Terrestrials and the Trout – A User’s Guide of Fly Patterns to Imitate Them

Muz looks a bit like a wasp himself. The flowering gorse in the background sends clouds of bees across dangerous waters. Photo Andy Trowbridge.
Muz looks a bit like a wasp himself. The flowering gorse in the background sends clouds of bees across dangerous waters. Photo Andy Trowbridge.

Terrestrials and the Trout – A User’s Guide of Fly Patterns to Imitate Them

In Terrestrials and the Trout, Paul Corliss looks at food items for trout that originate from the land such as beetles, grubs, spiders, caterpillars, moths, flies, grasshoppers, cicadas, wasps/bees, crane-flies and even mice, along with how to imitate them

Table of Contents

What has changed since the very first account of fishing with a fly was written? Nearly all things but one have, and that one is the food. The insects and creatures of water and land are pretty much exactly as they were millennia ago. Angling author Francis Francis (parents were an unimaginative lot in the early days) wrote what is still one of the most comprehensive and thoughtful angling books in 1867 called appropriately “A Book On Angling”.

We have combined this magnificent series of four articles by Paul Corliss into a single piece with many upgraded photographs of the terrestrials discussed. In Terrestrials and the Trout, Paul looks at food items for trout that originate from the land such as beetles, grubs, spiders, caterpillars, moths, flies, and grasshoppers, cicada, wasps/bees, crane-flies and so on, along with how to imitate them.

He concurs when he says that “the flies fed on by trout have been the same from all ages, I conclude, and therefore one has nothing to do but to take them (artificial flies) from those who have gone before, selecting the best favoured by the fish, and leaving out the worst, and make such suggestions on dressing them as experience may dictate. “Tying imitations of them has altered but the things to be imitated haven’t.

This is considered the oldest picture of angling. The Egyptian fishermen here are using rods as well as lines and may be equipped with a spinner or plug for casting, c2000 BC. (From P.E. Newberry, Ben Hasan).
This is considered the oldest picture of angling. The Egyptian fishermen here are using rods as well as lines and may be equipped with a spinner or plug for casting, c2000 BC. (From P.E. Newberry, Ben Hasan).

Claudius Aelianus, in the third century AD, wrote a book called “De Animalium Natura” that described primitive equipment of a pliant reed, six feet long with a line of the same length tied to the tip, at the end of the line was attached a hook on which a fly was created. This earliest of artificials had a red wool body with two cock-chicken neck feathers wrapped in to simulate wings. The natural the fish were feeding on was too soft to impale on a hook and also quickly lost its colour. Thus the need for an imitation was created.

Of course, the use of the natural impaled on the bare hook was common practice, even in New Zealand where anglers used to have a field day with a couple of “creepers” or Dobson Fly larvae stuck on the bare hook. I’m sure that where licenses still permit it, some less adventurous anglers still tread that path.

Captain Hamilton, in his “Trout Fishing and Sport in Maoriland” (1904) gives a description of the essential accoutrements for the “terrestrial” angler, the insect flask. I quote: “Flask For Creeper, Cicada, Grasshopper, Etc”.

The Insect Flask – Terrestrials and the Trout

This should be a japanned zinc flask, 8 inches (20cm) high, 2 and a quarter inches (57mm), across the bottom, 1 inch (25mm) across the top, with a strong hinged lid. It should be round in shape, perforated over its whole height, and it should have a zinc handle three-quarters inch (20mm), in diameter and three-quarters inch (19mm), wide, and fastened 1 and a half-inch (38mm), from the top edge of flask.

“It should be hung from a buttonhole by putting a twine loop around the flask and through the handle”.

In later advice, the Captain advises that a sufficient quantity (of grasshoppers, cicada, grubs or creepers) should be collected the evening before, as “even if the fisher has an attendant at the waterside much time may be lost procuring these while trout are on the feed.”

Mayfly. Terrestrials and the Trout.
Mayfly.

He advises that blow-flies, beetles etc may also be used successfully in the same manner.

The Achilles heel of the trout is undoubtedly its stomach. If it will open its mouth to eat an identifiable something it is the chink in the armour we need.

