Fisherman, "Whitlock's Sheep Minnow Series"
American Sportsman, "The Value of a Fly," Vol.
1, Issue 2
American Sportsman, "Fly Tying, the Other Half of Fly
Fishing," Vol. 1, Issue 2
Airlines Spirit, "Ozark Anglers - Fly Fishing Neophytes
Journey to Arkansas for Lessons in How to Execute a Tight
Loop and a Soft Delivery and, Oh Yes, Catch Fish"
First Steps to Fly Fishing"
is Fly Fishing?"
Out There to Fly Fish?"
Sheep Minnow Series
by Dave Whitlock
for Fly Fisherman Magazine - February 2000
fishing success for me has often come by way of learning from
my mistakes, from the time I was nine until now, 56 years
later! The Sheep Minnow fly series, probably the most productive
baitfish I've designed, is one of the most recent examples
of this fact.
of this fly began about 10 years ago when I was first attempting
to catch large, landlocked, striped bass near my Norfork,
Arkansas home. I had just spent 10 springs and summers working
for L.L. Bean in Maine, where I'd fallen in love with catching
the stripers that ran up the Kennebec River from the Atlantic
Ocean, feeding on schools of alewife, menhaden, smelt, pogies
and other minnows. It was a wonderful experience using poppers,
Lefty's Deceivers, Clouser Minnows and a huge bucktail streamer
that I'd tied to imitate menhaden, with excellent results.
I rigged my flytackle to go after the stripers in Arkansas's
Norfork Lake, I had no doubt that I'd be into fish immediately
because I had the flies and system down perfectly! Was I ever
in store for some new lessons!
me set the stage. Norfork Lake is a large, deep, clear, freshwater
reservoir which was created when the the North Fork of the
White River was dammed. The river twists it way down through
steep, Ozark mountains for about 25 miles. Stripers are stocked
in the reservoir annually and they do very well all year long
feeding mostly on huge schools of threadfin and gizzard shad.
From about mid-October when the water surface cools down to
about 65° and the lake 'turns over', until it warms back
up to above 65° in the late spring, stripers usually feed
on shad at or near the surface, just like I'd seen them do
in Maine on other bait fish. The Norfork fish are usually
near the surface off long points or in the back of coves from
first light until 9 or 10 a.m., then again from about sundown
until dark. They show themselves as singles, small pods and
schools of 100 or more.
began trying to catch them early in November, I had no problem
finding fish, lots and lots of them, but amazingly by the
3rd or 4th morning, I'd yet to get one strike. Days turned
into weeks and still no fish. I tried all the streamers and
poppers that were recommended in my magazines, books, and
videos as well as those I'd had so much success with in Maine,
but I was getting skunked -shut out- bypassed by hundreds
of feeding stripers every morning that I was on the water.
I used floating, sinking-tip, slow and fast-sinking lines:
I even trolling. Nothing!
every morning when I launched my 16-foot aluminum bass boat,
a bait-and-lure guide was also putting his boat in the water.
We'd speak, and then go our separate fishing ways. Usually
at about 10 A.M. we were both loading up, and he'd say, "Hey
fly fisherman, how'd you do?" Then he'd show me the huge
stripers had in his livewell. Boy did they make my mouth water!
morning, he came over to my boat and introduced himself. "My
name's John Crews and I don't know anything about flyfishing,
but I do know how to catch Stripers," he said. "If
you'd like, meet me here tomorrow morning at 6:00 A..M. and
I'll show you what I do to catch these guys and maybe it'll
help you catch one of them on your flypoles and feathers!"
the beginning of a special friendship that changed the striper
fishing experience for both of us. It was the first step in
the development of the Sheep 'Shad' Minnow. John looked at
my flies and said they were "all wrong." They were
either too big, or too skinny, or tail heavy, or sank too
fast, had too much hook showing, or had some other flaw. "They
don't look or act like shad," he said. Then he gave me
some lessons on approaching our stripers. "You've gotta
shut your motor off, come in quiet, don't chase them, let
them come to you, get your feathers in front of the school
and don't move 'em but just a tad!"
even John's methods didn't produce for me on that first morning,
because my flies were not what the stripers wanted to eat.
