Experiments with terrestrials

The Grizzly Beetle

My experiments with new terrestrial patterns began last December and is continuing weekly. While I have had excellent success with some of my tried and true spring creek flies, some have been consistently ignored by our Catskill mountain trout, thus, new flies are required.

An example is my long time standard foam beetle, the fly that accounted for one of the two largest spring creek trout of my lifetime, a preposterous wild rainbow in excess of ten pounds. That size 18 beetle was a proven killer. Simply tied with lightweight closed cell Larva Lace foam strips, peacock herl and a couple of turns of black hackle, it was a go to summer fly for years. In the Catskills I would be hard pressed to recall a single trout that has taken one. I varied sizes and configurations with no success.

Experience tells me that trout in different environments often require different stimuli. I reasoned that perhaps the density of my beetles needed to increase to make more of a plop on the water, Catskill trout being used to significantly more current and more sound impulses on our larger, faster flowing rivers. With that my recent patterns have used a higher density 1/8″ sheet foam, and I have worked toward creating a bit of movement in the fly.

The first successes early in this summer season have come with the fly I called The Grizzly Beetle, pictured above. The fly has fooled one brown well over twenty inches which escaped late in the fight, and brought one twenty inch brown and a couple of smaller fish to net. It is early, and terrestrials in general have not brought consistent responses yet, but this fly’s initial performance is encouraging.

I was looking hard at a webby grizzly saddle hackle feather when I first tied the pattern, thinking that a webby dry fly hackle would provide a touch of the movement sought, and that the grizzly would also improve visibility of the fly for the angler. The pattern has earned a place in my terrestrial box this summer since it has produced when others have not.

The Grizzly Beetle

Hook: TMC 102Y size 15 or 17

Thread: Black 6/0 or 8/0

Body: 1/8″ thick high density closed cell sheet foam, cut in a strip approximately 1/4″ wide

Underbody: Black peacock Ice Dub, dubbed thickly on the rear two thirds of the hook shank

Hackle: Rather webby dry fly saddle hackle in dark grizzly, slightly oversize (14 hackle for a 15 hook) clipped into a broad vee on the bottom

Tying sequence: Taper 1/8th inch of the end of the foam strip and tie it in about a third of the way down the hook bend, then dub the underbody over the tied in foam and 2/3rds the way up the hook shank. Pull the foam over and tie it down at the end of the dubbing. Gently pull the foam strip toward the eye and tie down over it to make a bed for the hackle. Pull the foam out in front of the hook eye, lay the edge of your scissor blade against the front of the eye and cut, leaving a small foam head. Tie in and wrap the hackle, tie it off and then whip finish under the foam head.

I have relied upon the TMC 102Y hook’s wide gap and Sproat bend for decades for my terrestrials, as it’s set back point improves hooking with wide bodied flies like beetles and crickets. I love the black color particularly for the black terrestrial patterns. I think it visually blends into the fly better and is less noticeable to the trout, an important advantage for flies fished in calm, clear, often shallow water where the fish get a long time to study their food.

The TMC 102Y: You have to imagine the position of the hook point hiding behind the fly line. It sits behind the hackle tips, ready to hook the trout that delicately sips this little CDC ant, and the black provides some camoflage!

I can offer some observations that may be helpful when assessing the readiness of the trout to consider terrestrials. Of course trout sipping very gently in open water, particularly where there are shaded edges are prime targets for smaller ant patterns, from size 16 down to size 22. When you see this behavior and do not see any sign of flying midges or tiny mayflies, ants are near the top of the probability scale.

When fishing with beetles, crickets or large carpenter ants, it is not uncommon to see a slight wake as shallow water trout move to investigate the fly. If you see a few such wakes and get neither takes nor splashy refusals, chances are the trout have not been seeing a lot of terrestrials yet and are not feeding on them when available. I have found that trout that want them will take them if the presentation is sound. That means a soft, accurate cast that doesn’t splash down line or leader, allowing the fly to settle with at most a gentle plop like a natural falling from overhead vegetation. Your drift must be absolutely drag free, and stay that way throughout the time it is in proximity to the fish.

Summer fly fishing is the perfect game for lighter rods and lines. A two, three or four weight bamboo rod is perfection for this fishing. If you are strictly a graphite fly rodder, stay away from the stiffest fast action rods. Older medium action graphite rods in these lighter line weights are better tools for the finesse casting and presentations required. Older Orvis Superfines, Loomis or Winston IM6’s and Thomas & Thomas Paradigm and LPS rods will all do a nice job. If you don’t own one, perhaps a friend has a forgotten rod or two tucked away you can borrow.

Terrestrial fishing is not a game for the poor fly caster. Work on your skills if you need to. The rewards of this game, well played, can be amazing!

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