them on?  Nymphs, wooly buggers and soft hackles.


Turn over almost any rock on the Little Red River, and under it you are going to see several gray bugs that look like flattened out roly poly's or pill bugs.  These are sow bugs, and trout eat sow bugs.  Ask any guide or fly shop operator in the Ozarks what the fish are biting on at almost any time of year, and sow bugs will probably be the first thing they mention.  The beauty of sow bug is that they are incredibly easy to imitate.  Take a size 14 to 20 scud hook, apply a little gray or tan dubbing, and you have a sow bug.  If you want to get fancy you can add a bead head.  In addition to sow bug patterns, Small Wooly Buggers, and a regional soft hackle pattern called the Red Ass are very effective.  These fly's can often be tied with a few wraps of lead wire for weight, or they can be tied without weight and a small split shot can be added to your leader 6 to 8 inches above the fly.


Most people fish these patterns in tail waters using a strike indicator.  You can use the yarn type that you tie on, or the self-adhesive foam variety.  How far you put the strike indicator above the fly will depend on the water you are fishing.  In shallow, fast riffles, I may set the indicator about 18 inches above the fly or the split shot.  In a deep slow moving pool I may set it as deep as 3 feet or deeper.


Finding places that hold fish on these tail waters is relatively easy, since many different types of water will hold fish.  While brown trout will often find their way into the faster moving water of a shoal, I find them most often in the deeper, slower moving areas.  Brown trout tend to be somewhat shy and retiring, seeking out weed edges and logs to hold in or near.  Rainbows on the other hand will most often be found where the water moves.  Find fast moving water and look for seams in the current, rocks, logs, and other things that create ambush points.  Each type of water has its advantages and pitfalls.  In slow moving area's it is usually easy to get a good drag free drift, but since the current and hence your fly are moving more slowly, the fish gets a good look at it before eating it, often making size and color more critical.  In fast water, the fish only gets a brief look at your offering, and often once they commit, it's too late, but fast moving water creates much greater challenges in setting up and maintaining a good drift.


One thing that is always your enemy when fly fishing a tail water, whether you're nymphing or fishing dries, is drag.  Drag is what happens when your fly moves at a speed that is different than the current it is in.  Trout are very aware of how fast the water they are in or feeding out of is moving.  They know how fast that piece of food floating along should be moving too.  If you are standing in a river, casting toward a bank, your fly line is going to be laid across the current.  Often the water nearer to you will be moving at a different speed from the piece of water you're trying to work with your fly.



While this problem can be addressed to some extent by how you position yourself in relation to your target.  Either positioning yourself farther down stream and closer to the side your target is on, or positioning yourself upstream and casting down to it.  Positioning can only help you so much.  You have to learn how to mend line.


To mend line is to lift and move your rod to either side in order to create a loop in the line as it lay on the waters surface.  For example, if the water near you is moving faster than the water at your target you would make an upstream mend near you.  To accomplish this you would make your cast so your fly lands a little upstream and farther from you than you want your drift to begin.  As soon as you make your cast swing your rod tip up and over in an upstream direction, make sure you make the movement big enough that a loop forms all the way to your fly.  When you make this loop it will also draw the fly nearer to you, that's why you made your cast a little long.  Now even though the water near you is moving faster than the water at your target, it is simply pushing the loop out of your line, instead of dragging your fly.  This will increase the distance you can drift without drag dramatically.  I actually find that by using this technique, I can position my fly for a drift much more precisely as well.  By making my cast a little long, and then using the mending motion to pull the fly back toward me to exactly the spot I want to begin my drift.  If the water near you is moving slower than the water at your target, simply reverse this by making your mend in the down stream direction.                             



Southern tail waters offer many excellent opportunities for great trout fishing.

Both of stocked, and spawning wild populations.  If you're looking for a change of pace from bass, panfish, and saltwater fishing, give these little beauties a try.














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