Arkansas's Shad Kill "Pseudo-Hatch"

January 17, 2009 By: Marshall Cutchin

Spend lots of time on a body of water and you may eventually be lucky enough to come across what I call a “pseudo-hatch:” when unusual conditions trigger the sudden abundance of food for fish and a frenzy of feeding. (I discovered an event like this in Key West in the 1980s, when on a low tide early in the morning oxygen-deprived pipefish and other small bait fish covered the surface of a large basin, sending tarpon into a rampage.)
One little-known but locally famous pseudo-hatch, the shad kill, occurs in Arkansas’s White River system, turning monster trout stupid. When the temperature of lakes behind the rivers’ dams drops into the mid- to low 40s, dead and dying shad will be sucked through the turbines and spat out into the tailwaters below. Big trout immediately clue into the event and begin eating the shad bodies throughout the water column, although as Steve Dally of Mountain River Fly Shop in Cotter tells us, “the real appeal is when shad bodies litter the surface bringing up the trout for ‘dry fly’ action.” According to Dally, baitfish patterns like Jim Mengle’s shad gurgler, Davy Wotton’s floating shad, and crease flies are the most productive during these events.
Since this is largely a boat-based fishery, guides are suddenly at a premium when the shad kill starts. But the kill can be expected to continue on and off through February and even early March depending on conditions.
So if you have a hankering to do something different this winter and think you might be able to find your way to Arkansas, check out the coverage on the Mountain River Journal Weblog, which includes some interesting photos by guide Jimmy “T” Traylor. Or if you don’t need more convincing, check in at the Mountain River Fly Shop Web site to find out if they have any guides available.