We must construct an imitation that will fit the bill. Nymphs, duns, spinners, lures etc have been successfully proven over the centuries in all their various dressings and their advocates have promoted and fought for them. Another field of imitation that has delivered the goods but has not been so often championed, the terrestrial insect, has in fact been used and tested with complete success for hundreds of years.

A. Courtney Williams in ”A Dictionary of Trout Flies” (1949) notes that the natural winged fly forms but a small part of the trout’s diet. We will ignore for the purposes of this article the majority diet of nymphs of caddis and mayfly taken underwater and such other dietary supplements as small fish, molluscs, shrimp etc and concentrate on those food items “on the surface” but originating on land, beetles, grubs, spiders, caterpillars, moths, flies (order diptera), grasshoppers, cicada, wasps/bees, craneflies and so on.

Williams suggests that imitations may be usefully extended to this range of “terrestrials”. He states that the ephemeridae (the mayflies), “have assumed an exaggerated and unwarranted importance in the minds of the average fly fisherman.”

They are clearly not the only flies worthy of consideration. When one adds into the equation the abundance of terrestrials and habitat proximity to trout waters in New Zealand, then their “availability” to trout pushes them further up the ”on-surface food ” chain of demand.

Blue damselfly, kekewai. The males are blue and black shown here, while the females are more greenish. Found around stillwater, near reeds and rushes. Flies October to May. Photo credit Kane Fleury, taken at Ocean Grove, Dunedin. Length 45mm. https://inaturalist.nz/photos/32412296. Terrestrials and the Trout.
Blue damselfly, kekewai. The males are blue and black shown here, while the females are more greenish. Found around stillwater, near reeds and rushes. Flies October to May. Photo credit Kane Fleury, taken at Ocean Grove, Dunedin. Length 45mm. https://inaturalist.nz/photos/32412296

Clearly, this is not meant to imply that if there is a hatch of some identifiable mayfly or caddis being taken from the surface you should persist in flopping out some monstrous cicada imitation the size of a small fox-terrier. It is a question of using them at the right or appropriate time. Try not matching the hatch during the Mataura River rise and see how successful you are. Similarly when the willow grub falls from their leaf blisters trout will take nothing else.

They will move ten feet to intercept the small yellow/green blob. It represents the larval stage of the sawfly (Pontania proxima) and as they drill their way out of the leaf-blister they drop onto the trout’s tablecloth.

Maybe some people have difficulty calling a willow grub imitation a “fly” in the purest sense, but the argument applies equally to say a nymph, it is not yet a ”fly”. The object is to catch trout as sportingly as you can and an imitation of trout food tied with fur and feather (or the modern synthetic equivalents) onto a hook must come close to qualifying as a “fly”. Of course, some flies resemble nothing on earth let alone trout food, yet they deliver. I have no wish to be side-tracked into the Glow-bug debate, so will stop this line of logic before I get into mischief.

The simplest dressing I use for the willow grub is primrose floss tied around the bend of the hook (sizes 16 and even 18 if your fingers can handle it) in a plump body tied off with a brown silk head. I usually tie a thin underbody of lime green floss to improve the colour effect when it’s wet, it looks juicier somehow.

The rise to the willow grub can be very difficult to detect if you’re not looking for it. It’s a very deliberate take, but initially, it can be confusing. The rise seems to be a surface one even though you can’t spot the fly on the surface. In fact, the take is in or under the surface. A soft supping rather than an energetic slash, often the surface is not even broken, just a soft dimple as the water boils.

I was caught out once when fishing the Opihi River. The trout was clearly visible sitting downstream of a trailing willow and I just knew he was on the grub but had only my nymph box with me. In a fit of imagination that surprises me still, I stripped a #16 Pheasant Tail nymph and moulded a twist of yellow/green floating indicator putty to the bare hook. Well, I could spin this one out for a good while but the bottom line was that it landed a couple of feet to the left, the trout slid over and sucked it in as neat as you please. I had him on and under control before he said farewell from under a flood-stranded gorse bush. It worked then and has worked twice more since, very cheap flies and so easy to tie!

