By Ken Moore, Education Committee
At its finest, trout season is a pack full of dry flies, a floating line, and a bend in the river ahead.” says an advertisement from Rio products. For some nothing signifies summer better than watching a dry fly engulfed by a gluttonous trout. I fully agree, but in this part of the country, we chuck hoppers at the bank all day, every day. We suspend nymphs underneath a hopper, we skitter the hopper, we even tie them in tandem. And why do we do this? Because it works!
This time of the year the water is lower, slower, and usually clear – often gin clear. As I write this article, I am in Great Falls MT and the hopper, ant, and beetle takes are epic. An interesting fact about this area of Montana is the meteorologist calls a 20-30 mile per hour wind a breeze. A breeze- really? But the combination of wind, slower-moving water, and terrestrials is the perfect combination for a fun day on the river. This month let us spend some time with terrestrials. This phylum of “bugs” includes grasshoppers, ants, and beetles they often are big and juicy and trout cannot resist them.
In fly fishing, we often think broadly of what is at the terminal end of our fly line. There are nymphs- fishing below the waterline. Emergers- half in, half out of the water. Dry flies -fishing above the waterline. Technically ants, beetles, and hoppers usually are fished in the dry fly category- above the waterline. If you sink or drench your terrestrial they still work and sometimes this is the trick that puts a fish in the net. When you are at a fly shop or the tying table you want to fill a box with all three (ants, beetles, and hoppers) in various sizes and various colors. I personally do not concern myself with color for terrestrials, but if color gives you confidence by all means buy or tie it. Having a leader with a stiffer/ bigger butt section assists you to cast or “turn over” a heavier fly. I recommend Rio’s Powerflex Trout or Scientific Anglers Absolute Trout series of leaders. Typically, a 7-9 foot, 2X- 4X leader and your 4-6 weight fly rod are all that you need.
The beauty of fishing terrestrials in many ways it is the opposite of dry fly fishing. With dry flies, we downsize and lengthen our tippet and we delicately present the fly to the water. With terrestrials, we slam and smash the water with the hopper or beetle. You want to make a splash! Immediately mend your line upstream and begin to skitter the bug by shaking your rod tip back and forth. You are attempting to imitate a bug that has fallen in the water, kicking and squirming.
Terrestrials rarely fly to the middle of the river, run out of energy, and fall to their demise in a cold and unforgiving moving river. (The exception would be flying ants.) You will find your best hopper, beetle and ant fishing next to the bank or in pools and eddies. Typically, terrestrials are blown into the water by wind or farm machinery. Trout like to hold in water that is protective. Rainbows and brown trout have no hesitancy in holding in inches of water when the terrestrial feed is on. This includes shorelines with undercut banks or under trees and limbs. Casting accuracy is paramount; you are trying to get the bug within 1-4 inches of your target. An example would be If you are fishing a current line in a river and you see a foam line running along the shore you want to put your fly to the shore side of the foam line. The fish are that geared to the shoreline placing a cast away from the shore bank will generate no takes.
If you are fishing from a boat or pontoon you have one advantage over a walk and wade fisherman especially if the shoreline has grass along the bank. A favorite technique is to over shoot your fly into the grass. Your goal is to imitate the hopper falling into the water. Two technique styles are to gently pull your fly line and manipulate the hopper to the water. Or place your fly rod tip into the water and give one strong strip. This gets your fly into the water faster when you are floating downs stream and makes a bigger splash when the hopper hists the water. After the hopper is in the water immediately mend upstream and skitter your fly. Beetles can be fished in the same manner as hoppers and I often fish for them under trees or overhanging limbs. They just seem to fall out of trees more than fly into rivers. My experience is that most fisherman do not use beetles as often and this presents a different option to the trout than what they are accustomed to seeing, another hopper floating down the river. To cast and shoot your beetle under an overhang stop your rod tip cast high (11 or 10 o’clock position) or sidearm your cast. The bow and arrow cast also works very well for branches low to the water.
Ants are smaller and lighter than hoppers and beetles so they don’t produce a splash in the water. Don’t fret if the trout are eating ants they will know that yours is there. A disadvantage to ants is they are harder to see in the water so buy or tie them with a visible post. We tend to see trout slurping and slashing ants in pools and eddies.
There is a phrase that dry fly fishermen use when they see a fish take their fly. “God save the Queen”. This phrase is said to help you slow down. Imagine a trout as it rises to take your fly. The trout rises, the mouth opens, the fly goes into the mouth and the fish turns to dive and return to its lair. When the fish turns to return to her lair is when you want to set the hook. You have to delay your hook set (“God save the Queen”) or you will pull the fly away from the fish’s open mouth. When you set your hook make it snappy and up into the air, set the hook into the roof of the trout’s mouth.
So, there you have it, the hoppers are big and plentiful, the caddis are abundant and the October baetis will be here soon. If you have questions, just want to talk fishing or suggestions for additional articles for the Barbless feel free to call 509-953-8669. Good fishing and be safe.