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"Mastering the Arkansas White River: Key Fly Patterns for a Successful Day of Fly Fishing"

Embark on a fly-fishing adventure along the scenic Arkansas White River armed with essential knowledge about proven patterns. In this guide, we’ll unveil a curated list of staple fly patterns that guarantee success on the White River. While there’s a plethora of effective patterns out there, we’ve narrowed it down to those that consistently deliver results, taking the guesswork out of your angling experience.

As you scroll through this guide, we’ll not only present these indispensable patterns but also provide valuable insights into the optimal times to use them. Understanding the seasonal nuances and knowing when to deploy these flies will enhance your chances of a rewarding catch. Get ready to elevate your fly-fishing game and make the most of your time on the Arkansas White River with these tried-and-true patterns.


Crafted by John Wilson, this fly was initially intended to mimic baby sowbugs in the White River and Norfork tailwaters. However, its versatility shines as it proves effective wherever sowbugs are found.

What sets this pattern apart is its remarkable success with finicky fish that exhibit a lack of enthusiasm for aggressive feeding.

Optimal fishing for this fly involves seeking out “small” water areas with minimal current. Delicate casting is crucial when targeting sizable, wary fish. As this fly gains popularity, it is anticipated to become a staple in most fly boxes.

Ensure you include this pattern in your repertoire for tailwater fishing ventures.

An alternate version of this fly incorporates a black, “D” rib and a “hare ear” antron body, superbly mimicking midges. Given its lack of weight, navigating fast riffles while nymph fishing can be challenging. For optimal results, trail it behind weighted patterns or position it below a split shot in moving water.

The outlined patterns below are trusted by White River fly fishing guides for their guide trips, proving their ability to consistently attract fish day in and day out.

Trout Crack - Natural

The inception of this pattern traces back to the introduction of Hareline’s diamond braid, a material that gained popularity for crafting larger or intricate flies. In the context of the White River, Davy Wotton is often credited for the creation of the “dynamite worm,” a simplified version of the San Juan worm distinguished by the addition of an oversized hot spot bead.

The charm of this pattern maintains an air of mystery, possibly due to its enticing sparkle. Recognized as an attractor pattern, its effectiveness may be heightened by its widespread adoption. Fish tend to strike at what they perceive as part of the food chain, and the consistent presence of this fly in the water likely adds to its allure.

While trout exhibit inherent curiosity, the puzzle of why substantial browns consistently fall for this pattern remains. For those gearing up to fish the White River in high water, including this fly in your tackle box becomes crucial. To unlock the secrets behind its success, delving into insights from Davy Wotton might hold the key.

I can’t say enough about this pattern. It was originated by Fox Statler, a.k.a. Mr. Sowbug. He came up with this fly way back when he was figuring out scud patterns versus sowbug imitations.

Trout often confuse scuds and sowbugs due to their similar gray coloration, residence on riverbeds, and vulnerability to swift currents.

While trout exhibit a preference for scuds over sowbugs due to their higher protein content, both serve as valuable food sources, contributing to the vibrant colors of trout. When utilizing this pattern, the most favorable results are often obtained near Bull Shoals Dam in 3-4 units of water. For tying Arkansas White River patterns, a size 10 or 12 is recommended, steering away from smaller sizes.

To ensure effective fishing, it is crucial to weight the flies and employ a split shot, ensuring they stay close to the river bottom.

Sowbugs, being non-swimmers, easily become prey when dislodged from rocks. This characteristic makes this fly particularly lethal on the White River. Despite the prevalent gray color of these insects, the Fox’s color scheme is surprisingly favored by trout. A quick Google search will reveal that Fox Statler’s scud is tied with the same colors, reinforcing the effectiveness of this color scheme.

fox statler sowbug original
swiss straw scud grey

This scud pattern stands out as the most natural-looking representation beneath the water, exuding realism in its simplicity. While it may seem basic to tie, closely observing scuds reveals a striking resemblance to this fly. The strategic use of Swiss straw, spaced wraps for segmentation, and the touch dubbing technique contribute to its effectiveness. In my opinion, it’s the simplicity of these details that elevates a pattern to greatness.

The touch dubbing technique, enhanced by the occasional use of dubbing wax, imparts a buggy appearance to the fly. If you haven’t explored this technique, it’s worth a try, as it adds a realistic touch to your ties.

Although particularly effective on the White River and Norfork, I find this fly excels in low-water conditions.

During my early days in fly fishing on Taneycomo, I initially stuck to unweighted scuds like many anglers. Soon, I realized the importance of adding beads, especially in swifter currents. Despite momentarily neglecting this pattern to explore others, I’ve come to appreciate its effectiveness – a common experience among anglers who sometimes overlook what once worked well.