No strikes --- a couple of follows, but no fish! So that evening,
I took home a half-dozen live, 1½ to 2-inch-long threadfin
shad and put them in my aquarium. I watched with amazement
how different they looked, compared to the flies I'd been
and tried, tied and tried some more, for almost week. Then
one morning, about 30 minutes before time to head in, I saw
a lone striper rolling on the glassy surface up in back of
a cove. I carefully maneuvered my boat to the cove's opening
and waited quietly, another new fly in hand, for the monster
to pass my position. Then, it was suddenly there, rolling
on the surface, inhaling shad! The 70-foot cast landed 20
feet in front of its last swirl. I waited 5, 10, 15 seconds,
then began the painfully slow twitch-and- pause animation
of a disabled shad minnow. Then, as if it had just materialized,
a huge silver, ghostly form appeared behind the fly, opened
its white mouth and sucked my little shad streamer out of
sight! I struck with a whirlpool-like, 10 foot wide swirl
on the surface, and vanished! Then my shooting-line vanished,
followed by the beginning of my backing. The reel I was using
had about 240 yards of 20-pound-test backing on it, so I was
not concerned about holding this big fish --- until I noticed
two things: the reel handle had suddenly stopped turning and
then the backing got very tight. Then a huge fish broke the
surface at what looked like an eighth of a mile down the lake!
It was the striper I'd hooked and all my backing was gone!
replaced elation and I threw the electric motor into fast
forward. I was winding like mad and praying that everything
--- backing knots, leader knots and barbless hook --- would
stay connected to my first Norfork striper! I wanted this
fish so badly. A lifetime later (maybe 15-20 minutes) I had
the big fish on its side next to my boat and it was even larger
then I had estimated. I was tempted to reach over to land
it, but was worried that it might jerk me overboard. Swimming
alone in the middle of Lake Norfork Lake in January is no
fun! So I led it to the nearest shoreline and beached it safely.
first Arkansas striper was easily 10 pounds larger than the
16-pounder I'd landed in Maine! What a fish, and what a beginning
for the first generation of my Sheep Minnow Series.
after that I've fine-tuned this design so that it has become
one of the best minnow imitations I've ever used to catch
stripers, trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, spotted bass,
walleye, catfish, white bass, snook, tarpon, bonito, tuna,
redfish, sea trout (spotted weakfish) and landlock salmon.
I do several
things to accomplish this versatile effectiveness and wide
appeal. First, I tie each Sheep Minnow pattern with a unique
combination of materials that can imitate the shape, look
and movement of practically all minnows and baitfish species,
including shad, alewife, shiners, dace, smelt, sunfish, perch,
darters, chubs, sticklebacks and trout. I simply try to adapt
my design to each minnow's color pattern and body shape.
I tie the patterns in three densities: floating/waking/diving,
slow/sinking/swimming, and fast-sinking/bottom-jigging.
I tie each specific imitation in two or three lengths to match
the range of natural sizes. For instance, threadfin shad size
range is from about 1inch to 3 ½ inches long, so I
tie it on #8, #4, & #2 hooks.
forget one morning on Norfork Lake when stripers were all
around me for two hours. I was using a 3½-inch-long
#2 Sheep Shad pattern. I got swirls or follows on almost every
cast, but no hookup! Then I noticed several small, crippled
threadfins on the surface. I put on a #8, 1 ¼-inch
Sheep Shad and over the next two hours hooked six stripers
that averaged 15 lbs.
to John Crews. I'm so thankful for John's help and encouragement
that I reciprocated by I teaching him how to fly fish and
tie flies, and then rigged him with a couple of striper flyfishing
outfits. John, already an excellent lure caster with limitless
enthusiasm, learned to flycast quickly. He used his knowledge
of Norfork Lake striper fishing to put us on school after
school of stripers the next four seasons. John has keen eyes
and can locate risers that I would never have seen. Eventually
he fell so completely in love with flyfishing for these magnificent
fish that he began using flyrods almost exclusively. Then
he stopped keeping his limit and began releasing most of the
stripers that he or his clients caught.
the Norfork striper are nearly nonexistent, I'm sad to say.
The lake once held thousands of them and they averaged 18
pounds. Over fishing (the legal limit was 6 per day until
recently) plus severe oxygen shortages due to excessive chicken
and turkey fertilizer use on watershed farmlands has contributed
to the striper's decline. They are now often very hard to
find on winter mornings.
the stripers had a wonderful selectivity, they challenged
me to develop a fly that has given me many great flyfishing
experiences. I continue to use the Sheep Minnow on other waters
that hold stripers to imitate the baitfish they eat.
Predator fish that eat minnows prefer that the minnow be easy
to locate, intercept, surprise and capture. The most attractive
prey are those that are disabled, distracted by feeding or
mating, feeble swimmers, tightly grouped in large numbers
(schools), or cornered away from cover. Keep all these factors
in mind when you fish a Sheep Minnow at the surface, below
the surface or near and on the bottom.
Sheep Minnows that imitate the natural minnows in an area.
Live shad, shiner, dace darter and other small fish each have
a particular behavior pattern. You can obtain more information
about minnow shapes and habit in books such as my Guide
to Aquatic Trout Foods (The Lyons Press, 1982).
