If you think terrestrial imitations are only for summer fishing, then you’re missing out on a lot of the dry fly action. The normal thought is that trout ignore land-bred insects in spring and early summer until hatchlings of mayflies and caddis flies become fewer with the heat of summer. They ignore earthlings about as much as one ignores chocolate mousse when going out to dinner.
When fishing in small streams, land fish are even more important than in larger rivers. In some small streams, a trout will feed almost exclusively on landfish, as there are not large areas of insect-producing grooves in these smaller bodies of water. This may be why so-called “attractor” flies like Humpys and Royal Wulffs are so effective in small streams – both flies look suspiciously like beetles or other land-bred insects from a trout’s bottom view. And a moose-hair caddis looks a lot like a tiny early-season grasshopper. But you say these flies have wings. This also applies to beetles, bugs, catydids and many ants!
Unlike fish, which respond to a slip, trout can eat land fish without you noticing. One reason is that they might only see a bug once or twice an hour and the chances of you spotting exactly the right spot aren’t good. An even more important reason is that when trout feed on deep-swimming land insects, there is little splashing. Sometimes you’ll see a subtle ring on the water, sometimes a black snout sticking out above the surface, and sometimes you’ll see a funnel just disappear into a hole in the water with no visible sign of rising. The best places to try a land fly are where rifles enter a dark slot (especially near a deep shore, but not necessarily), in concave indentations along a shore forming small coves, and along undercut shores, especially those that flow through meadows.
Finally, one of the deadliest midsummer rigs I’ve ever used is a tiny nymph attached to the hook bend of a bug or hopper as a dropper. Tie a size 14 bug or ant to a 12 foot 5X hooklink. Using a clinch knot, tie a 20cm length of 6X Mirage Hooklink to the bend of the bug hook and then tie off a length of size 18 Pheasant Tail Nymph until the end of the 6X tippet. About half of your fish you catch with the bug, and for the other 50% you catch with the nymph, the bug is a good but subtle hit indicator.
Tips for fishing on land
- Be as stealthy as any other style of dry fly fishing, but sometimes there’s a fly that lands with a specific target flop will get their attention. At the end of the cast, align your wrist slightly below horizontal. Practice this before trying it on live fish!
- For country folk, don’t ignore middle of the river. Most ants and bugs fall into the water along the bank, but the current eventually pulls them towards the middle of the river. An ant or beetle is often fatally caught in fast guns.
- An occasional twitch can be effective, but don’t overdo it. Try casting downstream with some slack in the hooklink and then use the tip of the rod to twitch the fly just a fraction of an inch. Immediately drop the rod tip to allow the fly to naturally drift after the twitch.
- Many land dwellers sink after hitting the water. Try one hard body antor a floating beetle or funnel with a small piece of it Sink putty 20 cm above the fly. This arrangement is best fished with a strike indicator. This is a deadly secret when nothing else works.
- Land dwellers are more productive on windy days and from late morning to evening when terrestrial insects are active.
- Trout-eating hoppers will often follow a fly 10 or 20 feet downstream before either eating or rejecting the fly. Don’t start too early to make another cast even if the fly is dragging because a trout could still be chasing the fly.
The most popular land flies
- Schroeder’s parachutist: Ed Schroeder’s brilliant pattern has a great profile and is easy to follow on the water.
- Quick site bug: This is my personal flying tip when nothing is climbing.
- Travis Para Ant: As with hoppers, if you can’t see your fly you’re missing out on a lot of climbs. Most ant patterns are barely discernible, even from 20 feet away. Crafted by talented Montana fly tyer Tom Travis, this model has a great ant profile and is highly visible.