Say “scuds” and most non-fly fishing folk think of the missiles used by insurgent forces in Third World conflicts, or maybe wispy clouds driven by high winds.
Fly fishers know better. If a pothole lake was a TGI Fridays for trout, scuds would be the bacon-wrapped shrimp. Scuds are small, shrimp-like critters. Fly fishers often call them freshwater shrimp. That’s not the case as scuds are amphipods, cousins of, but not true shrimp. Still, that biological distinction matters little when you’re fishing.
Most scuds measure less than a half-inch. I generally fish sizes ranging from No. 10-16, and I carry four colors — olive, pink, orange and white.
Scuds are plentiful in shallow lakes and trout convert those protein pills into ridiculously fast growth rates. Unlike more glamorous trout foods of the insect variety, scuds are available year round and are a primary food source during winter under the ice. In spring trout start looking up as aquatic insects emerge, but they never forget those shrimpy things scudding about in the weed beds.
The lakes of the Blackfeet Nation are scud paradise, and there are similar pothole lakes across the West. So long as they have sufficient depth to provide cool water in summer and prevent total freeze ups in winter, there will be scuds and pot-bellied trout feasting on them.
I hit one of my favorite potholes the other day. For whatever reason, I started by fishing nymphs. After a fish-less hour or so, a squall chased me back to the truck.
When the weather cleared and I started back to the lake I noticed water had drained off my waders, gathering in small pools on my floor mats. And there was movement. The small pools were filled with struggling scuds.
They were olive and about a quarter-inch long. Dozens had taken refuge in the folds of my waders. I may be slow, but hit over the head with overwhelming evidence I eventually get a clue. I tied on a bead head olive scud, a touch bigger than the naturals slowly dying on my floor mats, and returned to the lake.
The trout in pothole lakes are almost always stocked as the fish need moving water to spawn, though that doesn’t stop them from trying. Rainbow trout gathered in the shallows, chasing one another with amorous intent. When they are so consumed by desire they rarely eat. Usually, just beyond the trout orgy, are cruising feeders who haven’t quite lost their heads. I try to cast to those fish.
I fish scuds under bobbers as trapped-air technology helps suspend the fly above the weeds. Sometimes the fish key on dead-drifting scuds; sometimes they prefer a little movement. My scud strips are usually short wrist turns, six inches or less. It’s nothing like the fast strips of streamer fishing.
The scud paid off. I caught a dark rainbow that apparently forgot about the boy/girl thing long enough to eat. Then I hooked another fish, more lively than the last. My line was quivering like the strings on Les Claypool’s bass and I assumed the vibrations meant I’d foul hooked a rainbow in the tail. As I got the fish closer, however, I saw the telltale white leading edges of the pectoral fins. It was a brook trout, and that line strumming was caused by the head shakes so common with fighting brookies.
Brook trout are fall spawners so this fish hadn’t been mixing it up with the rainbows. Instead, it was cruising the shallows for scuds, or possibly, hoped to nosh on some trout eggs.
I netted a nice 16-inch fish with a chubby, scud-sculpted belly. I imagine I’d have a similar figure if I cruised around eating bacon-wrapped shrimp all day.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com, which covers outdoor news in Montana.