Terrestrial Insects – Wasps, Bees, Beetles and more with John Hey

Yellow Grasshopper tied by John Hey.
Yellow Grasshopper tied by John Hey.

Terrestrial Insects – Wasps, Bees, Beetles and more

Yellow Grass Hopper
Yellow Grasshopper

With John Hey

By the time mid-summer comes around in New Zealand the trout have seen hundreds of dry flies and nymphs. Why not try your luck with terrestrials instead.

The most common terrestrial insects are beetles and cicadas but also crickets, ants and grasshoppers are taken by hungry trout. Wasps and bees also fall onto the water.

These insects live their lives on land and in most cases are blown onto the water or fall from riverside vegetation. Look in most fly boxes and you will see 99% aquatic patterns with maybe a cicada and a few beetles.

Live Ground Weta (Genus Hemiandrus focalis)
Live Ground Weta (Genus: Hemiandrus focalis)

Once these insects are on the stream they are easy prey for the trout and because of their weight they attract a fish’s attention and when they are feeding on them your patterns don’t have to land on the water delicately as you’re trying to draw attention to your fly.

Try to look for ideal places. See what sort of numbers are hatching. In a good brown beetle rise, you can cast quite often and make sure your pattern is acting like the natural. It’s no good having a bushy fly floating high on the water, you need a cork or deer hair pattern so it rides in the film like the natural. They are a little hard to see but the slurp near your fly is reason enough to strike.

A wet beetle is a good idea if you like to fish early in the morning, the previous night’s hatch is quite often still on the water. Green beetles on manuka lined streams and high country lakes are likely to be found where the wind blows them as there is no current to bring them to the fish.


On the hydro canals, one Christmas, the trout were going mad on something on the surface and only down one end. That’s where the wind had blown all that fell onto the surface, dozens of beetles there for the picking.

In normal dry fly fishing we tend to cast the fly and leave it motionless but with terrestrials you need to imitate a struggling insect as they are not designed for water therefore our patterns should have legs that move and we should make them move.

These large patterns make ideal searching patterns. Blind casting to likely looking places can often induce a strike.

Although I haven’t seen many crickets or grasshoppers on the water their imitations should work well, we’ve all heard the chirp of the cicadas in the long grass and when you walk over they stop, but by carefully scanning the grass you can spot them. Big deer hair imitations with swept-back wings can be difficult to cast but a short stiffish leader power cast turns them over ok, so if you are, like me, and enjoy the thrill of fooling trout on a dry fly try a terrestrial instead of nymphs.

Paper Wasp
Paper Wasp

Many a time I have out fished my companions this way. I tie my green beetles with black deer hair with a Flashabou wing case and tied on a size 12 hook, I took a nice 4 lb brown out of Lake Grassmere on this pattern, he rose four times; each time coming closer. So accurate casting was needed. My cicada pattern is tied with a mixture of black and brown fine deer hair with hackle tip wings and tied on a size 8 hook, using fine wire if possible.

My grasshopper pattern is tied on a long shank size 8 and has a yellow body with a palmer style hackle. It also has hackle feathers trimmed to shape for legs, and a deer hair head trimmed to shape.

The cricket is almost the same as the hopper but is black. The little waterboatman is a copy of a commercial pattern. Tie a body of peacock herl, Flashabou wing case and legs of pheasant tail with a single strand of pearl Krystal flash out the back. Tied on a size 18 you would hardly think it would interest a trout, but backwater trout and cruising trout in a lake take them in large numbers. One day comes to mind when I was fishing a weedy part of Lake Waitaki . Only a few fish were moving.

Black Grass Hopper
Black Grasshopper

Having fished here before I had found snails and waterboatman were present so I tied on a waterboatman. These little fellows make themselves available to the trout as they leave their safe haven and swim to the surface for air and descend back to the weeds. A sort of alge type you get in still water, tied with pearl Flashabou and Kyrstal flash as a tail imitates air bubbles.

An electrical storm drove me away before any serious fishing could be had. I find it pays not to cast randomly with this pattern as most fish in backwaters tend to move around. Just wait and watch.

The tiny Waterboatman.
The tiny Waterboatman.

On the Waitaki River, all the trout I have seen are big, so not too delicate a leader is necessary; just a well-judged cast. Just as I’m finishing this article I see a few brown beetles buzzing at my lounge window so I’m off to the bench to tie up some extra deer hair beetles. The rise can go on till well after 1 pm when nearly every rise sends your nerves through the sky. Why not try some other terrestrial insects in your fly box this summer.

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