There are times of the year when an angler may go to the water anticipating catching fish in a particular way and it just doesn’t happen. This can be especially true during the colder fall, winter, and early spring months. These times are the perfect time to tie on one of two different flies and give them a shot. Scuds and Sowbugs are great year-round baits. These are the basics of these flies and the best ways to fish them.
Scuds are small crustaceans, freshwater shrimp, and they are present in the water year-round. They molt multiple times a year and are a big source of protein for trout. So, when the bite on other nymphs is non-existent and the fish are turning their noses up at streamers, turn to a scud. They also produce very well on still bodies of water like lakes, or ponds. Scuds also help an angler who may not have experience in that body of water catch fish efficiently without needing to drill down on matching the hatch nearly as much. The bottom line is in the cold months you will find my line loaded with a scud when venturing to new water, and my box with a lot of Scud Flies when fishing any stretch of river.
Sowbugs are less like shrimp and more like a doodlebug. Turn over just about any rock looking for stonefly or mayfly nymphs and you likely find Sowbugs. They are again present year-round, constantly floating up and down the water column. These are another great pattern to swing past trout species during all times of year, but they really shine during the colder times.
If you’re successful at fishing nymphs that’s great news, you’ll probably be successful at fishing Scuds and Sowbugs as well. The ways to fish them are the same as nymphing, most folks will run an indicator and shot. These flies can be drifted through feeding or resting lies and cover watching for movement in the indicator’s float. Generally, both of these patterns excel in deeper water and probing shelves and other changes in bottom features. Anglers should adjust weight and indicator placement to try and get these flies on or very near to the bottom. Very often anglers choose to run these as a two-fly set up with a dropper line running below the indicator and another bigger fly on the end or bottom of the line.
Another way to run these flies is on a sinking line. This is great for truly finicky fish because the drift will be more natural. When running sinking lines a more natural strip can be imparted as well as a hand twist retrieve. A bit of small movement goes a long way. These aren’t big creatures so the movements are very small and very subtle, strip a few inches at a time.
A few things to remember, size may matter more than color in these patterns. Scuds are constantly molting, six to seven times a year, so this can be the matching that has to happen to optimize the fly. Where color tends to come into play is on the Sowbug side, colors may greatly vary by the body of water or time of year.
Bead Headed Scud is where it’s at for me, if I was pinned down to one actual pattern for this fly the simple this would be it. Tied in a natural hue, I would toss this and have plenty of backups in multiple sizes. Remember I’m trying to get this as close or as far into cover as possible.
As far as Sowbug patterns go I stick to famous musicians, I like Ray Charles or a UV Eddie Vedder. The second one is named after the singer and guitar player of my all-time favorite band, so take that with a grain of salt, but The Ray Charles is the classic Sowbug. I would lean on a smaller choice of sizes on these and diversify on the colors for sure. Remember a dull natural color can always draw a strike in a pinch though.
These are year-round, everywhere producers. No fly box is complete without Scuds and Sowbugs and no skunks should be accepted without giving these a few drifts before the end of the day. Everyone likes some good old-fashioned seafood.