The flying or winged ant seems more prolific overseas in Australia, England and the United States, but they do occur here and even the wingless worker ends up as trout L tucker when a good wind blows them from streamside vegetation. The New Zealand southern ant (Chelaner antarcticus) has variable colouring, ranging from black to orange. In summer, winged ants, both short-lived males and fertilised queens, fly in search of nesting sites and thus make themselves available as potential trout tucker.

I have found a few in the stomach of trout and I have no doubt that trout will recognise your imitations and investigate Why trouts like ants is a bit of a mystery, anyone who has crushed one will recognise the urine-like smell of formic acid, but like them they do. Imitations have been around a while as well.

Charles Cotton’s writing first appeared with Walton’s “The CompleatAngler” in 1676, and he gives a dressing for the flying ant of a mixed dubbing of brown and red soft wool and a wing of light grey hackle. Jack Dennis in his “Western Trout Fly Tying Manual” (1974) for the black ant gives the following:

Ant dry fly. Terrestrials and the Trout.
Ant dry fly.

The Black Ant – Terrestrials and the Trout –

Silk: Black monocord or heavy black nylon thread.
Body: Black thread lacquered.
Hackle: Two black neck hackles.
Tag: Red lacquer or red thread or floss
Tail: None.
Hook Size: #8 – #20.
The hackle is tied at the “waist” of the fly and both ends are built up as knobs of tying silk.

To help the ant float low, as the natural does, give the underside a bit of a trim with the scissors to get it down into the surface film. Some tie the ant with fur or deer hair and swear by their effectiveness, but the only other one I could recommend from experience is the McMurray Ant.

This requires two small balls of cork or balsa drilled to allow a short length of monofilament to be threaded through before anchoring them to the hook with glue. The lumps were painted black and tied over the mono in the middle along with a few wraps of black hackle, fiddly on a size 16 or 18 hook, but very effective. The balsa or cork can be substituted by two small chunks of dense foam enclosed in black pantyhose material. Of course, a true sportsman would not take the easy way out and simply buy a pair of stockings.

C F Walker in his “Trout Flies: Natural & Artificial” has this to say about the ant: “An artificial ant is very seldom required but when it is wanted it is wanted very badly. Trout seem to be inordinately fond of them.” Though he acknowledges that in 30 years of fly-fishing he has never had occasion to use one himself. He gives William Lunn’s dressings:

Southern Ant. Terrestrials and the Trout.
Southern Ant.

The Red Ant – Terrestrials and the Trout

Tying Silk: Deep orange
Body: The tying silk wound to form a fat blob at the tail end with a few single turns to represent the “waist”.
Wings: Fibres from a white cock’s hackle tied on slanting over the body and trimmed with scissors to the required length
Hackle: Light bright red cock Hook size: #18 – #14

For a dark ant substitute the above as follows: crimson tying silk, a blue dun cock’s hackle for the wings and a very dark red cock for the hackle. If you really want to try accurate ant patterns you’ll have to consider going as small as size 28 hooks. Generally, the ants are fished underneath overhanging branches and trees.

As American master angler and tier, Ed Koch comments, “Fished near the stream’s edge, a foot or so from the bank the ant will often get more looks, rises and takers than any other fly”. Small sizes, (he’s talking of black and cinnamon ants here) 20 to 28, are best.

Occasionally I have been confounded by trout who were surface-feeding regularly and refused time after time the tiniest well-placed ant: but minutes later, I’d present a monstrous size 14, and the trout took as if it hadn’t eaten for a week”.

Green cicada. There are about 40 species in New Zealand, all native, each with its own special song. Colours include green, red, orange, brown and black. Terrestrials and the Trout.
Green cicada. There are about 40 species in New Zealand, all native, each with its own special song. Colours include green, red, orange, brown and black.

How often have I had a trout studiously ignore my most delicately presented size 16 dry flies, nosing it suspiciously then turning away and down as if it was the most stinking creation to float down that stream in its lifetime? Slap a well-hung size 8 green cicada down on its head and you’ll swear that it can’t have tasted food in a year, a slashing, no-nonsense, I’ll-have-that-if-it’s-the-only-thing-I-ever-eat type of take. Who knows why?

Try catching a trout after dusk with a slim blue dun when the brown beetle is about, theoretically possible but highly unlikely.