Sheep - This floating fly will imitate minnows
that are either crippled, sick, fleeing or feeding at the
surface. At this position, I use either a floating line or
a 4- to 5-foot-long sinking-tip line to fish it at rest, struggling,
V-wake swimming, fleeing or with a dive-swim-surface action.
fish it effectively on a 2- to 4-foot leader and a full uniform-sink
line. I use a slow, erratic retrieve and a pause/swim action
close to the bottom. Because the minnow is buoyant, it will
not snag bottom structure, even with slow retrieves or long
pauses. The heaviest largemouth bass I've taken, a 12 3/4
lbs. monster, inhaled the fly on this set-up.
Sheep - This moderate-speed sinking minnow imitates
baitfish that are swimming, crippled or dying. I try to balance
each fly so that it swims and sinks like a real injured minnow.
Such small fish neither sink head- or tail-first, but sort
of wobble or flutter on their sides downward. I test-swim
each minnow I tie in an aquarium near my tying desk because
no two flies are tied exactly the same and some need to be
fine-tuned to achieve this balance. Try to test yours at home
before you actually fish it.
floating, intermediate, sinking-tip and full uniform-sink
lines. With the floating and intermediate (slow sinking) lines,
it is important to know how many inches per second the fly
sinks. I prefer about three to six inches per second, the
rate which most crippled or dying minnows sink. Often I imitate
school minnows, such as shad, alewife, or smelt, that have
been attacked and are dropping out of the school, only to
fall to larger predators waiting below.
use Swimming Sheep Minnows in slow, still or clear water,
the Scientific Angler's Clear Lake Line is outstanding for
the slow, erratic, stop-and-start level swimming I need. The
line (and others like it) is transparent in water and it doesn't
frighten fish swimming beside or under it, like opaque lines
might. It's almost like a 90 foot long leader.
want the Swimmer Minnow to sink deeper quickly, I don't increase
the fly's weight, because that often limits its effectiveness.
Instead I use a faster-sinking fly line and a 4- to 6-foot
Umpqua leader made for sinking-line.
Sheep Minnow - This fly nose-dives at a sink rate of about
10 to 15 inches per second and is designed to swim to the
bottom and then back up a bit. Darters, sculpins and suckers
have this near-the-bottom action, but this fishing technique
also works with shad and smelt patterns. I've used it to take
bottom-hugging, freestone-stream and tailwater species such
as trout, walleye, smallmouth bass, white bass, Catfish and
waters, I prefer to fish the Deep Sheep Minnows with a floating
line and a 9- to 16-foot leader. In most of the places I fish
them, this combination allows the diving fly to reach the
desired depth, yet gives me control over its action, position,
and sensitivity while also avoiding most hang-ups on the bottom.
I usually cast the fly up- and-across the current, let it
sink to the bottom, then mend to slow the drag and let the
fly swim past and below my position.
stillwaters with the Deep Sheep Minnow and a sinking line,
I cast to the target area and let the fly sink. Then, using
straight-line technique, I animate the fly along the bottom.
Usually the slower and more erratic the fly swims or hops,
the more productive it is.
and Deep Sheep Minnows, in alewife, shad and smelt patterns
are effective below dams that are releasing large amounts
of water through flood gates or turbines. In these areas,
school minnows are stunned or injured as they pass through
the dam, and they are eaten by stripers, trout, landlocked
salmon, and other gamefish. I usually dead-drift the fly downstream
with the current as if was rendered helpless by the water
and saltwater gamefish feed on a bewildering variety of live
foods, but they all feed on small fish. If you use a minnow
fly that is lifelike enough to imitate these baitfish, you'll
have consistently good catches. My Sheep Minnow Series can
put more and larger fish on the end of your fly line.
in the Name?
I named these Sheep Minnows not so much to imply that they
were meek, helpless lambs ready for slaughtering by the water
wolves, but because of the unique Icelandic Sheep Hair I use
in their bodies. It looks and moves like a hybrid of polar
bear hair and marabou and nylon hair. It's simply the best
natural hair I've found for tying hair minnow. Tom Schmuecker,
owner of Wapsi Fly Company, introduced me to it.
it because it has never been sheared and has all the practical
lengths in it from 1 to 8 inches. It is strong, fine, straight
with little crinkles, and it has nice tips. It is flexible,
feather-light hair that shines under the water like nylon
or polar bear hair. It's also easy to use. It comes in an
almost iridescent natural white that dyes well. Tom dyes it
in a wide range of natural and fluorescent colors. Fish are
really attracted to it!
Sheep Minnow Series: Three Minnows
patterns I've designed work well at different depths, because
they have different densities. Here's how they work.