Regrettably, abandoning this pattern is one of my fishing decisions I wish I hadn’t made. Lately, I’ve rediscovered success with this scud on the White and Norfork rivers, inspired by Clint’s achievements during the caddis hatch. The key lies in the dubbing, where natural rabbit seems to be the preferred choice among fish for dubbed beadhead flies.

Attempts at color variations for Arkansas White River patterns proved less effective, highlighting the fly’s versatility across various waters. For low water conditions, go for sizes 16 or 18, while a size 12 with a 7/64 tungsten bead excels in moderate water flows, especially in the one-to-three-unit range when fish are active during the caddis hatch on the White River in May. Originally known as the “scud” before being named the Sunday Special, this pattern serves as an excellent search pattern and can be effective all year round.

Dale Fulton, the innovator behind the Arkansas beadhead and former owner of Blue Ribbon Fly Shop, is renowned for his unique tying and fishing techniques. His preference for visually observing takes has become my favored approach to fishing.

Originally crafted to imitate shad patterns during the shad kill, this fly proves versatile enough for stripping as well. While it excels in a dead drift, it serves remarkably as a searching pattern. Its visibility on the riverbed enables close monitoring of takes, providing a crucial advantage in detecting strikes from larger fish.

In Dale’s words, “It’s just as much fun to watch them versus hooking them.” Available in black and gray, this adaptable pattern has proven attractive to various fish species. It works effectively as a dropper behind a wiggle minnow about five feet below, mimicking two shads close together. This setup allows for potentially catching two fish simultaneously—one on top and one sinking—creating an undulation effect upon retrieval that triggers strikes.

An essential addition to your fly collection, the zebra midge boasts various tying styles. Any pattern featuring a beaded design with ribbed segmentations over a thread body falls under the category of a “zebra midge.” Elevating its effectiveness is as simple as enhancing the thorax with dubbing or peacock herl.

Our preferred tying method incorporates both dubbing and peacock herl behind the bead, aligning with common fly tying practices. Some variations may include flashabou or z-lon for a shuck, offering flexibility in design.

Choosing the right bead color and shade is crucial, and when tying these patterns, tungsten is often my preferred choice. A valuable tip is to experiment with UV dubbing for the thorax, requiring only a small amount. This addition enhances visibility, especially on sunny days, maximizing the effectiveness of the flash and bead combination. Key zebra midge patterns include red and nickel, as well as copper beads, and the black zebra midge with copper beads. Personally, I find that trout prefer copper and nickel over gold, but black nickel is also my favorite bead when tying Rusty or Olive Dun midges.

tungsten zebra midge black & nickel
tom nixon 56er

While the complete origins of this fly remain unknown to me, I can affirm that it was initially crafted for warm-water applications before finding success among trout anglers.

This pattern has gained considerable popularity and has been a go-to choice at Rim Shoals on the White River for quite some time. I had the opportunity to meet Jerry Nixon, a resident at Rim, who dedicatedly employed this pattern as his sole choice of fly. As per my understanding, this fly adeptly imitates baby crayfish.

The prevalence of crawdads from Cotter downstream adds to the effectiveness of this pattern. My introduction to this fly occurred during my dad’s time living at Rim, and I’ve since tested it on various tailwaters with positive results, although its performance is notably outstanding on the White. If you plan on swinging wooly bugger patterns, be sure to have one of these in your arsenal.

Two go-to midges, the “guide choice” patterns, are indispensable on nearly every fishing trip, especially when midges are active or the day is challenging. If the Rootbeer midge or Ruby Midge fails to entice trout, it might be time to consider an evening of television. While alternative approaches can be attempted on slow days, if these particular midges don’t trigger bites, the trout simply aren’t feeding.

On low water days, these two flies can turn the tide, resulting in a numbers game with numerous trout to the net. The Ruby Midge is the preferred pattern for the White River, while the Rootbeer Midge reigns supreme on the Norfork. Trust me on this— the Rootbeer midge is, in my opinion, the ultimate midge and proves effective wherever midges are present. Most rivers harbor midges, but tailwaters are prime locations for midge fishing.

Root Beer Midge - Norfork
swiss straw scud dead scud

Not all “hatches” along the Norfork and White River involve insects. Following a cold winter, shad passing through the dams trigger a feeding frenzy. During high water, worms are swept into the rivers in abundance, becoming a preferred meal for trout. One of the most underestimated “hatches” is that of the dead scud. The Norfork, and to some extent, the White, teem with freshwater shrimp (scuds), and certain weather and water conditions lead to their demise.

Summer marks the time for dead scuds on the Norfork, and Arkansas White River patterns prove effective during rising water levels. However, these flies often pale in comparison to dark olive scuds unless dead scuds are present, making it crucial to observe clues.