A big clumpy deer-hair beetle plopped vigorously onto the surface is far more likely to deliver a trout, that’s what they’re on and that’s what they prefer at that time. The natural is a fat lump and needs this shape to succeed. See also Terrestrial Insects – Wasps, Bees, Beetles and more with John Hey.

After dark, it is the shape that becomes the most important key to success.

A well-hackled Coch Y Bondhu or even a big Royal Wulff can be used without sacrificing too much of the imitation but the plump deer-hair fly reigns supreme in my diary.

Mike Weddell, now New Zealand resident; and once world professional casting champion, selected the Coch Y Bondhu as one of his Ten Best New Zealand trout flies. He uses it as a general pattern to explore the water as it is a solid looking mouthful and highly visible to the fish. Equally important, it floats well in rough water and is readily seen by the angler. It can imitate a range of beetles and even the blowfly and will catch fish feeding on cicadas and damsel flies.

The Brown Beetle (Costelytra zealandica). Terrestrials and the Trout.
The Brown Beetle (Costelytra zealandica).

The Cicada (Amphipsalta cingulata). Terrestrials and the Trout.
The Cicada (Amphipsalta cingulata).

The clapping cicada (Amphipsalta cingulata) is the largest and noisiest of the many species of native cicada. The Maori name, kihikihi wawa, means ”roaring like heavy rain”, as apt as you could possibly get. Hundreds upon hundreds of them, the trunks of the oak trees festooned with the dry husks of the nymphs, left to hang after they’ve hatched.

Norman Marsh’s “Trout Stream Insects of New Zealand: How to Imitate And Use Them” (1983) gives a reasonable cicada pattern, though I feel it would improve if the deer hair was dyed an olive green and “plastic attractors” added as wings.

A natural cicada has finely veined wings that reflect the light. When this beauty is floating downstream on a sunny day you can see the flashes of light reflecting in the air but more importantly into the water. Often it has been the flash of reflected light from the wings that has alerted a stationary trout to my cicada’s presence.

Remember, when a cicada blunders into water it hits with a decent thump. Don’t get carried away but don’t be scared to give it a hard splat on the surface. This can be the only attractor you’ll need, or maybe they’ll spook so quickly, that you’ll wonder what it was you were casting at. They’ve worked on waters as diverse as the Orangipuku and the Haupiri Rivers, the Silverstream, Lake Mahinerangi, the Opihi, the Robinson and the Tekapo Rivers, Lake Clearwater and particularly the Rakaia River.

There is another cicada, alike in all respects to the clapping cicada, except it is only a third of the size. This cicada, whose name I do not know, is abundant among the tussock and matagouri country and I suggest you use the Umpqua pattern, but on smaller hooks, if you can manage.

Marsh’s Cicada Pattern

Collar: Peacock herl
Body: Deer Hair
Hackle: Brown cock
Wings: Badger hackle tips
Tail: Deer hair
Silk: Brown
Hook size: #8 – #12

Umpqua Cicada Pattern

The Umpqua pattern is closer to what is needed. It originated in New Zealand, is not ashamed of its bulk and has olive deer hair. I have used them up to size 6!

Collar Olive deer hair
Body: Olive deer hair
Wings: Shimazaki Fly Wing over pearl Krystal Flash
Head: Olive deer hair
Silk: Olive
Hook size: #8 – #10
No tail

This pattern also calls for black monofilament eyes. I don’t think it matters a damn to the trout but it certainly gives the angler the confidence that his imitation looks great.

Blowflies Bluebottles – Terrestrials and the Trout

Blow Fly
Blow Fly.

I know one ancient angler who restricts his trout fishing to the headwaters of the major Canterbury rivers. While he has a few other flies, the whole of one side of his flybox is stacked with Blowfly Drys, probably 20 to 30 of them, all plump and well hackled. The addition of white calf hair as wings (the same as in the Royal Wulff) gives a great indicator of white against the black hackle. He is never short of big trout and goes through his 20 – 30 imitations every season, as they get torn and worn by the many big trout that they entice to the surface.

Tied with black deer hair and blue or green Flashabou on top of the body the Humpy makes an excellent blowfly.
Tied with black deer hair and blue or green Flashabou on top of the body the Humpy makes an excellent blowfly.