Sheep. This surface fly has a buoyant, deer-hair head
that is realistically shaped and causes the fly to make a
wake at the surface, zigzag, dive and leave a chain of bubbles,
then swim and return to the surface. It's just like crippled
or feeding minnows that rest, struggle to swim, and then rest
down-riding hook and snag guard are more effective for hooking
surface strikes than the up-riding hooks used in the
sub-surface Swimming Sheep and Deep Sheep patterns.
It's one of my favorite surface fly designs for bass, pickerel,
snook, tarpon and large sunfish.
Sheep. This is the original Sheep Minnow design. It was
designed to cast easily, splash down like a small live minnow,
and then slowly flutter and sink or swim like a disabled minnow.
The action is fantastic and the profile realistic, especially
when it's in the water. It's tied with an 'invisible' in-the-body'
long-shank, bend-back style hook that's almost 100 percent
snag-proof, while at the same time hooking fish well.
Sheep. The lead barbell eyes on this design make it dive
directly to deep water, right down to the bottom where a lot
of big fish feed, especially in clear or heavily-fished waters
and during daylight hours. Its hidden, in-the-body, up-riding
hook seldom snags as it hops and skips over rocks, vegetation,
and sunken trees or roots. The hopping and jigging action
you get when it's fished with a floating or intermediate (slow-sinking)
fly line is one of the most consistently effective actions
to trigger the appetites and territorial instincts of many
To attach Sheep Minnows to my leader, I use the Duncan Loop
(Uni-knot) and leave the loop slightly open because it allows
the minnow to move more naturally in the water.
Sheep Hair is available from Wapsi, Umpqua Feather Merchant,
or Hareline fly-tying material dealers.
Sheep Minnow Series tied to Dave's specifications are available
from most flyshops that are Umpqua Feather Merchants dealers.
For shops in your area call 1-800-322-3218.
Sheep Minnow tying instructions are available on video
tape. Just go to Our Fly Fishing Store
to order an autographed copy.
Value of a Fly
North American Sportsman
Vol. 1, Issue 2
By Emily Whitlock
remember the fishing experience that led to my first fly-tying
lesson. Dave had just begun to teach me to fly fish. I had
mastered the Duncan loop, I knew about tippets and backing
and I could cast 40 feet with some accuracy. I was feeling
pretty good about things, and so was Dave. He invited me to
one of his favorite trout streams, a tiny spring-fed creek
which made its way through the limestone crevices of the Ozarks
of southern Missouri. Dave said the fish were so big they
hardly had room to turn around in the narrow stream. I was
forget my first view of those big rainbows cruising from hole
to hole, accelerating through the crystal shallows to the
safety of the darker water. The images were coming off and
glowing in the shafts of sunlight. I was beginning to understand
some of the intangible benefits of fly fishing. I couldn't
wait to get a fly on the water, and then I saw them rising
up and around the stream, a beginner's nightmare...TREES!
Their branches were everywhere my backcast wanted to be.
To make things even harder, the trout were taking only the
smallest of the flies we had with us, 16-20 dryflies and nymphs.
My finesse when setting the hook was non-existent, much like
my very fine 7X tippet seemed to be. So I spent the day mostly
losing flies in front of me to the hungry trout and behind
me to the even hungrier foliage. I could see that my ever-patient
Dave was beginning to grit his teeth as I added to the property
value of the area by decorating it with Dave Whitlock originals.
In fact he mentioned, more than once, that he ought to be
catching all of this on film. At least then he'd have shots
for a slide program that he could call "Getting Started
Fly Fishing - Before and After." Obviously, I was prime
material for the first half of the presentation.
evening, after the long drive back through the twilight, Dave
took off his vest and looked into his fly box. It was almost
empty, and I was the only one fishing that day! He said, "That's
it. Come here and sit down." I figured he was going to
tell me that at least we could still jog and bird watch together,
since the fly fishing hadn't worked out.
he sat me down at his fly tying desk where I began to work
with bits of fur, tiny feathers, spools of thread and Dave's
patient instructions. Eventually several of the flies that
I had left hung on branches, logs, rocks, and fish began to
appear in front of me in the vise.
was barely dry on my last fly when Dave asked me to go fishing
again. This time it was different. I noticed that after putting
in the time and effort to tie my own flies, I had more respect
for the value of each one. I was more careful with my backcast
and more patient with my hook sets. I spent more time fishing
and less time quarreling with the trees and re-rigging my
tackle. My flies stayed on my line and I caught more fish!
when I started to understand why Dave was so intent on teaching
me both sides of this wonderful sport. What a rush to catch
a wild fish on a fly you've tied yourself, to reel that gleaming
jewel in, to be able to touch it, admire its beauty up close,
thank it for the thrill and then set it free.
ties more of our flies because he's so good at it. But I keep
learning and enjoying what he calls "the other half of
Tying, The Other Half of Fly Fishing
North American Sportsman
Vol. 1, Issue 2
by Dave & Emily Whitlock
could offer you a way to at least double your time, pleasure
and potential catches fly fishing, would you be interested?
