How do I tye Fox's Arkansas Scud
Recipe and photos courtesy of Fox Statler
How To Tie Fox's Arkansas Scud
A Guide's Fly
Although Fox Statler is called "Mr. Sowbug". He really uses a scud almost all the time. The reason he says is a matter of "preference". Not his own preference but the preference of the trout in the White River System in Arkansas and Missouri and any other river, stream, spring creek or lake where it is present. To explain this he tells one of his many stories.
Several years ago, in the early '70's, I moved to the Mountain Home which is in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. I was a math teacher and then as still now, Arkansas teachers weren't paid very much. I made $9,100 that year. I had four children, a wife that worked, a college degree, and we qualified for food stamps. I was too proud to take the food stamps so I supplemented our groceries by hunting and flyfishing. I spent every day I wasn't teaching with a gun or a fly rod in my hand. In those days, I practiced "catch and feed the kids", not C&R. This was true of most everyone on the river back then, most of whom were bait guides. In fact, when I started to guide the rivers, John Gulley was the only real full time flyfishing guide I knew of. Some said they were, but I never saw any of them with a fly rod in their hand.
John and most everyone else that came to the rivers were woolly bugger fisherman and I hated woolly buggers. To me, woolly buggers were, and still are, a poor imitation of a lot of things and a good imitation of nothing. I had already developed the Arkansas Dead-Drift and sowbugs were about all the flies I carried except for a couple scuds. You see, the sowbugs were so thick back then, that if you stood still for two minutes you couldn't find the toes of your boots. And that's not an exaggeration.
One day, I decided to dig up one square yard of gravel near Bull Shoals Dam and collect every aquatic insect in it. Being a math teacher, numbers were and still are pure logic in the raw to me. I found that there were about 7,000 sowbugs, 500 scuds, 100 planarian, 3 mayflies, and 1 caddis per square yard of gravel. Well to me this represented the ratio of bites that I could expect using any of these bugs. While the ratio of bites of sowbugs to planaria, to mayflies, to caddis was true. The ratio of sowbugs to scuds wasn't. You see there were 14 sowbugs to every scud, but in the fish's stomach the ratio was 5 sowbugs to 1 scud, or 4 to 1, and sometimes 3 to 1. I wanted to find the reason why this was happening. I thought I new the answer but I wanted proof from a reliable source before I started spouting off. I searched for the answer to my paradox for almost a year.
Near the end of the school year, the junior high science teachers organized a field trip to Blanchard Springs Caverns. I drove a bus so I had to go. Before each group of students went down into the caverns, they had to attend a short 30 minute movie and lecture. As my group was leaving, I noticed two large sketchings on the wall, one of a sowbug and the other of a scud. They caught my attention because both drawings were about a foot long with infinite detail. As I was admiring someone's else artistic abilities, which I lacked, the young Speleologist that gave the lecture ask me if I knew what I was looking at. I told her I sure did and probably played with them more than anyone she had ever met. She proceeded to tell me a whole lot about them anyway. A lot I already knew but some I didn't. Then I told her about my ratio problem. She smiled at me and said that was simple. She said that the first thing you do when exploring a cave is to figure the bio-mass, then you would kind of have an idea of what to expect. Then she threw me the bomb. She said that scuds have five times more protein than sowbugs, and the fish's instincts tell them to eat the best food available at all times. To me that meant that a trout would pass up 9 sowbugs to eat one scud.
The answer was what I had expected, and, from the day I had dug up that one square yard of gravel, I had been fishing scuds with great success. But thanks to 5 foot blonde genius, I knew for sure why I was succeeding. She don't know how close I came to giving her a big old hug and kiss that day. But...I decided to not show her how jubilant I felt... because I wanted to see the caverns and not the insides of a jail.
How To Tie Fox's Arkansas Scud
A scud can come in several colors, even within the same river, because of the life-cycle stage it is in and what it eats. A scud may molt from one to several times a year depending upon the water temperature and how fast it is growing. A young-of-the-year scud may molt several times in the summer while an adult may molt only once. Just before a scud molts, it turns very dark in color and moves to fine gravel to bury itself. This may be a dark chocolate, dark olive, or dark gray (almost black). During the molt, it looses its outside skeleton or shell and grows another. The coloring of its new shell is pale yellow to a pale yellow-green. About the time it leaves its hiding spot, it may be a copper, light olive, or pale gray. As the new shell ages and hardens, its coloring will darken to almost the colors of the river bottom. It is suggested by Fox to use a shade darker than a molting scud or a molting scud color. Rarely does he use the dark phase. Why, because Fox thinks the fish prefer the more easily digestible lighter phase over the darker phase. So even though these are very good colors to start with, he suggests that you "tune" your scud pattern to the water you are fishing.