The most common blue blowflies are the native (Calliphora quadrimaculata) and the European. Basically indistinguishable from each other they are a plump 8 – 10mm in length and a disgusting but juicy morsel for trout. There are always bluebottles about in the backcountry and this is the reason why you should always carry a few counterfeits in your fly box.

R K Bragg’s pattern from Draper’s “Trout Flies in New Zealand” is close enough but can be improved by first building up a plump body of black chenille and a few peacock herls and also incorporating the white deer-hair wings which double as a useful indicator.

Tail: A short tuft of the black squirrel.
Body hackle: A good quality tapered black hackle is tied point first at the tail and then wound up to the head. Follow this up with turns of metallic blue lurex tinsel. Blue floss will suffice but the metallic sheen reflecting into the water is the key attractor Hook size: #14 – #10.

Black Gnat

A standard Black Gnat dry in the bigger sizes can do the job and has an added advantage in that it is a more general pattern and can be taken for other insects as well.

Humphy Blowfly

The Humphy Blowfly is as good an imitator as you could wish for. It has risen fat rainbows from the Rakaia River headwaters in the South Island and defeated a few big browns up the Mohaka River in the North Island, geographically diverse evidence.

Fadg Griffiths in his “The Lure of Fly-tying” (1978) gives illustrations and dressings for over 25 different beetles and nearly 30 different grasshoppers!

American George La Branch in his “The Dry Fly and Fast Water” (1914) debates imitation of the natural at length and quotes Professor James Rennie and his book “Alphabet of Scientific Angling”.

Rennie argues against the “exact imitation” theory and supports the appearance of being a living insect as the key and making the artificial a fly that “would attract the notice of the fish by its form and colour, rather than to imitate any particular species of fly.” He further notes that ”the larger they are, as in the case of grasshoppers, so much the better, because they can furnish a better mouthful.” I agree.

Perhaps we could manufacture a deceiver from Izaak Walton’s days.
Perhaps we could manufacture a deceiver from Izaak Walton’s days.

Perhaps we could manufacture a deceiver from Izaak Walton’s days. “You must be sure you want not in your magazine bag the peacock’s feather, and grounds of such wool and crewel as will make the grasshopper. With these and a short line you may dape or dop, and also a grasshopper, behind a tree, or in any deep hole; still making it move on the top of the water as if it were alive, and still keeping yourself out of sight, you shall certainly have sport if there be trouts; yea, in a hot day, but especially in the evening of a hot day, you will have sport.”

The key to success with many of the terrestrials is not just imitating the shape, size or colour but the movement, intentional drag applied selectively and at the right moment, a cultured twitch, especially in the slower water.

The bigger size of terrestrial imitations gives us the added advantage of visibility and flotation, particularly important if they are to be fished with success on faster water, broken water and riffles. No time for a leisurely examination here, a too fussy trout will be a hungry trout, so they need to grab it quickly while it is available.

A big cicada imitation can deceive these big Canterbury high country browns. Photo by Andy Trowbridge. Terrestrials and the Trout.
A big cicada imitation can deceive these big Canterbury high country browns. Photo by Andy Trowbridge. Terrestrials and the Trout.

Joe’s Hopper has created catching chances for me when all else has failed. In a fit of frustration, as big trout flashed silver in the Hurunui River, we had despaired of picking the hatch and flagged the fishing. As we sat on the tussocked banks, the answer hopped from a grass stalk and onto my boots. Several fat fish were taken with Joe’s Hopper before the grasshoppers went off the menu. A gaudy fly by New Zealand dry fly standards, it is a good floater and has regular success to commend it.

Fished along the edge of grassy banks on hot summer days it does the job, especially when twitched to attract notice. This dressing by Jack Dennis, is similar to the one that works for me, but remember dressings should be varied on any fly to reflect the local colours:

Joe's Hopper.
Joe’s Hopper.

Incorporating deer hair creates more buoyancy which can be essential to achieving the right results. Grasshopper patterns work better the more deer hair you can incorporate. Try clipped deer-hair heads, mixed turkey and deer hair wings and yellow dyed and sculpted deer-hair bodies. They have worked on spring creeks running through pastureland like Bruce Stream at Lake Brunner, as well as on delicate plains rivers like the Hinds in South Canterbury.