Okay... here's how. Learn to tie your own flies! Wait a minute,
no excuses. You aren't too busy, too nervous or too clumsy.
We've yet to see a person who fly fishes who cannot become
skilled as a fly tyer. If you can tie your shoe strings or
sign your name, you have the right equipment. If you read,
ride public transportation, watch TV, or fly fish, you have
time. You can tie flies to relax and entertain yourself on
planes and in airline terminals, in motels and lodges and
even at times on the banks of a river. If you want to ...there's
is very relaxing, engrossing and extremely practical. But
the best thing is that you can catch fish on a fly that you've
made yourself. Be it the first one you tie or that special
one you create that is like no other ever tied or a copy of
a classic design, using your own flies can really add to the
satisfaction of fly fishing.
Fly tying also frees you from the dependence on others for
your flies, especially if you live in a part of the country
with no access to a well-stocked fly shop. Another important
advantage is being able to quickly tie flies that match a
hatch of insects or other food form that the fish are really
keying in on that you come across when you are out on the
stream. There is usually a short window for this activity
and there is also often not the exact imitation in your flybox.
You want to be able to quickly tie an artificial for that
particular natural food, either on the stream (which is sometimes
difficult if it's cold or windy) or back at your vehicle or
lodging, because time is of the essence. This can add a fascinating
challenge to your fly fishing. And what a sweet victory when
it all comes together and you have a beautiful, wild fish
dancing at the end of your line...attracted there by your
flies can make great gifts! Not just given as flies for fishing,
but also framed in shadow boxes or mounted for use as broaches
and earrings and other jewelry forms. The possibilities are
many and you'll be appreciated for your efforts.
get so enthralled with fly tying that they make a business
out of it, selling flies to fly shops, distributors and guides
and fishermen. This is an especially good way for young people
to build part-time income while they are in school.
you purchase a tying kit, we'd advise you to seek instructions
and materials from your local fly-fishing pro shops, tying
friends or area fly-fishing clubs. If these "live-and-in-person"
teaching aids aren't handy, then purchase one or more good
beginner level fly-tying videos and books; some are even available
at your local library.
so convinced that every fly fisher should tie at least a few
of their own flies that we teach a short course in fly tying
during all our three-day fly-fishing schools here in Arkansas.
In just a couple of hours our students learn enough to tie
several flies, and then most of them catch fish on their own
flies before the school is over. Daylong fly-tying classes
are also available at our school for those who want to get
serious about their tying.
When it comes down to it, many fly fishers spend as much or
more time each year tying flies and talking about tying than
they do getting out fly fishing them! It makes some of the
time during the long, closed-season winters and on road trips
from home more enjoyable and you keep yourself connected with
this incredible sport. Then your precious hours on the water
can be even more fun.
Ozark Anglers - Fly fishing neophytes journey to Arkansas
for lessons in how to execute a tight loop and a soft delivery
and, oh yes, catch fish.
By Lawrence Wells
a female black Labrador, sallies up the driveway to meet me
as I park the car at Dave and Emily Whitlocks' country house
in the Ozark Mountains in north-central Arkansas. I have come
to attend their three day fly-fishing school, modeled on the
one Dave Whitlock started for L.L. Bean in the mid-'70s.
cool of the morning, I walk around the house to look at the
pond ringed by flycasting platforms. There are practice casting
rings anchored twenty-five or thirty feet from shore, and
for a second I imagine myself struggling to cast into the
wind. I am a backsliding fly fisher, having learned the basics
of fly casting some years ago, but then having regressed to
spinning reel. This is my chance for redemption.
instructors, Dave and Emily, tanned and fit in shorts and
cotton shirts, greet their students. They started the school
together after they were married eight years ago and still
look and act like newlyweds.
of the classroom are adorned with Dave's illustrations, along
with fish charts for trout, salmon, and bass; hook clamps
for tying flies; a library of books on fly fishing; photos
of trophy trout he and Emily have caught. Dave is the author
and illustrator of the best-selling L.L. Bean Fly fishing
Handbook, which has sold 380,000 copies.
of ten hail from California, Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, New
York City, Chicago, and New Jersey, ranging in age from thirteen
to sixty. James, the youngest, is a high-school student who
wants to be a fly fishing guide when he grows up. His mother
drove him 500 miles to attend class.
out that Robert Redford's movie A River Runs Through It got
several of the students interested in fly fishing. Emily confirms
that the film was a watershed event, giving the sport a major
surface, making rings in the conversation. "A carp snapped
the line ... steelhead wore me out ... did a lot of saltwater
fishing when I was young ... ever catch a cutthroat?"
