Dudley Converted To Jigs After One Trip To Norfork

by Steve Wright from his book Ozark Trout Tales

One conversation changed Jerry Dudley's whole way of thinking about trout fishing. In 1983,Dudley and his son, J.D., were making regular visits to Missouri's Roaring River State Park and catching 30 to 40 trout a day. They were having a good time doing it, too. One Sunday, before services at Fayetteville's University Baptist Church, Dudley was telling a friend, Jim Hall, about his latest successful trout trip.

"Are you catching any big ones?" Hall asked.

"About one to one-and-half pounds," Dudley said."Why don't you let me take you to my place?" Hall replied. Hall's "place" was the Norfork Tailwater."We probably caught and released 150 fish that day," Dudley recalled."Jim caught a 4-pound cutthroat. We had several rainbows that weighed 2 1/2 to 3 pounds. Brother, I've been hooked ever since."

Dudley was hooked in more ways than one that day. The North Fork River became his trout fishery of choice, and a marabou jig became his trout lure of choice. By the summer of 1994, Dudley's 1983 van was closing in on the 200,000-mile mark, and many of those miles came on trout fishing trips to Norfork. Dudley has put in many hours refining his jig fishing technique and learning the North Fork River.

"Cast right by that rock," Dudley said, one August Saturday afternoon. "There's usually a cutthroat around there." One cast with a 1/16th-ounce black jig produced a 17-inch cutthroat trout, just as he predicted. In August 1988, Dudley caught a 6 1/2-pound cutthroat in the mouth of the slough located near McClellan's Trout Dock on the North Fork. Yes, of course, he caught it on a jig. Dudley has three mounted fish hanging on a wall at home - an 11 1/2-pound brown trout, a 6 1/2-pound rainbow trout that his son, J.D., caught, and the 6 l/2-pound cutthroat. "People look at those fish, and they always go to that cutthroat," Dudley said. "They've never seen one that big."

Dudley spends as much time now on the White River as the North Fork, but he defers to the Norfork Tailwater when it comes to catching "picture" fish. "The rainbows, especially, just seem to be prettier here," Dudley said. "This river is so different from the White; the tree-lined banks, logs and solid rock. There aren't many gravel bars, like there are in the White. "Jigs seem to work equally well in the two rivers. Earlier, in what would be a 100-fish day, we had caught trout on five consecutive casts in the White River. Dudley makes it seem easy, and he has converted a number of Fayetteville anglers to trout fishing exclusively with jigs. He likes to spread the word.

"Some of my buddies gripe at me because I show so many people how to do this," Dudley said, with a laugh.The two key ingredients in Dudley's method are lightweight jigs and light weight line. He prefers a 1/16th-ounce jig almost exclusively. However, depth is important, so in heavier current Dudley will step up in weight to 3/32nds occasionally, and rarely 1/8th."You've got to get the jig on the bottom," Dudley said. "But the key is for it to fall as slowly as possible. That's why I don't like 1/8th-ounce jigs, they fall too fast. And I can tell the difference between 1/16th and 3/32nds. If the water is right, you'll catch more fish on 1/16th."

When Dudley first started fishing jigs, he would use 4-pound-test line when the water was high, then go down to 2-pound-test on low water. Now he uses 2-pound test exclusively, specifically Maxima Ultra Green. In March 1994, Dudley caught an 11 1/2-pound brown trout while fishing with 2-pound line and a 3/32nds ounce jig below Bull Shoals Dam when all eight generators were running. The key to using 2-pound test is to keep it fresh. Dudley carries three spinning rigs; 6-foot Loomis rods paired with Shimano reels - and nine spinning reel spools loaded with 2-pound-test line. (To keep the spools full, he uses backing of 4- or 6-pound-test before adding 120 yards of 2-pound line.) Dudley inspects his line for nicks and abrasions after landing a fish. If he finds one, he breaks off several feet of line and reties the jig. After several reties, Dudley puts on a fresh spool of line.

