JEFF KNAPP: Land-based insects work for fly-fishermen, too
While the taking of trout on traditional flies that mimic aquatic insects is a classic way to fish, many fish are also taken on duplicates of land-based insects.
Tom Ference, a skilled fly-fisherman, champion caster, exceptional fly-tier and former trout-fishing guide, relies heavily on terrestrials. He considers his basic terrestrials to be ants, hoppers, beetles and crickets. Though he accepts the fact that the imitation of land-based insects is considered a summer affair, he has confidence in terrestrials on a broader scale.
“Most anglers start using these offerings after the spring and early-summer hatches have concluded,” said Ference. “Land-based insects are now becoming more prevalent and active. However, a different approach should not be ignored. For whatever reason — only the fish really know — trout will readily take terrestrials virtually all year long. Granted, during the cold-weather months the fish will not be looking up toward the surface on a regular basis. But, for instance, fishing an ant can be productive when it’s ‘splatted’ along the stream bank … or better yet is to fish a subsurface ant pattern.”
For fishing an ant wet, Ference ties one with a thread body — in the shape of an ant — and then covers it in epoxy. He will also add a little black paint to the mix, which creates a nice, shiny body that the fish seem to like.
Mark Transue is an equally skilled angler. A favorite pastime, when he can get away from his tackle shop for a few hours, is to pursue trout on a variety of limestone and freestone streams. He’s had excellent success with standard, as well as some not-so-standard terrestrial patterns. In terms of the classics, he often turns to an ant, which he fishes dry.
“I prefer to fish ants because they are small,” he said. “They aren’t wind-resistant like grasshopper and cricket patterns. Tight against the bank is usually the best way to go. You want to be pretty accurate with your casts. Any overhanging brush is ideal. Fish like to lie back in those undercuts and overhanging trees. And it’s a likely spot for ants to be dropping in the water.”
Typically he fishes a size 18 ant, often incorporating just a tuff of a bright synthetic like flashabou on its back. This makes the fly much more visible, especially when fished back in shaded areas.
Some fly-fishers consider the wind to be a hindrance, making casting difficult, and the water’s surface more difficult to read. But for the terrestrial angler, the wind can be a real asset.
“Often, during a sudden gust of wind, a flurry of rises can be observed on the water underneath an overhanging willow branch, tree or shrub,” Ference noted. “This is indeed a result of the bugs being blown into the water. Wind will also blow grasshoppers and other flying insects into the stream, providing easy pickings for a trout.”
As for stream and current types, Ference said fast and slow sections of water will provide action.
“In fast riffle areas, a large foam- or cork-bodied pattern can be smacked down aggressively onto the choppy surface, resulting in hard and fast takes,” Ference said. “On slower sections of water, trout will often hit the fly as soon as it hits the surface. But don’t be overanxious to lift the fly off the water for another cast too soon, as they quite often will follow a large terrestrial downstream several yards before making a decision to take. They will sometimes take these large offerings even with the fly incurring some drag in these instances.”
Ants, beetles, crickets and hoppers are traditional terrestrial fare of the trout. But other insects can make the trout go, well, buggy. The cicada is a good example.
“It was some of the most exceptional trout fishing that I’ve ever experienced,” said Transue, recalling a series of trips to the Little Juniata River. “It was unique, taking trout on a dry fly that’s big and bulky. The other factor was the aggressiveness of the fish, the way they’d attack the fly. There wasn’t much messing around. They’d really attack it.”
It’s been a few years since Transue experienced that exceptional fishing. Cicadas have long life cycles, appearing as adults every 13 or 17 years. The timing of this varies across regions, though, which means its appearance occurs much more frequently than 13 or 17 years, for anglers that keep tabs on cicada hatches and are willing to travel.