None of us, however, are here because we want to put trout
in the freezer. True fly fishing is a catch-and-release affair,
and we have come to Arkansas to learn this challenging sport
and to get closer to nature.
purpose of this course," Dave begins, "is to teach
you to teach yourself." It doesn't take long to realize
we are in the presence of two master fly fishers. Dave is
wiry and athletic, with a shock of snow-white hair. A mix
of English, Czech, and Cherokee, he was a research chemist
who left a successful career to pursue his favorite sport.
Emily was working on a PhD in botany when she met Dave. He
persuaded her to leave academia and go fly fishing.
grew up in Oklahoma, which he calls "the Sahara of fly
fishing." Given an old, used bamboo fly-fishing rod by
his dad, he went fishing at a nearby pond but discovered he
could not tie a fly to the end of the thick flyline. "My
grandmother tied black-braided fishing line on the end so
I could put a fly on it, and I was in business," he recalls.
himself to fly cast, Dave first related it to spin casting,
where the weight is on the end, not in the line itself. The
class listens alertly. Having paid a tuition fee of $150 a
day, they are serious.
fly line," Dave tells us, "is the most important
component of fly casting." There are a dazzling number
of lines and weights, numbered and color-coded to indicate
degree of coating and whether it floats or sinks. There's
double taper, weight forward, weight-forward-floating or -sinking;
there's backing and tapered leader and tippet, too.
see that fly fishing, like using a computer or playing piano,
has its own language and symbols.
us understand, Dave demonstrates the different types of lines
with oversize models made of Fiberglas tubing. He uses a small
rod with green yarn to teach us to create a loop, to let the
rod and the line do the work. He kneels on the floor and calls
for volunteers. Nobody comes forward. We're too self-conscious.
Dave taps Sheila, a magazine executive, to be the first to
cast the yarn, showing us it's not as bad as we think. "That's
good. Excellent," Dave encourages Sheila. "Give
me a tight loop now. Excellent. Okay, next!"
gradually relax. The consensus is that we're all in this together.
We're mostly neophytes, though a few have had some fly casting
shown the "Four-Part Cast": pickup, upcast, downcast,
and presentation of fly. We are taught to "stroke"
the rod up and then down; stopping at 12 o'clock going back,
and 10 o'clock going forward.
invented fly fishing, and in the beginning all were made
of bamboo; the old cane rods were slow or medium action.
playing tennis with a wooden racket?" one of the students
rods are made of graphite, the most popular being of medium
to medium-fast action. The stiffer or faster action rods are
for bigger game fish.
tip of your rod is a shock absorber," says Dave. "The
rod transfers energy from the fisherman to the line, leader,
are two-, three-, and four-piece rods; he shows us how to
fit the ferrules together. "You want a rod to feel responsive
to touch and stress. The four-piece is easier to carry ...
because the sections are shorter," he says, "but
the three-piece has a better action."
go outside to the pond. The property formerly was a catfish
farm, and ten-pound catfish lazily rise to the surface. "They
think it's feeding time," Dave says. The catfish, bass,
bream and trout in the pond are like household pets. Hundreds
of students have caught and released them at the fly fishing
the four-part cast, then he and Emily assist our awkward efforts
with hands-on instruction. The secret, Emily tells us, is
keeping the slack out of the line on the pickup, so that the
line is taut as it comes out of the water and snaps back into
the air behind us. One simple bit of advice is usually all
it takes. Dave notices that I'm whipping the rod too far forward.
If I stop its forward movement at 10 o'clock sharp, it unfurls
with a crisper, tighter loop, taking less effort and achieving
is a case of hand-to-eye coordination, not physical strength,"
he tells us.
on a fan, and we practice casting yarn-line. The trick is
to keep the line low and the loop tight, and to cast down,
into the wind. "The wind bothers more fly casters than
cottonmouths, no-trespassing signs, and barbed wire put together,"
says Dave, showing us how to use the energy of the wind on
our upcast, to straighten the line and deliver more power
for the downstroke and presentation of the fly.
us is a supplicant at the Whitlocks' pond, each seeking a
tight loop and soft delivery. Bream drift by the casting platform
enticingly. (One is tempted to try catching them, but the
practice flies are hookless.) Each of us is learning at his
own speed, building confidence, getting the rhythm. It's very
quiet at the pond, ten lines arcing back and forth, snaking
out over the green water.
second day of class Dave demonstrates at a huge aquarium filled
with fish, hovering over it and "puppeteering" the
fly. The "area of deception" is a narrow band on
the surface within the fish's vision. The bream in the tank
will sample an artificial bait, then spit it out in approximately
one second. "That's how long you have to feel the strike
and set the hook," he says. We crowd around the aquarium,
fascinated by the fish and by Dave's ability. It is as if
he knows what the fish are thinking before they do.
