The Smalblaar Scud

Since developing this new South African fly pattern, I have taken a few excellent fish in the last month on the cold mountain streams of the Western Cape. Below are a few of these trout.

When I was a schoolboy fishing the Eerste stream in Stellenbosch I did not have access to much fly fishing and fly tying literature but the local library had a Joe Humphreys DVD which featured a scud pattern.

He had developed it to imitate isopods and amphipods – cressbugs, sowbugs and gammarus that live in the cool limestone creeks of Pennsylvania. Joe is a legendary fly fisher and this fly, the Humphreys Cressbug has become a standard pattern in most North American fly boxes.

His pattern was truly effective and, in my high school years, it was my favourite fly to drift next to the dense stands of palmiet reeds on the banks of the Eerste. Anyone who has spent enough time on the Eerste will know that all the bigger fish hold under the palmiet in spots like Badminton pool but what puzzled me is why it was so  effective when the river current had increased after rain.

I used to think that the organisms that this fly imitates didn’t occur locally and the emphasis has always been on traditional aquatics like mayfly and caddis and also on terrestrial insects. I do recall an article from the early 90’s showing a yellowfish scud pattern for the Vaal River, but I have never read anything about scuds on the small mountain streams of the Western Cape.

For me that changed about a year ago when a beautiful and hugely-informative book Freshwater Life – A field guide to the plants and animals of Southern Africa was published by Struik Nature.

What caught my eye was a chapter, ‘Amphipods and isopods’ by Charles Griffiths, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cape Town.

What I found exciting was a reference to Paramelita capensis, a “leaf shredding amphipod” about 15 mm long. According to the book: “Restricted mainly to the headwaters of streams, where often abundant, swarming over and skeletonising leaf litter.”

Above: A photo of Paramelita nigroculus which I collected on a cape stream.

On a whim, I waded up to some palmiet, stuck my arm into the water and pulled out a bunch of roots. To my delighted astonishment, my hand was crawling with scuds! I then stuck my hand into some leaves caught between rocks on the stream bed and there they were again!

 In North America and Europe scud patterns have been staple patterns for years and imitate various crustaceans from the amphipod and isopod order.  They are highly nutritious and an abundant food source.

Amphipods are more active in low light conditions and shaded streams. Mornings and evenings are when they start moving in open water around their food sources. However, my collections were all done in broad daylight and it did not take much time to find the amphipods in exposed sunny conditions. Crustaceans such as amphipods and isopods are quite fragile and would quickly be digested beyond recognition and this might explain why the South African pioneers never found them in the stomach contents of trout when a catch and release ethos did not exist.

There are about 40 species in South Africa, 26 of these being endemic to the Western Cape.

On the Cape streams they are found where leaves and other vegetable matter accumulate in backwaters and slack areas of the stream. They mainly feed on vegetable material and detritus while some species feed on algae.  Overhanging vegetation on the banks provides the food source for scuds. On the bushed-in beats of some of our smaller streams they can be found in swarms over rotting leaf packs and areas where plant matter has been deposited. They are also found in riffle water where debris and leaves collect between the rocks. The amphipod in these photographs is Paramelita nigroculus, which I found midstream in moderate flow in a handful of rotting leaves that had settled between the rocks. I have found Paramelita capensis  and nigroculus between the palmiet stands on the Smalblaar, which explained why my cress bug pattern worked so well on the trout of the Eerste many years ago, particularly when high water might have dislodged them. Palmiet stands form a perfect environment for scuds to thrive in, collecting leaf litter as well as providing decomposing fronds and stems.

Above: An Illustration of an amphipod from Dave Whitlocks book, GUIDE TO AQUATIC TROUT FOODS.

The scuds on our streams range from a few millimetres to a sizeable 25mm. They are transparent and have an olive blue sheen thanks to their copper sulphatebased blood system. Another prominent feature is the dark line of the digestive tract that runs from the head to the posterior. When an amphipod dies its colour often changes to a light orange colour and it becomes more opaque.

After looking at a few patterns I quite liked the concept of Rainey Riding’s Beadback Scud as the basis for an imitation of Paramelita nigroculus. It uses transparent glass beads along the hook shank to form the body. This is ideal because the hook shank being visible through the glass beads imitates the dark line seen on the natural.

There is a step by step video on YouTube by Rainey’s son Jesse as well as a video of a scud swimming.

Dressing:

Hook:    Hanak 300 BL czech nymph #14

Thread: Olive 18/0 Nano Silk or Veevus 16/0

Body:    Clear glass beads 1.5 – 2 mm

Legs:     Fishient Gliss n Glow clear ice.

Read the full article in the October 2016 issue of FLYFISHING magazine. The new pattern is available to order from myself , send an email for enquiries: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.