Interview: Steve Dally of Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher

I posted a streamer tie on Instagram and tagged Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher. A Concord Outfitters group will be fishing with Dally’s at Arkansas’ famed White River, known for its monster browns.

Wouldn’t you know it, but Steve Dally himself generously reached out with some advice, something he didn’t have to do. If you’re into streamer fishing, particularly big-and-articulated ones, you already will know his name.

Also, we are pumped that he agreed to an interview with us. So, here is Steve, who is a Sage Elite Guide, Rainy’s Fly designer, writer, photographer, videographer, and Manager of Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher. He is from Tasmania, Australia.

Oh, and Steve knows browns. Here he is with a fine male White River brown.

What brought you to the USA? How did you pick Cotter, Arkansas, to be your new home?
It’s a long story and more by accident than planning. But, basically, my ex-wife and a desire to travel and fly fish, brought me to the U.S. After we married, she was headhunted to Arkansas, but it would go awry and end up in divorce. But, it put me in the place to meet my now wife of 12 years and then move to Cotter. These days I’m guiding more than ever and am part of the management team at the fly shop.

Streamer Lovefest is huge these days and has become a national event. How did it start?
The Lovefest started through a group of guys who were tying big flies and wanted to fish together for some White River brown trout. We had musky streamer guys Brad Bohen, Nick Granato, Chris Willen, and Lucky Porter in town to fish with Chad Johnson, Alex Lafkas, and me.

The idea just popped up: let’s get some folks together fora big-fly “expression session.” Let’s use the talent we have here amongst this group and give people have a chance to talk and interact with the tiers. Not a stuffy old school demonstration, but a celebration of, and a party for, this style of fishing. People tell me, “Wow, I had the chance to have a beer with Mike Schmidt or Russ Maddin or Blane Chocklett.”

It came along at the right time, as tying and fishing big flies was just taking off, and we were excited about the same stuff.

After seven years, we now increase Cotter’s population by about 30% with people driving six, 10 and 15 hours to get here. We invite some of the best tiers in the country, and take them away from the big-show circuit, and everyone coming through the doors is a streamer addict and shares their passion.

Streamer addicts are seriously into their gig, way beyond your average, say, Tenkara fisher or hopper fisher, pretty much anyone other than the Spey crazies. The dedication is at a different level. Oh, and it’s a fun night.

Big one for Cain Royalty (left) on the Dally’s Lap Dancer.

Anything new and exciting happening at Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher these days?
So, our next project after the Lovefest is our All Species Odyssey, a 24-hour friendly contest to catch as many local species at our tailwaters, natural-run rivers, and lakes. It’s all about getting people excited about all the fish you can catch on a fly, and we have a target list of 30 species. Trout are the foundation, but there is so much more out there, including our home-grown Ozark smallies.

We had $4,000 in prizes and 11 teams for the first event. Year Two promises to be way bigger. These other species really are the future of fly fishing, and that makes me excited. I love brown trout, but I love fly fishing for everything salt or fresh, oh, except sockeyes.

The Internet. Friend or foe to your fly shop?
Hell, we are so far off the beaten path, we had to have the Internet to grow. The Ozark Fly Fisher Journal blog, our Instagram feed, and YouTube channel have really allowed us to reach out and show who we were and what we had in this fishery, of which most people didn’t know, particularly after the flood-and-Great-Financial-Crisis years that beat up the local industry.

And, know that fishing techniques and tactics have changed quite a bit in the last decade. It has meant, basically, bigger and better brown trout in different ways and at more times of the year. The Internet allowed us to tell all of these stories without breaking the bank. It happens, too, I’m a content guy: I’ve written for a living since 1986 and really enjoy the photography component of the gig.

Any new materials or gear getting you really excited?
I’ve been a buyer for fly shops since 2005 and have written a gear column for Flylife Magazine for longer. Our gear now is so specialized and more sophisticated when compared to a decade or two ago.

If you take the emotion out of it, rods are way better, reels now are so over-engineered for the job that they are jewels, wading boots are phenomenal, tippet is better, and, look at the hooks.  The question might be,  “How much better can we have it?”

The big questions are what interest me. Give me a fleece that works like the current model but isn’t contributing to the proliferation of micro-plastics. What is going to replace carbon fiber and resin in rods?  Why are so many awful flies being sold on Instagram, and who is buying this crap? Why is it so hard to find a solid little click-pawl reel for a five-weight? And, why do so many fly fishers only fish a day or two a year?

There is way too much time to think when you are on the oars 200 days a year!

A 25″ brown trout caught on an eight-inch Dally’s Musky Suckah Lap Dancer.

What about fly design?
I’ve been a fly designer for Rainy’s Flies for a decade: articulated streamers, some soft hackles, and, more recently, Euro-style jigs for tailwaters. But it’s always been an intellectual exercise to me, not emotive. If your fly works better to solve a given problem, then I’m using yours.

So, it’s taken me a while to go beyond the streamer designs I have out there, but I have a good one I’m still testing, that wiggles like a dancer on a hip-hop video. But, I’m still messing around with hopper concepts and a tarpon fly, and the quest continues. Every fly designer is trying for the perfect fly.

What locations are on your fly-fishing bucket list?
Dorado in Bolivian creeks. I really want to go back to Tasmania, the waters I cut my teeth on, but, now, with nearly 20 more years of experience. I want to smell a wet eucalyptus forest again and hear the call of a currawong. New Zealand. Hell, go to saltwater again without attracting a tropical depression or personal disaster.

What do you do to keep fly fishing fun and new for yourself?
Because I didn’t grow up with a lot of these Ozarks species, they are truly cool for me. Smallmouth and largemouth, I love fishing for. I love trying to acquire more knowledge. I’m interested in the myriad of panfish on a light rod, as well as gar and carp. I want to figure out drum. This stuff fires me up, as do redfish and tarpon on the Gulf Coast.

But, honestly, watching someone “get it” for the first time, being that guiding hand, really is a special way to make a living. Catching trophy class browns is pretty cool as well.

Hopper browns and good friends. Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher guide Gabe Levin and Steve Dally having fun on a rare day off.

Describe your ideal fly fishing day. Who is with you, where are you, and what technique are you employing?
If I’m working on the White River and am with people with passion and an open-and-inquisitive mind, and a sense of humor, I’ll take whatever tactic is working best. But, big brown trout on hoppers is hard to beat. Also, on a caddis dry or a streamer.

If I get to fish, give me a dry fly, hopper, caddis or sulphur and a rising head. One fly, one tough fish, and let’s go to work. It’s how I started fly fishing, and it’s still a craving.

Otherwise, a dank day with snow on the way, an eight-weight, and 20,000 cfs. I love watching brown trout become predators on one of my streamer patterns.


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3 thoughts on “Interview: Steve Dally of Dally’s Ozark Fly Fisher

  1. Just Watched Live the Stream about Joe Humphreys. Some footage of him fishing down there! Awesome for those who haven’t seen it. think it’s available on Amazon prime. i got my copy from the library.

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