Large hoppers are the most deadly dry-fly attractors in the American West for three months of the year, and at the height of summer in certain waters of the South Island, I would rather leave my thermos at home, than forget a grasshopper imitation.

Vincent Marinaro in his revolutionary ”The Ring of the Rise” (1976) describes the following pattern as the very finest grasshopper pattern he had ever seen.

Joe’s Hopper Grasshopper Imitation

Body: Yellow chenille or wool.
Wing: 2 matched turkey quill sections (lacquered prior to use).
Tail: Red hackle fibres.
Ribbing: Brown saddle hackle (trimmed).
Hackle: Brown and grizzly saddle hackles mixed.
Silk: Black or black monocord.
Hook size: #2 – #16.

The quill ends were cut and prepared, then dyed the appropriate colour. The dye would penetrate both inside and outside the quill, assuring a lasting translucent body colour.

The two small quills added as legs act as pontoons to keep grasshopper floating on an even keel and to simulate the folded legs.

The Pontoon Hopper

The imitation floated upright no matter how badly cast and is floated high and dry at the end of 5,000 casts as well as it floated on the first cast.

The Pontoon Hopper

Crickets (Teleogryilus commodus) don’t seem to be too abundant on South Island trout streams, though they can certainly be heard scratching away on a hot afternoon among pastureland in the warmer regions. I know that there is an abundance of bit fat ones (crickets) around the Auckland area and have seen hundreds of immature ones blown onto the lakes around Taupo. In the Canterbury high country and down in the McKenzie country there are black crickets among pasture and tussock that are only a quarter of the size of Teleogryilus and should be tied accordingly. The trout certainly love crickets and on faster ripply water, a big black cricket can get a warm reception from the invited guests.

The best looking cricket imitation is the Letort Cricket, but I will also give the dressing for the Cricket Fly in Keith Draper’s “Trout Flies of New Zealand” (1971) as its feathers are more patriotic.

The Letort Cricket is American and while there have been some terrible things coming out of the United States, trout flies aren’t one of them. The dressing that follows is from Art Flick’s “Master Fly-Tying Guide” (1972):

The Letort Cricket

Body: Black Spun fur.
Underwing: Dyed black goose or duck quill.
Overwing: Dyed black deer hair.
Head: Dyed black deer hair, flared.

Silk: Black
Hook Size: #12 – #8
No tail

American angler Ed Koch recommends that the deer hair for dyeing should be the white hair from the flank or belly because this hair takes the dye better without becoming brittle. The white hair is very porous and it adds greatly to the ability to flaring the hair on the head of the fly.

Cricket Dry Fly – Terrestrials and the Trout.

Tail: 2 short pieces of herl from a cock pheasant tail – to represent the two rear claspers.                      Body: Black chenille.
Legs: Take 2 quills from a pukeko wing and cut the web off, leaving the short stubs along the spine. These are tied in with the body and bent to simulate the joints.
Wing Cases: Pukeko wing tied in as with a beetle.
Hackle: Stiff black dyed hackle
Hook size: #8 – #12

German wasp or German yellowjacket - Vespula germanica. Terrestrials and the Trout.
German wasp or German yellowjacket – Vespula germanica.

Wasps and bees are abundant on a warm day as they race across lakes and rivers searching for or returning with the food for the hive. In the high country and bush of the upper South Island, the German wasp (Vespula germanica) has gone from being a general nuisance to becoming outright dangerous.

They are effectively ruining the peace and beauty of our delightful out of the way havens. No sooner have you sat down on the riverbed to have a breather than they appear. Don’t even think about getting your tucker out. I left a trout hanging on a branch in a willow tree and by the time I got back from downstream, it was full to the gut with yellow demons crawling from its mouth as I shook the fish with a stick.

Before their diet changes to the sugary honeydew, they feed off insects to sustain their developing larvae. Up the top of the Hurunui River, I have seen them feeding on the honeydew of the beech tree and so thick that as the early sun shone on them, they were a shining carpet of pulsing yellow, several hundred jammed onto the black fungus.

