It's all about scuds
Think scud ... catch fish. Of all the insects out there, fly fishermen
should be getting up close and personal with scuds, more than any
other insect species. If you are into mayflies, you need to worry
about all those life cycle changes that a mayfly will go through.
You have the egg, well I have never fished a mayfly egg pattern,
the nymph which could be a swimmer, a burrower, a home wrecker or
a who knows what. Then there is the hatching mayfly, the semi-hatched
mayfly with a twist of lemon, the emerged mayfly, the adult mayfly,
the quasi-adult mayfly with a touch of adolescence, the dun, the
nearly dun, the could have been a dun, the spinner, the knitter,
the spinster, the crippled mayfly, the once crippled mayfly but
due to a chiropractor I am fine mayfly, and on, and on, and on.
It's little wonder that some folk turn fly fishing into a nightmare
rather than a fun sport. Now as for your scud ... they swim, they
breed, they swim, they eat, they swim and they get eaten by a fish.
So with scuds there is much less to worry about if you are trying
to copy the various parts of their life cycle. The newly hatched
scuds look just like miniature versions of the adult scuds. The
young scuds will molt about 10 times before they become fully grown,
and then as adults they will continue to molt. Adults can lay 5
or 6 batches of eggs per year producing over 15,000 eggs. In other
words, there are a lot of them around.
Give or take a few, there are about 90 species of scuds in North
America. If you want to get all scientific, the set up is:
Order: (Fries and a pop) Amphipoda
Out of all the different species
of scuds, Gammarus is the one that most fly fishermen should take
a second look at and become familiar with. Get to know them on a
first name basis, maybe even take them out for a movie on the weekend.
They are your friend, but you just don't know it. Yet. Gammarus
are important because they like to live in shallow water, (12 feet
or less) which makes them an easy target for trout. Most of them
can be found in water that's less than hip-deep and which holds
thick vegetation. Keep this in mind the next time you are fishing
off the breakwalls for steelhead. Scuds like to hang out in the
water close to the breakwalls as the rocks can provide hiding places,
and the plant growth around the breakwalls, provides food. All Amphipods,
not just Gammarus love to eat and that plant growth will keep them
close to the breakwalls.
In some watersheds, suds make up to 20% of a fish's diet. Some trout
can pack on over a pound per year in waters that have a high scud
population. I dunno about you, but I would say they are a pretty
important food source.
tell you wot!"
As they say in Arkansas, "I tell you wot." In some locations
in Arkansas, the guides stalk large fish in the shallows using small
scud patterns. I have tried it and it's heart stopping stuff. And,
after a triple by-pass I know about heart stopping. One nifty scud-fishing
pointer I picked up down there was never to cast a scud at a tailing
trout. Here's why, and this holds true for other watersheds not
just the White River and the Norfork River. Scuds like to hang out
in weed growth. When trout try to dislodge them, they will "tail
up" and root around in the weeds. Then they will return to
their normal feeding position of "tail down," to scarf
back the dislodged scuds, which at this point in time must be pissed-off
no ends. Not only are they out of a home, but something is trying
to eat them. Unnerving to say the very least. I was told that if
you cast to the trout when they are "tail up" they won't
take your fly as they are far too interested in rooting around.
However, once they go "tail down" they are now feeding
on the dislodged scuds. It's only a thought, but that's when you
probably want to drift a scud fly past them.
Then there is the Sowbug Roundup, a great fly tying get together
held not far from the WAPSI fly tying materials world headquarters
in the town of Mountain Home, Arkansas. Held every March, the three
day event is put on by the North Arkansas Fly Fishers. With over
a hundred tiers in attendance, and only a $5 entry fee for all three
days, the Sowbug Roundup is not to be missed. I must say that the
folk attending the Sowbug Roundup are just as picky about the curve
on a hook, or the subtle shade of a scud dubbing blend, as any finicky
dry fly purist is about picking a top notch dry fly hackle. The
Sowbug Roundup is not just about sow bugs, the scuds get a good
working over as well. Isn't it funny how the words "finicky
dry fly purist" go together so well.
Roundup, learn more ...
more about scuds
Quite a few fly fishermen often refer to scuds as freshwater shrimp.
Although they are related to shrimp, they are not shrimp. In any
grocery store you can pick up a shrimp ring, but I have yet to find
anyone selling a scud ring. The difference between them is that
scuds have their 14 legs set as pairs all along the lower body.
Shrimp have three distinct sections and their legs are more packed
together near the head. The easiest way to tell is to pick them
up. Scuds will curl into a curve shape, but shrimp will try to spring
away from you.
Scuds range in size from just over half an inch down to about one
sixteenth of an inch. I find that for most of my fishing sizes #12
to #16 are a safe bet. Even steelhead and smallmouth bass will have
a whack at size #12 or #14 scuds, so there is not much need to tie
up a bunch of size #8 scuds nor size #22 scuds.
This is neat stuff. Scuds are pretty much transparent little creatures.
They take on their colour from the stuff they have eaten. What you
actually see is the coloration in their intestine. I kid you not.
So, scuds that are feeding on dark olive plant matter will have
a dark olive hue to them, those that at munching down on tan items,
will in turn have a tan hue about them. If the scuds are chewing
down on Chinese food, you can guarantee they will be back on the
feed in less than an hour. Actually if you think about it, taking
on the colour of your food rather smart. If you take on the colour
of the stuff you are eating, it sure as heck is going to camouflage
and hide you from your predators. Many anglers believe that scuds
are herbivores or veganivores content to graze on weeds and plants,
but they are not. They are omnivores and will have a go at just
about anything that comes their way including dead fish. They will
pack-up and bring down water boatmen, midges and smaller insect
nymphs like damselflies. One can only imagine the underwater horror
of a pack of marauding scuds when the bloodlust is upon them.
