By Richard Hines
A nice rainbow had just thrown my hook and was on his way back under a rock when my friend and fishing partner Matt Conner said, “It’s really the mouth, the older the fish, the softer the mouth and the smarter he is.”
Ok I didn’t need any advice; I knew this, and it was Matt’s way of letting me know the fish was smarter than I was.
Matt was always two jumps ahead of me on trout fishing, but his background was phenomenal. Matt cut his trout teeth, so to say on the classic limestone streams of Pennsylvania. While living there he thought he was a pretty good trout fisherman until he moved to Montana.
Matt said, “It was like completing a master’s degree in trout fishing.”
Where they are native and on their home turf so to say which makes them more difficult to catch.
When he moved back east some years later, he said, “All of a sudden trout fishing becomes easy because of what he learned about trout in Montana.”
That was several years ago, and I now know what Matt was talking about because it was not the last time I had caught a trout and it sure was not the last time a good one got away. During my time in Arkansas, Matt Conner and I fished several Arkansas streams but one of our favorites was the Little Red River.
Since I am in the process of planning a return trip later this fall, I immediately went to my main source of information, the Ozark Angler, this fly shop can provide guide services and a pile of free information at either the Little Rock or the Heber Springs shops.
If you are heading to Heber Springs, you will also find a good selection of lodging and eateries that are anxious to host trout anglers. The Chamber of Commerce is also proud to remind you that the largest brown taken from our river was a 40-pound 3 ounce and is the former world record.
When I called the Ozark Angler, Cole Baldwin answered the phone, and both confirmed what I remember about the Little Red as well as providing some updated information.
Baldwin said, “In my opinion the Olive Wooly Bugger is the best all-around fly for the Little Red.”
Cole also suggested sow bugs. After ten years, things haven’t changed much. Back then I was also using a sow bug and a pheasant tail both in the #14 to #20. I also used the Zebra Midge in #18 to #22. If you are using the Olive Wooly Bugger stick to a #8 or a #14.
I mentioned one to Baldwin that we always had good luck on the #16 Red Ass.
Cole confirmed saying “This is still a good one to have on hand.”
While the baits of choice are a must for old pros and new anglers alike, new anglers might keep a few techniques in mind when fishing the Little Red.
Matt opined, “There are three mistakes that a lot of people make when trout fishing; one is slack in the line.”
The line should be just tight enough that when you pick up the rod tip to the 12 o’clock position, you have set the hook. That’s all it will take! Those of us who grew up bass fishing know that it takes a good jerk to set the hook, but by the time you have yanked back, a trout is gone if in fact you even knew he was there!
Older fish just don’t pick up a food item and run like a largemouth. They are constantly sampling everything that passes by including small pebbles, insects, and occasionally just junk.
Trout are sight feeders and their feeding techniques include sampling large volumes of items in a short amount of time, sometimes within milliseconds, which is why they can spit out a # 22 scud in an instant and in doing so may not even have been aware that they had a hook pass by.
The second mistake is line drift, most people stand in the stream and work the fly and line continually without properly allowing the line to drift downstream and according to Conner until the line almost touches the bank.
The third mistake is failing to fully imitate the hatch or rise of the insect larvae to the surface. When most people “work” the fly, they do so in a jerking motion like moving a jig or a crankbait; not so with flies. You need to gradually lift the rod tip making the fly appear as though it has hatched on the bottom of the stream and it is attempting to swim to the surface. This is called imitating the hatch.
As you stand in the stream, watch for small invertebrates around you, take note of their movements. Imagine you are their size and attempting to swim to the surface of the stream. Trout observe this every day and anything out of the ordinary will send up a red flag. Take it slowly and quietly.
Matt Conner uses light rods with a 6-7X tippet on a weight forward floating line.
Conner reminded me, “Remember the rod and not the angler is made to set the hook.”
One of my favorite fishing dates for this river is the late fall and early winter so if you are planning a trip to Heber Springs and the Little Red River, check out the Ozark Angler website.
Baldwin also reminded anyone planning to fish the Little Red to check generation schedules at Greer’s Ferry Dam which affects daily flow patterns.
Additional information on the Little River can be found on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission site.
Like many rivers, the tactics remain the same, just fine tune your techniques for better trout on the Little Red River.