Your choice of hook can make a lot of difference in the amount of success you experience when fishing a scud. A straight-eyed, fine wire, quality dry fly hook has proven to be the best. Circle hooks and rounded shank hooks imitate resting scuds, while straight shank hooks imitate swimming scuds. A straight-eyed, straight shank hook offers the largest hook gape for that size of hook and will have the best hook set. A fine wire hook will penetrate the flesh and bone of a fish's mouth with less effort than a heavy nymph wire hook. This is especially helpful when using tippets of 6x and smaller.
The size of lead used in this scud pattern is related to the size of hook to be used. On a #12 hook use .025" lead wire, #14 hook use .020", #16 hook use .015", and on a #18 hook use .010". For scuds smaller than #18, try the Worm Scud Pattern, another article on this site. Always wrap enough lead wire to fill half of the hook-shank, usually this is about 8 to 10 wraps depending upon your choice of hook.
The thread of your pattern (#8/0) can help you catch more fish by highlighting the scud the right way in the right conditions. For an early morning (dawn) and late evening (dusk) scuds use fluorescent orange or fluorescent red thread. For high-noon (bright days) scuds use light blue thread. For day scuds use the thread that best matches the coloring of the segment edges of the scud's body in the water you are fishing. This could be pink, yellow, or cinnamon on molting scuds, camel, insect green, or iron gray for adult scuds.
Take your thread and capture the lead at the bend of the hook to the middle of the shank. Build up the thread at the front of the lead to make a smoother transition from the hook shank diameter to the lead diameter. End this step with the thread on the lead.
Swiss straw is too wide as it is sold. Cut a piece about 4 to 8 inches long and then split it with a sharp knife or razor blade into 1/4 inch to 3/16 inch strips. The wider strips work well for #12 and #14 scuds and the smaller for #16 and #18 scuds. Place the swiss straw over the lead and wrap it down. End with the thread at the hook-eye.
The reason for tying the straw in before the dubbing is to make the pattern more durable. Most bugs come undone at the rear end, this is true of scuds also. By tying the straw in now, the straw will have to wear-in-two and not come untied.
The dubbing of a scud is so important. Your dubbing needs to be the correct leg length when it sticks to the waxed thread, the right color, and it doesn't hurt for the mixture to have some light reflecting abilities. Adding some Zelon to any mixture is helpful, but using a mixture of antron and zelon has proven to be the best over the years. Make sure you chop your mixture to about 1/8 inch long before blending it. Then when you "touch dub" (dabbing the dubbing to the waxed thread) it will put a uniform layer of dubbing on your thread.
Dub the scud from the hook-eye to the hook-bend placing an even layer of dubbing on the entire pattern.
This step is hard to show with a photograph, but the scud below has been flattened vertically with a pair of flat-nosed pliers. Now is the time to flatten the scud before the back is tied down. If you flatten the scud after the back is on, it will often split the back ruining the pattern. Don't flatten the scud with a lot of force. Excessive force will cause the lead wire to be cut by the hook-shank and the scud will fall apart. The flattening of the lead gives the pattern a little curve to the body by making the fly fatter at the hook-bend than at the hook-eye.
Giving the back a smooth appearance involves more than just winding the thread over it. First the straw should be opened as wide as possible and then pulled toward the hook-eye as it is wrapped down. With a little practice, this step becomes quite easy. Whip finish with just three wraps. Trim the straw just in front of the hook-eye leaving a short tail.
The glue used for coating the back of the fly is a mixture of one part glue (head cement or "Sally Henson's Hard-As-Nails") and two parts thinner. Why do you want to use a diluted mixture of glue? Because you don't want the glue to build up on the straw but penetrate the straw and dubbing to the lead wire. This will make the straw and the entire scud very durable. To save time when making scuds, you can hook them on a piece of Styrofoam or foam tape and glue several at once.
The Finished Scud
Fox's Arkansas Scud is a two minute fly. Actually he ties it in about 1 minute and 40 seconds while he babbles away about some monster brown that was caught in the past. He calls it a "guide's fly" because it is easy to tie but extremely effective. This pattern has been fished in most trout rivers of the United States and several international rivers in Argentina and New Zealand with much success.
As mentioned earlier, the variations to this pattern are countless. Below in the upper left hand corner is a copper molting scud, then a dark gray in the upper right, a Brookville or tan scud in the center, lower left is a dark olive, and lower right is a medium red brown. Remember to "tune" your fly to the match the scuds in the water your are fishing. With a little experience it won't take long to make an educated guess about the color of scuds in a particular river just by looking at a picture of the river bottom.
This year, 2008, this pattern is being commercially tied by Targus in several color combinations and sizes. We are thankful for Targus's interest in Fox's Arkansas Scud, a tested standard of nymph anglers.
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