a slide show presented by Emily of original drawings and photos
of trout and their natural foods: nymphs and larvae, dragonflies,
midges, mayflies, damselflies. Dave routinely will harmlessly
syphon a wild fish's stomach to see what it is eating. "It's
almost like talking to the fish," he says with a grin.
obligatory in fly fishing to learn to tie the "Duncan
loop," which is my nemesis. By the second attempt, as
the line samples get thinner (monofilament leader), I surreptitiously
reach for reading glasses. Nearly all the students except
James have to use them. Emily teaches us to tie the knots
and then to smooth them over with a waterproof glue. Rick,
an orthopedic surgeon, jokes that these knots are harder to
tie than closing after an operation.
on to tying the fly. "If I can get a student to tie one
fly," says Dave, "he'll understand a lot more of
what fly fishing is all about." He examines the Woolie
Buggers we have laboriously wrapped onto hooks and observes
of one, "I wouldn't say that fly is ugly, but would you
eat the fish that thought it looked good?"
fly fishermen, Dave is a perfectionist. Everything must be
exact - knots, leader, tippet, changing the flies to get the
right one - everything according to form. This is his dogma,
his litany, his fly fishing gospel.
sits by the pond holding the end of the line with a gloved
hand, and we take turns learning to set the hook against her
firm resistance. Tom, the accountant, pulls so hard he breaks
have begged me to teach my students how to set the hook,"
Dave tells us as we sit on the grass under a shade tree. "They
put their clients on fish and show them where to cast and
which flies to use; but once the fish hits, you have one second
to set the hook or you lose it."
day, and we're at the White River to test our new knowledge.
As we load our gear into several small skiffs, there are big
trout swimming under the dock.
Shoals Dam was constructed, the lake water made the river
below it twenty degrees cooler and drove the bass far downstream.
In the 1940s, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission began
stocking the White and other area rivers with rainbow and
brown trout; now the White River offers some of the best trout
fishing in the country.
over to Rim Shoals Island and take a picnic lunch for a day
of fishing and practicing. Dave and Emily anchor targets in
the water for us to cast at. As we wade in the current, we
also are taught how to "mend" the line by flipping
fog drifts over the water, a dozen or so fly casters on the
far side of the river are like ghosts waving at each other
in the hazy light. The water is clear and the bottom is covered
with grapefruit-size brown and white rocks. Emily teaches
us to shuffle our feet when wading, to improve balance in
a fast-moving stream.
roar behind us, and a belted kingfisher circles overhead.
We all look a bit awkward in our green waders, with belts
to keep them secure if we slip and fall. "Call us the
'belted fly caster,' a new species," says fellow student
Leo, from Ames, Iowa. The sunshine is warm, but the water
temperature is about fifty degrees. "I can't feel my
feet," Leo remarks.
at his best in the water, standing in midstream and teaching
us how to make the fly drift naturally and look like food
to a waiting trout. When he casts, the fly settles down as
if with a life of its own.
lunch, Dave and Emily seine for fish foods, to show us what
natural flies and larvae the trout are feeding on. This section
of the White River has been designated a catch-and-release
area, but the Whitlocks are hoping that new regulations will
protect trout all the way to the dam. "The irony is that
the White could be a great natural trout environment,"
Dave tells us.
turn out en masse for the weekly restocking, when three million
seven-month-old rainbow are released into the White River.
use power bait and every kind of bait you can think of,"
Dave says, preaching on the rocky shore, "and in three
weeks, most of the fish are gone." His sermon is about
conservation, stream etiquette and the Golden Rule: Do unto
others as you would have them do unto you.
time for some real fishing. We are all using barbless hooks,
as the law requires, to keep from hurting trout. In no time
at all, I tangle my line, but Emily cuts it off and gives
me a new fly, "Dave's Woolie Bugger." It's a weighted
fly to offset my linemending, which she tactfully observes
may improve with practice. With her expert assistance, I manage
to hook two medium-size rainbows. The joy of catching and
releasing them makes all this effort worthwhile.
end of the day, we rendezvous at the Whitlocks' home, tired
and happy, peeling off the rubber waders, joking about who
has passed the course and who hasn't. We all have gained confidence
and learned new skills. As Leo puts it, "There were a
lot facts thrown at us, probably too many to absorb right
away, but I learned enough to know what I'm doing wrong."
student goes forward, Emily and Dave give out certificates
and hugs. It reminds me of an old-fashioned revival meeting.
