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Wind Is Your Friend
Thoughts and strategies regarding Ozark fly fishing in the “chop”
As a long-time guide in the Ozarks, it never ceases to amaze me how a little bit of wind can cause people to head for their cars. The White River, Lake Taneycomo and the Norfork Tailwater are sheltered in many areas, so it is possible to escape from the worst of conditions. Although winds can make casting more difficult, a light to moderate breeze can radically improve fishing during low-flow periods, and casting accuracy is not at a premium when fishing choppy water, anyway. Long, slow and deep pools are the predominant type of water on these rivers, so there are plenty of places to make the best of the wind bite. When the surface gets a little choppy in these areas, the fishing can turn on in a major way.
The significance of a good wind chop
There are three key reasons that wind chop changes the fishing dynamics so drastically on slow sections of the White, Norfork and Lake Taneycomo. When the water is flat and calm, trout have an easy time seeing what is going on around them, so they can become very spooky. Choppy water gives these same wary fish a huge boost in security, and their behavior will often change the very second that conditions shift. Big trout will come out of the woodwork to gorge during windy periods, and most fish will swim much further to feed than they would if the surface was slick. This is why it is a smart idea to observe how the wind is affecting the water – waiting for the wind makes more sense as waiting for a hatch on these tailwaters, especially when the bite is slow.
White River Basin trout that live in deep, calm pools become much more comfortable when there is some chop on the surface, and these fish are also drawn to the movement that a fly fished under an indicator exhibits during windy conditions. The subsurface up and down motion of a properly weighted scud or midge drifting in the wind is irresistible to almost all trout that inhabit slow-moving stretches of river. Dry fly fishing can also be excellent when there is a slight chop because the disturbance will hide the tippet, while making the fly dance.
Wind can also be helpful when fly fishing the slower-moving sections because it becomes much easier to get a perfect drift. A steady upstream wind will make for a uniform current on already slow water. During these conditions, it is not difficult to keep a fly near the bottom for an extended period of time – this is a huge advantage, considering the cruising nature of slow-water trout. A downstream wind can make fly fishing much more difficult in all types of water, but the trick to getting the most out of this pesky dilemma is to find the slowest and deepest water around and fish there patiently for large trout.
Identifying prime areas
Not all of the slow and deep pools on the White River, the Norfork Tailwater or Lake Taneycomo hold a lot of fish, and some of these sections are very difficult to wade. It is important to thoroughly scout a slow part of the river before devoting a lot of time to fishing there. Try and avoid spots where the bottom is light colored, as this is often a sign of loose gravel. Big fish will pull into this type of barren habitat at times, but for the most part, the more productive holes will have a dark and green bottom. This means there is plenty of moss, which, in turn, means that there is plenty of food in that area to hold large numbers of trout.
A good deepwater spot on an Ozark trout river will also have significant adjacent habitat. If there are big, flat rocks on the bottom, there will likely be plenty of fish near that structure. Sunken trees are also great for attracting and holding both numbers of trout and big trout. Some of the best slow holes are most effectively fished from an anchored boat, but there are also plenty of good places to wade this type of water. Look for trenches along the bank, and try and find spots where the water you are casting into is over two-feet deep. Rim Shoals, Roundhouse Shoals and Bull Shoals State Park are good places for slow water on the White. The first mile below Norfork Dam also has many very productive pools. Almost all of the water at Lake Taneycomo is relatively deep and slow during minimum-release periods, so the whole stretch comes alive in the wind.
Flies and techniques for fishing Ozark Chop
Fly fishing success on a White River Basin trout fishery directly correlates to angler adaptability. Learning to take advantage of what the wind chop offers is an effective way to increase fly fishing productivity exponentially. Once a fly fisherman finds a few decent looking areas, it’s time to start trying to locate the largest pods of fish. A simple rig is a rig that is less likely to get tangled, so I just place a strike-indicator one to three-feet above a weighted fly and get to work. It is important to have a clean drift, so depth should be decreased if the fly is hitting bottom – the primary goal is to dangle a natural fly right in the trout’s face for as long as possible. If the fishing is really ‘on’, it does not matter where one casts, but if the bite slows, try moving ten yards upstream or downstream and always vary your drifts until you find an active lie.
The trout on the White, Norfork and Taneycomo feed heavily on scuds, and they aggressively seek out these crustaceans in the slow, deep pools. Naturally, a lead-wired scud imitation fished on 5x tippet is a very good choice for this situation. The best sizes are #12 through #18 in dark olive and “dead” scud colors. Zebra Midges are also very productive, especially when the chop is light, or if the surface keeps changing from calm to turbulent. It is important to tie very natural and plain patterns due to the fact that the fish will get such a long look at the fly. Most any fly or technique will work better when some chop is on the water, so do not think that streamers or dry flies are out of the question. In sections where the water is exceptionally slow and relatively deep, a midge dropped from a scud can be deadly on really big fish, but for the most part, one fly will work as well as two on our rivers.
I have seen slow days pull a “180” when the wind added chop to the water, and many of my biggest fish have come on blustery afternoons during low water conditions. Ozark fly fishing can be ridiculously easy when the wind is right because of the way that the fish act, along with how the presentation benefits from the enhanced movement of a choppy surface. Because many anglers avoid the slow, deep pools, there is almost always plenty of room on these sections – it is strange that the most productive water on our rivers is also the least popular. Although it does take patience to get used to watching a bobbling indicator in slow water, anglers can expect a high number of bites if they time things properly. The sometimes non-stop action will make up for the deliberate nature of this type of fishing.
Move to a slow and deep pool the next time the chop comes up – windy conditions and slow water are a combination that can result in obscene numbers of Ozark trout. This is the bite that produces the most 100-fish days over the course of a year.