A few good fish are still being caught on terrestrial dry flies, but overall the dry fly bite has slowed considerably over the past week. There is no cause for alarm, however. As you might guess from the photos posted here, big honkin’ summertime browns are still being netted nearly every day.
The bite has, simply put, gone subsurface. Instead of pretty slurps and slashes on the surface, it’s bobbers yanked under. Slightly less aesthetic yes, but no one is complaining about these results.
The increase in flow is the most likely explanation for the slower dry fly action. The White is now flowing at 12,000cfs or more around the clock, which affects the dry fly fishing in two ways: 1) there’s more water (duh), and the fish have to travel farther to actually get to the surface, and 2) the surface flow is really fast, carrying your dry fly over the fish’s position too quickly.
Granted, some fish are still willing to race to the surface and feed – one need only fish terrestrials on a raging western freestone river to understand that fish will still feed on top in fast deep water. However, these here Arkansas tailwater trout are a different animal, a bit lazier and more conservative with their energy expenditure.
And more importantly, there is plenty of food underwater for the fish to grab without having to swim to the surface. So the adjustment to be made on the White when the summertime terrestrial bite gets tricky is to fish terrestrials subsurface.
What’s a subsurface terrestrial? It’s a land bug that ended up in the water and drowned……so sad. Fly tiers have dabbled here and there with sunken hopper patterns, but let’s get real here – any fly with long rubber legs is going to resemble a terrestrial bug to a trout (hoppers, beetles, crickets, cicadas, ants, etc.).
On the White River fly fishermen have learned to borrow from the wonderful world of stonefly nymph imitations for long legged and fast sinking nymphs. We have few stoneflies in this watershed compared to the western trout rivers – most of our aquatic insect life is of the midge, caddis, mayfly varieties – but fish are not entomologists.
In other words, it’s not likely that the fish are examining your stonefly imitation and thinking, “nope, few stoneflies around these parts, I’m holding out for a drowned terrestrial.” The thought process is probably closer to something like…..”ooh long legs mmm yummy crunchy.” So fish some stonefly imitations and see for yourself.
The flow has been somewhere around the 12,000cfs mark at the least and up to 17,000cfs or even 20,000cfs in the evenings. Targeting the current seams and bank structure on the river margins is the key – that’s where the actively feeding fish, especially those willing to eat terrestrials, are holding. When making a fly selection think long rubber legs. Dries are still viable: Chubby Duo, Dancing Ricky, Evans Baby Foam, Wiley’s Ant. If fish won’t come up don’t beat yourself up though, switch to weighted stonefly imitations: Jig Stone, Jig Flexi Stone, Pat’s Rubberlegs. Even unweighted rubber leg nymphs are fine if you add split shot. To catch even more fish, add a second fly below the rubberlegs, such as a Dally’s Tailwater Jig, DW Whitetail midge #14, Devil Jig, Pheasant Tail nymph, or Hare’s Ear.
Minimum flow is there for the waders, but only until 10am or so. Go at dawn and you can get a nice half day of wading. Root Beer midges, DW Whitetail midges #18, Hunchback Scuds #16, and Trout Cracks are consistent producers. Just for fun, try floating a smaller terrestrial dry (#10-12 Fat Albert, Evan’s Baby Foam, Klinkhopper) through the riffles – you may be surprised with a quality fish. When the water comes up folks are still catching on Cheetos (ask at the shop, it’s a real fly), San Juan worms, eggs, and stonefly imitations.