If You Can’t Go Blue Go Brown


Even brownlines look good in a sunset
Even brownlines look good in a sunset, that's a supermarket in the background

 For once I might have stumbled on a trend, a movement, perhaps you might call it a push. Normally the Journal is on the backside of cool in the trough behind a wave but apparently not on this one. Mind you being on the cutting end of the Brownlining trend isn’t exactly exactly going to guarantee fame, fortune, groupies and a Wikipedia entry. But hey it got coverage in the Wall St Journal.

And its a natural for the Mid-West, Texas, and Louisiana. Brownlining for the unitiated is the less glamorous end of fly fishing, one might say the grubby dirty end, broken roughly into two schools. The first revolves around urban or industrial waters, the ditches, drains, canals and concerete lined river beds which cut through our cities and towns. The second school covers the lesser species found in these places: carp, suckers, redhorse, bullhead, chud, shad, white bass, gar, the sunfish and other perches, catfish and more _ the weirder the species the better.

 Of course there have been a disparate group of fishing hungry fly rats all over the world chasing fish in the weirdest of environments, far removed from the pristine streams and rivers that are fly fishing’s icons. But a handful of bloggers, starting with Californian Ken Barton ( Singlebarbed.com) and Tom Chandler (TroutUnderground.com) have created a movement over the past two years _ the Brownline Nation. PS: Take your time to scroll through the rest of the Fat Guy Fly Fishing Blog its seriously funny.


Ben Levin could be a brownline deity if this pic gets out
Ben Levin could be a brownline deity if this pic gets out

Funnily enough my first exposure to “brownlining” or its saltwater equivalent came back home in Tasmania, when I started discovering the joys of kelp living fish “pike” and parrot fish when traditional game species weren’t around. No selfrespecting saltwater fly fisher worth his anodized pliers would have bragged on catching these but it was a hoot on trout gear.

When I hit Los Angeles I was introduced to the other school of brownlining chasing carp in creek as ugly as that urban sprawl can produce, wedged between the 401 Freeway, the Orange County Airports and the skyscrapers of a hightech enclave. Carp fishing behind a shopping center followed in NW Arkansas, and introductions to various basses, walleye and whities and hybrids in the Upper White.

Now we take our trout fishing as serious fun. The salmonids are our passion and our life. But there is a whole world of fun in brownlining for other species. And since many of our extended family live in urban centres like Memphis, Dallas, Oklahoma City, St Louis and Kansas City we reckon y’all might like a few more opportunities to wet your line between trips to the White River. Send us the pics and your story

Tulsa for instance has a great brownline running through the center of town in the Arkansas’ River, with stripers and hybrids in the mix. I still want to land a gar and catch a catfish or two on fly.

Golf courses can offer some premium brownline fishing, as long as you can arrange access. The hunt for water is part of the fun. In this neck of the woods Crooked Creek offers some great carp, but researching this article has summoned my ultimate brownline target for the next couple of months, encapsulated the quirkiness of the whole game.

I want a sucker from the Norfolk Catch and release section and not as by-catch, I want to go there specifically targetting the suckers. With low water coming I reckon Im a chance, anyone got a good sucker pattern?  

More Reading:

Fishing Jones: A brief History of Ditch Fishing

Wall St Journal:On Fly Casting’s Urban Frontier, the Fish Are Big, the Water’s Dirty .



  • I have fished deliberately for Gar on a fly and landed a couple in the three-foot length category. They are an immensely strong fighter! but seriously watch your hands as you try to release them, their teeth are very sharp and while I didn’t find them to “biters” like Pike or Muskie (who will deliberately bite you), they slash their heads around and the teeth are like having a saw blade swinging rapidly back and forth. Cast a white clouser or other good-sized white or bright-colored streamer past their head, close to and parallel with the body; as the fly comes past their eye, they will savagely strike sideways and you can hook them with a normal hook because this sideways strike puts the hook perpendicular to the jaw. Paul “Sodie” Sodaman of St. George, KS taught this to me. This is close range sight fishing and the take is heart-stopping! Otherwise people have used long flashy flies full of trailing tendrils of nylon; I think the first designs were frayed nlyon rope, which tangled in the Gar’s teeth. Over 20 years ago, there was an article in the KS Outdoors magazine about a group of fly fisherman who hunted gar in this way in the rivers of the Flint Hills. However, if you use Sodie’s method, you can hook them conventionally.

  • I’ve started tying a fly that looks like a small (3/16 wide x 1/2″ long) piece of algae and casting it to tilapia as they cruise their nesting areas. Of the ones I’ve weighed, several have topped 7-1/2 lbs and while they don’t jump, they do bulldog down. They also keep you on your toes with your presentation as they will spook at anything touching down hard on the water as well as not liking you to be within 50-60 feet of them. I keep looking to find something the Grass carp in our stock pond will take, as we have several about 4′ long and going a good 35-40lbs. I had one spook and foul hook it’s self on a streamer one day and it ran the length of the pond, slamming out onto the bank on the other side, where it dislodged the hook as it flopped back into the water.

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