My Two Cents On Ants, Hoppers, and Beetles.
Posted on 08 July 2020
As the summer heat descends upon us, I’ll look to ants, hoppers, and beetles to bring trout to the surface. My home water (The Cumberland Valley) is steeped in traditions of terrestrial development for fly fishing along the Letort Spring Run and Yellow Breeches Creek.
While Charlie Fox, Vince Marinaro, Ed Koch, and Ed Shenk have all passed on, their patterns and tactics for fooling trout with Summer terrestrials remains.
Here’s a little bit of how I approach terrestrial season.
The beginning of Terrestrial Season is a good time to dive into your selection of black and cinnamon ants. Size 12-16 ants are a good place to start. A parachute-style post or a winged ant will make them a little easier to see on the water. To prepare an ant, I use a gel floatant first like Loon’s Aquel and then apply a powder desiccant (later on) to the parachute post for added visibility. For leader setup – nothing to fancy here. Any nylon leader approximately 9 feet in length tapered down to 5x or 6x depending on water clarity and level will work.
When fishing ants, hoppers and beetles the action can be consistent throughout the day. Oftentimes anglers focus on tricos in the early morning and switch to ants once the trico feeding has stopped.
If it’s a sunny and windy day, be prepared for trout to be on brushy banks or under overhanging trees waiting for one of these ants to get blown in the water. Don’t be afraid to put your offering right against the bank, you may be surprised at what happens! The strike often comes within the first foot or two of the drift, so be ready for it as soon as your fly hits the water.
Ants will be a staple throughout the season, however at a certain point in the Summer, the fish seem to move to grasshoppers and beetles. I guess after eating smaller calorie ants, they just can't pass up the Super-sized temptation of the grasshopper or fat beetle.
When a fish hits a hopper, they do so with force. My typical leader here is a nine foot nylon 3x or 4x leader, as hoppers are one of the insects that entice large trout to the surface. You don’t need to place a grasshopper delicately on the water. They fall from grasses and trees with a “plop” that rings the dinner bell for many aggressive trout!
One of our most famous grasshopper patterns would be Ed Shenk’s Letort Hopper.
Usually fished from a size 10 down to a 16 with either a yellow, tan or green abdomen to match the naturals. Modern day go to patterns would be Craven's "Charlie Boy Hopper."
Sometimes a dead drift is all that’s needed for success. However, if fishing is slow, try to make your fly “kick” a bit- like a grasshopper that’s trying to get back to land. Oftentimes this subtle little twitch can trigger the response!
Hoppers will be a staple through the first frost, but around the beginning of October usually we find a slow down on the biggest hoppers, and switch to the last flight of terrestrials- crickets.
These insects seem to be the heartiest, surviving well into the colder days of October and November, even through the first frost or two. While they can be successfully fished earlier in the season, I tend to wait until this time of year to use them with frequency. The same leader setup used for ants works with beetles and crickets (9’ nylon 4x or 5x)
As a diehard of the Cumberland Valley, I would be remiss not to mention Ed Shenk’s Letort Cricket. This pattern has accounted for almost 100% of my late season terrestrial fishing. I usually fish it in sizes 12, 14 and 16. Black is the color that most seem to fish, although a reddish brown cricket could be found in a savy angler's flybox.
I hope this has given you an understanding to the terrestrial approach in Pennsylvania waters. Although many of our favorite hatches have come and gone, you can still target our trout on the surface through the Summer and Fall.
Please remember to carry a stream thermometer with you when fishing the streams and creeks of Pennsylvania. If the water temperature goes above 66 degrees, please consider taking the rest of the day off. This topic may be the subject of another Blog post, but the survival of our trout is paramount here. Our trout are a valuable resource, and we want to protect them during these high water temperature periods.
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Please email me with any questions, or feel free to leave a comment!
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