As scuds get older, most of them only live for a year, they then
start to take on a yellowish colour. They don't seem to be able
to take on the olive and green colours that they could when they
were in their younger and adolescent years. This is actually a helpful
thing to remember if you are imitating a scud. There is little point
in tying up small yellow scuds because for most of the time when
trout see a yellowish scud it will be a larger insect.
In the 1990s John Roberts, the noted English fly fishing writer,
introduced me to a scud pattern with a bead in the middle of the
body and scud pattern with a bright orange turn of dubbing in the
middle of the body. He did not invent them. They were used for grayling
fishing. I could see the point of the bead, as scuds live down on
the riverbed, and I figured that the orange dubbing was there as
a hot spot. Something bright to get the attention of the fish. Not
necessarily so. John went on to tell me that there is a parasite
Pomphorhynchus laevis which lives in the intestinal tract
of a scud and which turns the intestinal tract orange. Fish key
in on this. Why orange? The scud is simply the intermediate host
for the parasite. It actually wants to end up living in a trout,
barbel (Barbus barbus), bream (Abramis brama),
goldfish (Carassius auratus) or chub (Leuciscus cephalus).
So by turning the scud bright orange the trout can easily see it.
The trout woofs down the scud and the parasite ends up where it
wants to be ... inside the trout. Darn cunning. Sometimes you will
find dead orange coloured scuds in the water or inside a fish. Orange
is not the colour of a live scud, it shows up when the insect dies.
The orange colour is carotene and when ingested, the carotene is
transferred into the tissue of the fish, and the flesh takes on
a nice reddish-pink colour. Those reddish-pink fillets sure look
good sizzling in the pan with some butter, lemon, pepper and chives
... Also, when they are pregnant, the egg sack in a female scud
turns bright orange. I have no clue as to why that is.
Scuds mate from late spring, when the water warms up, through to
the late summer or early fall, when the water starts to get too
cold. As my good friend William Gerrard pointed out, the fall would
be a good time to fish a pregnant scud, with the orange spot, as
the aquatic vegetation starts to die down. This helps to make the
scuds more visible to the trout. Nice one William!
"There are about 90 species of scuds in North America ranging
from grey, olive, tan, yellow and green. Rather than having
to faff about with all the various colours out there I took
some time, close to 10 years, to come up with one colour which
would get the job done. This is it." ...
Ian Colin James.
Scuds are 100% aquatic. They never hatch into winged adults
the way that many other aquatic insects do. If someone tries
to sell you a winged scud imitation or an emerging scud you
should at best be suspicious of them. Like I said earlier,
they start out looking like miniature versions of the adult
scud, then they shed and grow, shed and grow. When they mate,
the female scud is on top of the male scud and believe it
or not there are a few double scud patterns on the market,
which are supposed to imitate this mating pair of scuds. Well,
moving right along ...
are active all year long
From a fly fishing point of view scuds are important insects
because they are active all year long, so, the fish eat a
lot of them. During the winter, scuds and small water boatmen
will get the job done. When the trout season opens in the
spring, scuds will be active while many other insect species
are just warming up. Also, when no fish are showing, the fish
will still be feeding on scuds, which makes them a must-have
Scuds do not like bright light. When it's very bright they
will be less active and it's almost as if they hunker down.
During levels of low light, for example when it's cloudy,
the scuds will be most active. Again, they like to live in
thick vegetation or be down tight to the riverbed, so you
have to get the flies down deep, hence the bead in the middle
of my scud pattern. Scuds are good swimmers, but they swim
with short bursts of speed and they swim in an erratic manner,
almost sideways, so your retrieve should be on the jerky side.
One last fishing tip, watch for very, very soft takes. In
general you will get more fish on scud flies if you fish them
on a short leader, however when you are steelheading in low
water, you may want to switch up to a 15 foot leader, or longer
if you can turn over the cast.
It's taken me about 10 years to develop this pattern. Back
in the day before Scudback was invented, I, like others, would
cut up strips of plastic bags to make the back on our scud
flies. How things change. The dubbing mix was the trickiest
bit to create because I blend 4 different materials together,
and as I am colourblind, you can guess how much fun that is.
The mixture is also rather spiky. You need lots of "legs"
sticking out below the fly, but you don't want them to be
too stiff, otherwise the fish won't take the fly. Now while
most anglers are familiar with a curved scud, you should know
that when they swim, they swim straight out, not curved. That's
why my pattern lacks that super curve you will find on many
other patterns. Scuds only curl up when they are dislodged
from the weeds or when they are threatened. So if you walk
up to a scud in a bar and stare at him in a hostile manner,
no doubt he will curl up on the floor.
Tech Twin, grub
Sizes: #12, #14 or #16
Bead: Silver or copper
One dozen: $36.00
Two dozen: $60.00
like some scud flies
The information on this page is a watered down version of
the biology of the scud. There are a few holes in it. Big
woop! It's good enough to give you a solid understanding about
a very important insect, and the information will help you
catch a few more fish. Two other interesting parasites which
use gammarus as an intermediate host are; Echinorhynchus
truttae, where the final hosts are salmonids, and Polymorphus
minutus where the final hosts are waterfowl like ducks
or the very rare aquatic chicken.