One of the aspects of the White River system that makes it such an interesting place to fish is the incredible diversity of prey available for consumption by its tailwater trout. Now just happens to be one of those times when almost anything can work. Over the course of the past week, I’ve heard reports from friends, customers, and fellow fishing guides of quality brown trout being caught on everything from midges, scuds, and caddis pupa to shad, sculpin, and large streamer patterns. Some of these critters, midges and scuds namely, are year-round staple foods for trout, and will almost always be the surest way to catch good numbers of fish and likely a quality brown or two mixed in. Sculpins too are abundant and active year round, and are a favorite food of larger browns when panicked and searching for cover.
The other two prey items mentioned, caddis and shad, occur in more seasonal abundance, offering temporary all-you-can-eat buffets to the trout at certain times of the year. Shad of course get sucked through the turbines occasionally after being stunned or killed by a sudden change in water temperature or oxygen saturation, and such an event can be difficult to predict. Caddis on the other hand, spend most of their lives as relatively inactive larva encased in stone cocoons on the river bottom, and consistently hatch during spring, usually between mid March and May (in our ecosystem).
The benefits of this constant, year-round supply of protein in the river are twofold: 1) our browns get really big, and 2) there’s always something to catch them on. Even if we don’t get as many technical “match the hatch” fishing scenarios as other more insect rich waters (probably due to the highly variable flows and relative youth of our coldwater ecosystem), isn’t it awesome on any given day to be able to target trophy browns on anything from a size #20 midge to an articulated 2/0 streamer? In a way that diversity of food and fishing techniques makes our White River system one of the most consistent trophy brown trout fisheries in the world, and also produces some of the most versed and knowledgeable fishermen as well.
What’s working? At the moment a better question might be what do you want to catch them on? On low water, try nymphing caddis pupa and midges: Jigged, Gold Bead, or Psycho Prince nymphs/ Ruby, ICU, or Harvester midges. White jigs can also still work close to the dam and pull some fine fish. On higher water, keep trying Schmidt’s 6” Deceivers and Lynch’s DDDs, the bite goes hot and cold. Downsizing to smaller, weighted sculpins like Sculpin Bunnies, Granato’s Chubby Muffin, or Galloup’s Boogieman can change your luck too.
Shad patterns can still work here as well, especially when they’re generating. Try white Zonkers and Bead Head Superflash Zonkers. On low flows, the Ruby midge is king, but a variety of midges, scuds, san juans, wooly buggers, soft hackles, and small parachute dries are a necessity as well. As the weather warms, don’t be surprised to see more caddis hatching on both rivers – it would be wise to start stocking up on caddis dries now – wouldn’t want to see quality browns rising and have nothing to throw at them!