If trout are energetically striking at the surface with minimal bug activity, they likely target dead scuds. Keep an eye out for these in the water or along the moist banks.

For every Ozark fly fisher tying Arkansas White River patterns, having dead scud flies in the tackle box is essential.

When it comes to crafting patterns for the Arkansas White River using the San Juan worm, the color cerise might not be your initial choice.

After experimenting with this color on my local water, Taneycomo, and experiencing limited success, I discovered that the effectiveness of this pattern is highly dependent on location.

While Taneycomo served as my primary testing ground, the cerise-colored San Juan worm proves effective on Norfork tailwater systems, while fl. pink is the go-to color for the White River. After any rain, it’s essential to fish the worm color brown.

The predominant colors for this pattern include red and various shades of brown. Through my angling experience, I’ve recognized the importance of having a diverse range of colors in your fly box.

There are multiple techniques for attaching chenille to the San Juan worm, and you’ll find various methods in my step-by-step guide. For the straight shank hook, I prefer segmented wraps, while on the long curved shank, I opt for tightly spaced thread wraps, advancing the thread up and repeating the process.

My most successful day using this color was on the Norfork. It’s crucial to have this pattern in both micro and standard sizes for optimal results.

Sparkle Dun Sulphur - Mustard Yellow

As we delve into understanding a relatively recent hatch phenomenon on the White River over the past four years, unraveling the preferred dry fly patterns for these trout is a continual process. Among our discoveries, this particular pattern stands out as the most successful. The elusive mustard yellow dubbing, crucial for color and size, adds to the challenge of creating this fly. Another key feature is the taller wing, enhancing visibility during low light conditions as darkness descends. Interestingly, trout show a preference for bleached wings over the natural brown shade in elk hair. Additionally, we employ the same body design, but with CDC.

This year, our exploration extends to a newly tied nymph, and we anticipate it becoming the go-to staple when fishing near the riverbed.

The Ruby midge is truly an exceptional pattern! This design specifically calls for medium-sized holographic tinsel, creating an irresistible allure. For the rib, we utilize black wire in BR size, and the bead choice—whether nickel or copper—depends on the trout’s inclination that day. Regardless, it’s a must-have and a go-to staple as a guide’s choice pattern when fishing on the White River.

Similar to the Root beer midge, I’m confident that this fly will prove effective in various locations when targeting midge patterns. On bright, sunny days, it’s particularly challenging to outperform this fly. For added success, try trailing it below nymphs or egg patterns to increase hook-ups when fishing on the riverbed or during specific hatches, like the caddis hatch. Sometimes, introducing a different bug like the midge can entice fish that may be tired of the same offerings, providing a welcomed change to their diet.

Lately, we’ve introduced a creative twist to this pattern by incorporating CDC in both copper and nickel, inspired by the popular Duracells nymphs, available in both brown and purple. This innovative approach has truly transformed the game, offering a unique spin on the classic midge pattern.

Ruby Midge - White River
Mega Worm - White 64th

Frequently confused with mop flies, mega worms employ distinct materials and tying methods. Beyond these differences, they are also fished in unique ways—a topic for another discussion. Unlike mop flies, mega worms exhibit unparalleled effectiveness, showcasing two entirely different presentations. Without experiencing the mega worm style of fishing, it’s challenging to appreciate the fly’s potency for enticing sizable fish.

Mop flies are crafted from material sourced from hand mops, designed for car washing. This material lacks water absorbency, unlike the Bernet blanket material used for mega worms, which is softer and soaks up water. Another notable difference lies in their tying techniques – mop flies are tied on hooks with beads slipped over, while mega worms are tied on jig heads, influencing their riding and sinking behaviors. Both approaches yield results, but it’s crucial not to overlook or dismiss the mega worm. Despite any purist skepticism, this fly, especially in pink, white, and chartreuse, proves exceptionally effective for landing substantial fish.

Meet the reliable “Trust Rusty” midge, my third go-to midge, alongside its sibling, the Olive Dun midge. Sporting a black nickel bead, which I find superior to a dull black finish due to its mirror-like appearance, this feature proves crucial in how fish perceive the pupa with a larger-than-body profile. A staple pattern in Missouri for as long as I can recall, “Trust Rusty” has consistently delivered when the fish are on a midge feast.

This midge also comes in a variant tied with 70 Danville brown thread, featuring black wire and a copper bead. The Rusty midge, tied with 6/0 rusty brown thread, rounds out the styles. Both versions have proven highly effective in Arkansas, demonstrating their timeless success from Missouri to this region. Surprisingly, this pattern remains somewhat undiscovered in these parts, making it a hidden gem for those in the know.

Trusty Rusty Midge - Taneycomo