There have been several nasty incidents in recent times where trampers have stumbled into a wasp nest and been severely stung. In some areas, these underground nests of the German wasp are thick, with possibly a hundred nests to the hectare. A lone angler, hunter or tramper walking through the bush and miles from help faces potentially fatal consequences. However, every cloud has a silver lining, and while wasps may kill you, trout eat them. Rejoice!

German Wasp.
German Wasp.

Although the winter can knock the numbers on the head for a while, they are unlikely to disappear altogether, particularly as the government has seen fit to cancel funding on the parasite that was being released to control them.

The trout feed on them without question, not lots, but they must take them as they fall or are blown irregularly into the flow. They are an occasional meal not based on hatches, so the sight of one (as with most terrestrials) is enough to raise interest from the trout. One of the rules of survival is to take as big a nutritional reward for as little physical effort.

A segmented and sculpted body of alternate strips of yellow and black dyed deer hair and a short spiky black hackle on a #10 or #12 hook will do the job. If you can be bothered, two narrow tips of a clear white cock’s hackle can be tied in at the head for wings.

The frontpiece of Dame Juliana Berners' Treatyse Wyth An Angle 1496.
The frontispiece of dame Juliana Berners’ Treatyse Wyth An Angle 1496.

A drowned wasp curls up into a semi-circle and this can be imitated simply by building your wasp body around the bend of the hook and using the softer hen hackle. Another close imitator to this modern judas was espoused in the 15th century in the Book of St Albans. Of the twelve fly patterns laid out in the section titled “The Treatise on Fishing with an Angle” we find:

“The waspe flye, the body of blacke wull and lappid abowte with yelow threde: the winges of the bosarde”.

You could get away with some terrible spelling mistakes in those days!

Above: Andy T. and a mice-laden brown trout. On capture this fish regurgitated 5 or 6 mice. Terrestrials and the Trout.
Above: Andy T. and a mice-laden brown trout. On capture, this fish regurgitated 5 or 6 mice.

The Daddy Long Legs, the Mouse and the Bumble Bee

The cranefly or Daddy-Longlegs is another terrestrial that is imitated by an angler’s fake fly and I know a couple of anglers who occasionally use them. I have never tied or used one. It’s not that I’ve got anything against them as a fly, it’s simply that there has to be some limit to the number of flies one can cram into a large pack. However, there are plenty of them about and trout do feed on them.

Crane-fly from the Catlins south of Dunedin. Commonly referred to as a Daddy -Longlegs.
Crane-fly from the Catlins south of Dunedin. Commonly referred to as a Daddy -Longlegs.

In support, I quote the old Christchurch Star, which coincidentally carried a small front-page item on an “insect plague”! The insects are native tipulid flies or Daddy-Longlegs and Canterbury University entomologist, Peter Johns, advises that they appear in “plague proportion” in March of each year, though some years they may be a bit worse. The larvae lived in lawns, especially under trees and near streams.

The insects people saw were all males, as the females didn’t fly. The adults don’t even feed and only live for three or four days.

John Mclnnes in his second book “Look Closely” (1992) confirms their acceptance on the trout’s varied terrestrial menu. ”One year, when I spent a late afternoon on the river” (the Manawatu) “in March – further on in summer than I usually holiday – the fish were stuffed with Daddy Long Legs”. The thin and delicate body with long straggling legs that move in the current are the key to this fly. So, get your imitations ready for late March next year.

That leaves us with only a few more terrestrials of interest to the flyfisher, the bumble bee, spiders and moths. Insofar as the bumble bee is concerned, don’t scoff too quickly. There has been an extraordinary number of them about Canterbury this summer, and some of them do front up as food for trout. The only pattern I know that comes close is from Dick Walker’s “Modern Fly Dressings” (1980) and even he scoffs a little.

He says that ”in every trout-fishers fly box there should be at least one crazy, unorthodox pattern, which he could not in the ordinary course of events, even dream of using. This pattern, if ever used, would be tried in desperation after everything else had failed… So here is a dressing for you to try when the trout have refused everything else you can think of.”

The Bumble Bee at the trout's mercy.
The Bumble Bee at the trout’s mercy.

