A longtime friend of Flippin Fly Guides provides a guest’s perspective on fly fishing streamers with the Wooten Brothers.
What you’ve heard and read about Arkansas tailwaters is true. They are among the finest rivers in the world for catching brown trout, and I am lucky to call them my home waters. But as an intermediate-level fly fisher, I’m just as fortunate to have the Wooten brothers as friends and guides of mine for over 15 years. Aside from the occasional new riverfront house being built, we’re lucky that the rivers have not changed much from their reputation of catching record trout. What has changed, however, are the methods of catching the monster browns.
When I first started fishing these waters, I employed the tried and true way of nymph fishing. I like to think that the Czech & Euro Nymphing techniques popularized in the mid-2000’s were really developed in US tailwaters like the White River. When the river is low, we get technical and drift size 14-20 midges, scuds, and sow bugs on a 10ft, 4wt rod with 14′ leads and 7X tippets. When the river gets high, get in a boat and drift, making short, delicate casts mending line and waiting for the subtle twitch of the strike indicator. It’s still a great way to catch lots of rainbows and occasionally nice-sized browns in the fall, especially for new and intermediate fly fishers.
But since that time we’ve seen articulated streamer fishing, with techniques and flys pioneered in saltwater fishing and Western rivers, make its way to Arkansas as a proven way to catch brown trout to write home about. It is almost the antithesis of nymph fishing, and more like spin fishing for bass. You may not catch a huge quantity of fish as you would nymphing, but the size of the catch more than makes up for it. Get ready … once you try fishing with streamers on these waters, it is difficult to go back to anything else.
Here are a few tips I’ve learned after streamer fishing as a guest with the Wooten brothers and Flippin Fly Guides:
- Be prepared to make hundreds of single-haul or double-haul casts per day using a 7wt or 8wt rod.
- Don’t rock the boat, baby. This is easier said than done casting heavy rods during the excitement of the beginning of the float.
- Target and time your casts to reach holding water close to the bank, where larger predators would sit for likely prey. Look for water in motion caused by structures like rocks, downed trees, and boat docks. If you encounter motionless “frog water” or the fast and shallow “skinny water”, bring up your line and move on down the river.
- Keep the rod tip very low. Just inches off the water.
- You want to get a lot of articulating action from the fly. Strip the line in as quickly as you can using long, fast, sweeping motions: beginning by grabbing the line behind last ferrule on the rod and ending the motion by bringing the line behind you with your arm at a negative 45-degree angle behind you.
- When you get a strike, strip set the hook using the line and a sideways motion of the rod. Do not raise your rod and rod tip like you would typically when fishing a dry fly or a nymph.
All these tips will help a first-time streamer fisher prepare for their first float, but they don’t have to be executed perfectly. Streamer fishing can be easy for a fly fishing novice, and a streamer float with the Wootens is a good way to introduce an avid bass fishing buddy to the fun of fly fishing.
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