Catch Bigger and More Browns

Ben Levin shows off a nice hopper eating Ozark brown.

Simms’ Guide Ambassador, Chad Johnson Reveals His Secrets for Targeting Giant Brown Trout.

Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher guide, Chad Johnson ended up in Arkansas somewhat by accident. Years ago, he and his cousin opted to fish the White River for their annual fishing trip — Chad loved it so much, he returned to his home in Mississippi only to pack his belongings to start a new life in Arkansas. While Chad may have been a little wet behind the ears upon his arrival, over the years he put in his time and is now considered THE man when it comes to targeting trophy browns. We recently caught up with Chad and gradually convinced him to share a few of his secrets and tactics.

Arkansas is just a fishy place and while many anglers focus on its resident rainbows, keep in mind, giant browns are a very real possibility here. “The deal on our big brown trout or at least the ones I target is that you really need one of two things. Either a lot of bugs or a few big bugs and/or prey. In other words, these really big fish aren’t going to sit in the column and eat midges all day.” says Chad.

In Chad’s mind, there are three times of year where anglers can specifically target big browns. Caddis season which typically runs from the last week of March through the first week of May, hopper season starting around mid-July and wrapping up around mid-September and streamer season beginning in mid-January which basically continues all the way into the first part of March.

Caddis Season: This time of year, Chad prefers low and of course, clear water. While it might seem like somewhat of a no-brainer, Chad’s number one tip for getting shots at big browns during caddis season is to stay out of the water. “When you get in the water, you will definitely spook them. Walk up to the river, stop, and I can’t emphasize enough to look hard before you cast.” Chad looks for for flashes early in the morning as the fish eat pupa in the shallows. “As the hatch progresses, pay close attention to rising fish, if you do and again, look hard enough, you can distinguish the rainbows from the browns and target the one you want to catch instead of just blind casting into a ring of risers. Recommended Bugs: #16 Olive EC Cutter Caddis with a Hot Wire Prince Nymph in green-and-gold  as the dropper.

Hopper Season: Who doesn’t love hopper season, big bugs and often aggressive strikes. Similar to the strikes, Chad likes an aggressive approach this time of year. “I can honestly say that at least in my area, big browns key in on the ‘splat’ of a big hopper pattern. I make a conscious effort on each presentation to slap the fly down as close as humanly possible to the bank because more than getting a good drift, I want the fish to hear the fly before it sees it.” Recommended Bugs: #6 Dave’s Hopper; #6 Chernobal Ant in black-and-orange.

Streamer Season: Chad’s favorite and most productive time for big browns is during streamer season. “This is when the biggest trout in the river are coming off the spawn. They’ve been sitting on beds for a month, they are hungry and are still very aggressive because they’ve been running off other trout trying to steel their eggs” says Chad. His number one stress with streamers is the action of the fly. “If you just chug it back, you’re not doing yourself any favors. When you stop your strip, your fly should continue to move whether its lead dropping your fly or a spun deer hair head lifting it or material pulsing, your fly needs constant movement and I always fish streamers on a full sinking line” Recommended Bugs: CJ’ss White River Deciever and CJ’s Sluggo.

Chad’s tips above may seem pretty basic but that’s what makes them so important. Take his word for it, when these simple suggestions are truly put into play, you’ll see impressive results in time. Just like him, you’ve got to put in your time and in truth that’s the most important piece of advice he offers. “You just gotta go fishing and pay as close attention to the water and the bugs as possible.”