"I don't believe in giving them a chance," said Dudley, about his obsession with new line. "I'm giving them enough of a chance already with 2pound-test." Dudley doesn't like to rely on his reel's drag system either, although Shimano spinning reels are noted for having a good one. So Dudley backreels when a fish is making a run, relying on his own touch for putting on and taking off pressure.With a trolling motor attached to the front of the johnboat, Dudley can position the boat and control its drift downstream. Dudley experiments with different colors of marabou for the tail and paint for the jighead, then he brings his jigs to Norfork for some "field testing."

Another important ingredient in Dudley's jig fishing method is an electric trolling motor. He mounts a 36 pound-thrust Minn Kota on the side of a 20-foot johnboat, near the bow. He uses the trolling motor mainly as a way to slow the downstream drift of the boat. He points the boat upstream, then varies the speed of the trolling motor to give him the desired rate of drift. Dudley can adapt to any rate of current - from eight generators on the White River below Bull Shoals to dead low water at Norfork. "One generator is perfect at Norfork," Dudley said. "On the White River, four to five generators is my favorite water."

If there is no current, he uses the trolling motor to move around and cast to different areas. Dudley never drops an anchor. He usually stands in the front of the boat, looking for fish, with the aid of polarized sunglasses."This is just a fun way to fish," Dudley said. "You don't have to sit around, and you can see more scenery this way, when you're constantly moving. Much of the time you are sight-fishing - casting to a specific fish - or you'll see a trout follow the jig. This prompts a lot of one-way conversations with fish, along the lines of "take it, take it, take it" as a trout turns to get a closer look at the lure. That's where Dudley's method gets sophisticated. He has an array of different looks he can give a jig. Some days this will mean the difference in catching fish or not. "There are a half-dozen ways to fish jigs," Dudley said. "You can hop it slow or fast. Sometimes I strip it in, like you would with a fly rod. "If the fish are hitting short, you can shake the rod tip while you're reeling the jig. Sometimes that will entice a strike."

Most of the time, Dudley starts with a slow, up-and-down jigging retrieve. The trout usually hit the jig as it falls.Dudley's other way of adding variety to jig presentation is color. If he had to pick one jig color, it would be black. But he also ties three variations of olive jigs, which he believes imitate sculpins, one of the trout's favorite forage fish.Dudley orders various other colors of Woolly Bugger marabou from Wapsi Fly, Inc., in Mountain Home. He combines gray, white and pink for a rainbow trout imitation and venous amounts of white and gray for imitations of minnows and threadfin shad."Burnt orange and brown is probably the most unusual combination I tie," Dudley said. "I think it probably looks like a crawdad."

Dudley owns an independent truck brokerage business. Most of his work day is spent talking on the telephone. Dudley keeps his jig-tying materials handy. When the phone isn't ringing, he works on jigs.In addition to the marabou experiments, Dudley tries different looks on the jighead. Most often he'll attempt to match the dominant marabou color in a jig with blends of auto body paint."My wife has a basic knowledge what colors to blend and get the desired result," Dudley said. He added, with a smile, "This jig business is kind of a family deal. The auto body paint is expensive, but it won't chip off the jighead, even after repeated contact with boulders and gravel on the stream bed." Sometimes Dudley adds poly-flake, either gold or silver, on the jigheads to give them an extra sparkle.Dudley has one more secret to his jig-fishing technique - the shape of the jighead. He owns a mold that creates an unusually shaped jig.The jighead isn't round, and it isn't flat. It's closest to what is known as a tapered head, with the exception that one side is more tapered than the other."It's lopsided," Dudley said. "It's almost flat on one side and tapered on the other. I think that's important in giving the jig a different action."

Dudley hasn't been able to find another mold like it. And, in a sense, he has created a monster - teaching more and more people to trout fish with a jig only he can make. But Jerry Dudley is more than happy to feed this monster.Many of his pupils have been members of the senior high Sunday school class he teaches at church. His love of trout fishing and teaching has led him to work as a parttime fishing guide."If I could make a living guiding and tying and selling jigs," Dudley said, "civilization could say goodbye to me."