Fly fishing in the great Southern wilderness
Photo Essay by John Hoffman, Backwater Imagery
A balmy June morning gives way to a magnificent day along the beautiful White River in the Ozark foothills. Katydids hiss along the lush green bank and hungry trout break the water’s surface ever so delicately, leaving small circles as their only indicator. We ready the rod and tie on flies as the lazy current drags our craft along sparkling shoals just beneath. The hypnotic line whips back and forth, launching the tiny fly through the air before gracefully landing on the chop of a ripple. Undisturbed, the little solider awaits his calling.
First a tug, then the line comes tight. The fight is on. The trout dives into the current and with strong and swift intentions, working to release itself from the constraints of the line. The angler holds on, line screaming off the 4 weight Orvis reel like a fresh set of tires at a NASCAR victory burnout. A flash of green streaks through the waves and then, as if shot from a cannon, the agile fish bursts through the timid, green surface.
Brown trout can growto be big, toothy and powerful. This boldly spotted golden specimen struck the fly with vigor and totally destroyed the sculpin streamer that we were using. Most anglers target big brown trout at night when they are actively feeding or in the dreary cold winter months, but they can be caught year round with a lot of patience and a little luck.
Trout are smart, there is no denying it. If the fly is not presented properly and doesn’t look natural, you’re wasting time. There is a reason fly anglers are sometimes considered purists, and it’s because they have to be — the fish demand it. Rainbows, browns and of course the most selective of all, the brooke trout, will snub a poorly presented fly time and time again. You must be stealthy in your approach to this fish. One misstep or splash from a wading angler will send the school scurrying in all directions.
There are three main techniques for fly fishing. Some anglers who enjoy a good challenge will opt to match the hatch and cast delicate, dry flies to hungry trout who slam the surface when the bug has been presented properly. Usually, smaller 2-4 weight rods are the tool of choice.
Others with the “go big or go home” mentality like to drag large streamers through swift currents. These flies can resemble all kinds of creatures found in the river system, from bait fish to leeches. Think heavy tackle with 5-7 weight rods and line. Finally, there is the nymphing crew. This contingent aims to mimic newly hatched insects on the stream bed and are hastily making their way to the water’s reflective surface. Trout feed on this source of protein indefinitely. Go to 2-3 weight rods and try using a high stick technique.
When all these things come together, it is truly a special and beautiful moment. A hard strike, the rod tip doubles over. Angler and fish battle it out to see who the victor will be. Only after bringing one of these magnificent creatures to your hand and examining the unmatchable beauty can you comprehend the passion and admiration of a fly angler. From that point on, you’re just like the fish — hooked.