Bumble Bee – Terrestrials and the Trout

Bumble Bee. Terrestrials and the Trout.
Bumble Bee

Abdomen: Rings of white, black and amber ostrich herl, tied very fat and clipped short.
Thorax: Black ostrich herl clipped short.
Wings: Plymouth Rock hackle points, tied flat, sloping backwards.
Legs: Pheasant tail fibres dyed black, knotted and cut short
Hackle: None
Hook size: #6 round bend.

The order of the colours for the abdomen, reading from the rear end, is white, black, amber, and black. The fly is fished dry

.John Mclnnes devotes a whole chapter to what he calls ”Bee Bumping” in ”Look Closely”. As he says, “Bees are not the main food but, if they fall, trout know what to do with them.” He ties his bumble with brown and black hackle tied Palmer fashion as a body, and then clipped, with some yellow-orange sparkle yarn wound through. He maintains that “bee bumping” (thumping the heavy fly into the water on the trout’s nose) “works best when there are plenty of bees and bumble bees about, but it is also effective when cicadas and grasshoppers are dropping on the water.

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

Mice are not terrestrials as we define terrestrials as land-based insects, otherwise, we could well throw the ubiquitous earthworm into the equation and have another pleasantly heated, though interesting philosophic debate to rival the Glow Bug argument, or the use of live-bait/pilchards to catch salmon in Canterbury!

However, I’ll throw the mouse into this article simply because it is a little controversial, it is land-based, because they are so extraordinarily plentiful this summer wherever the South Island rivers flow through beech forest, and any trout that can swallow half a dozen mice has to be pretty big. You may well have seen those big high country trout that seem to have great sagging bellies with a hint of stretch marks on them.

A logical answer would seem to be that in the season following a mouse plague, the trout (having expanded their stomach and body to accommodate the mice) are left with an increased girth, but not enough bulk to fill it. l wonder at the calorific value of a mouse compared with a deleatidium dun?

The great mouse “fly” has as much right to be, as a delicate Twilight Beauty. Maybe not as esoteric, but to catch trout you need to represent their food sources. The high country trout this year are gorging on mice which are reaping the irregular but the prolific harvest of beech seeds. I have seen ten or twelve of them swirling aimlessly in the froth of a small backwater, all drowned. l am sure that the nearby resident would come calling after dark for his dinner. l keep expecting to pick up a fishing magazine with a South Island trout and mouse article, which tells the episode of a trout landed by a farmer’s wife and the live mice that scampered from its mouth when it was hauled onto the gravel.

The mouse, according to John Parsons in ”Deceiving Trout” (1988) is best fished as a silhouette rather than over-worrying about legs and ears and whiskers. As it is most effective after dark and needs to be moved across the water to attract the quarry, the addition of a tail is probably enough.

The key to fishing the mouse is again movement. Who would argue with the old master, Izaak Walton, especially when he supports the argument with “Nay, he will sometimes rise at a dead mouse, or a piece of cloth, or anything that seems to swim across the water, or to be in motion.”

However, John Morton sculpts his fly with more artistry than Parsons requires, as the attached sketch shows, eyes and all!

Deer Hair Mouse – Terrestrials and the Trout

John Morton's Deer hair mouse imitation.
John Morton’s Deer hair mouse imitation.

Body: Whitetail deer hair.
Tail: Black squirrel tail.
Silk: Black.
Whiskers: Black squirrel hair.
Hook size: #4 – #6

The three most useful and regularly effective terrestrials are, in my experience, the willow grub, the brown beetle and the cicada. Season after season, and without fail, they have delivered a good trout. If you have a good imitation to present when the trout are on the natural, it becomes very difficult to muck it up.

Even the presentation can afford to be a little poor, though the willow grub requires a bit of finesse and a finer tippet. These terrestrial flies have proved themselves with positive results in the rivers and lakes of every Fish and Game district around the South Island.

And the best thing of all, they are fished as a dry, which has to be the most visually pleasing of angling methods. Where you see the trout rise, the disturbance as the fly is taken into the white mouth and that fearful moment as you hesitate in the strike.

Terrestrials are not the best answer, they are simply one answer among many. Add them to your armoury and let diversity be your companion.