Something of lasting value has been given and received. I
return to my seat with pride and humility, reading my diploma:
of Achievement for the successful completion of the Three-Day
Fly Fishing School. This is the first step to a lifetime of
information, write The Dave & Emily Whitlock Fly Fishing
School, PO Box 319, Midway, Arkansas 72651, or call 888-962-4576.
First Steps to Fly Fishing
By Dave Whitlock
frequently asked question I receive from non-fly-fishing audiences
is: "How do I get started fly fishing and how much will
it cost me to get going?" Here's my answer and advice.
save up about $500 to $1,000. Take half of that sum and enroll
in a fly fishing school. When you complete the school, use
your new knowledge to purchase your tackle, flies, and accessories
from a fly-fishing specialty shop. If you use a specialty
shop rather than a discount store, you will, first, usually
get higher quality equipment, but just as important, you will
have the valuable advice and experience of the fly-fishing
staff who can help guide you to exactly what you need to get
started. They will also be able to answer all the questions
that will invariably come up as you progress in this wonderful
sport. I'd also suggest that you save $25 back to join a local
fly-fishing/fly-tying club. That will be another incredible
source of help and information as you are learning.
practice daily on your fly-fishing skills of knot tying, tackle
assembly, casting and fly presentation. Also, read and watch
fly fishing whenever you can and soon you will be experiencing
great results toward a lifetime of fly-fishing fun, fish and
is Fly Fishing?
By Dave Whitlock
If I had
understood what fly fishing is when I was 9 or even 19, I
would have advanced so much faster. So, now, the first thing
I do when I instruct any level of fly fishing is to define
to my students, friends or audiences what this sport is. I
often tell such school groups: "In the next three days
you will learn as much about fly fishing as it took me 20
years to understand."
to first describe fly fishing by contrasting it with the other
four main ways that most people learn how to fish: pole, line
and baited hook, baitcasting, spincasting and spinning. These
four methods utilize a weighted lure that is attached at the
end of a more or less weightless line. With the rod, this
'concentrated weight' of a bait or lure is set into a forward
motion and the lure pulls the line out with it to the fishing
target area. (The lure is weighted, the line is not.)
is 180 degrees opposite of this procedure. An almost weightless
'fly' lure is attached to a line that has weight. With a long
fly rod, the weighted line is moved first up and back and
down and forward and the line pulls the fly along and propels
the 'fly' to fishing target areas. (The line is weighted,
the lure is not.)
of this system is that it does not require the cast object
to have any tangible weight, as in the other four systems.
Therefore any size of 'fly' lure from the tiniest insect of
1/32" long to 8-to-12" baitfish imitation can be
cast and presented in a most lifelike way.
Out There to Fly Fish For?
By Dave Whitlock
As I was
growing up in Oklahoma's warm waters, all I had to fly fish
for was bass and sunfish. Nothing had spots except an occasional
accidental channel catfish! There were no trout, no grayling,
no salmon... poor Okie from Muskogee, I used to think. My
young brain had been tattooed from reading magazines, books,
and catalogs that fly fishing wasn't fly fishing unless I
was wading a cold, clear stream where colorful, spotted torpedoes
broke the surface for graceful, sail-winged, blue dun colored,
floating mayflies. Oh, to be among the privileged trout and
salmon fly-fishing elite!
I got an education, a job, vacation time and joined the 'real'
world of fly fishing back east, up north and out west! It
was fantastic! Then when I was about 30, I started to change
my thinking. Why? Well, for several reasons. First, two or
three weeks of 'real' fly fishing a year was just not enough.
It was also becoming harder to find and more expensive, plus
my wife and kids were learning to fly fish and needed more
of my time. At that point, I had also begun considering an
occupation change from petroleum research to ...fly fishing!
The more I thought, remembered and looked around, the clearer
it became to me that almost at my doorstep there was an abundance
of cool and warm water creeks, rivers, ponds and lakes loaded
with wild game fish that we could access after work and school
and on weekends or holidays. So we began to revisit some eastern
Oklahoma and western Arkansas past favorite spots and explore
new ones. Every place was a new adventure, and with just a
few tackle and fly modifications, we caught an amazing variety
of fish on flies. There were largemouth bass, smallmouth bass,
spotted bass, white bass, blue gill, green sunfish and at
least eight or 10 other species of sunfish! But that was just
the beginning. I also caught drum, sauger, channel catfish,
carp, chubs, gar, bowfin, fresh water herring, shad and bullfrogs!
What fun! All these species have their own special qualities.
yourself a favor this season. If you haven't already discovered
the other, more abundant fun part of fly fishing, those warm
and cool water, fresh and salt water fish that'll gobble your
fly, try them out in your 'home' waters. Chances are, you'll
find more elbow room, have more success and perhaps even more
fun fly fishing...and definitely more often.