Every year at about this time the best fly hatches along our trout streams start winding down. They do not stop completely, or even nearly so, however this is the time to pay less attention to them and more attention to the terrestrial insects that fall into the water.
Fishing terrestrials is some of the most enjoyable fly fishing of the year. It can be very challenging, though, due in large part to lower stream flows. Also, most early season trout stocking is finished. Trout that remain in the streams are either wild, or stream educated. Only the more wary trout have survived this long.
For some tips on fishing terrestrial flies followed fly fishing coach Gary Kell along one of his favorite local trout streams.
Kell holds the title of Master Certified Casting Instructor from the Federation of Fly Fishermen. Retired from the U.S. Forest Service, he resides in Warren and spends part of his time teaching others about fly fishing.
I asked Kell to suggest his top three choices for terrestrial insect patterns at the streams that are in, or near, the Allegheny National Forest.
"I would say it would be the beetle, an ant, and the inch worm. We've got so much forest you've got to have an inch worm," he said.
He suggests that fly-fishers watch for inch worms first. It is not hard to tell when it is time to fish inch worms. You will see then hanging from tree limbs just about everywhere along the streams.
Green, inch-long worms are a classic terrestrial in Pennsylvania. The Green Inch Worm, made with yellowish-green bucktail and segmented by green thread, is a popular pattern. There are other variations. Which you choose is not important.
Other small worms vary in color from cream-white to dark brown. These may be used effectively through summer.
"There are just a ton of beetles," Kell said.
Beetles vary in size from minuscule to longer than a half-inch. Kell ties most of his on hooks from size 12 to size 16.
Most are black, some shiny or iridescent. But beetles, Kell thinks, are not used very much. Tying beetles is quite easy. Some are made simply with a disc of foam rubber. One of Kell's beetle patterns is made with deer hair and peacock.
As with dry flies that imitate aquatic insects, Kell suggests using beetles and other aquatic insect flies that are highly visible. This is the only way you can see the fly throughout its drift, and see when a trout takes it.
The color on top of the beetle can not be seen from below, so it can not diminish the effectiveness of the fly.
Ants are more popular as flies according to Kell. Ants also vary in size. Fly patterns are commonly sizes #12 to #22. They may be all black, which is generally best in this area, cinnamon, black and red, or all red.
"I usually use all black," Kell said. "You only need a couple of sizes. I usually carry a size #12. I also carry a size #16."
When using aquatic insect fly patterns, flies usually should be presented to lies in or along primary currents. Trout that are looking for terrestrial insects likely will lie near shore.
"Fishing around logs is a great place to fish. That's where you have a lot of ants and beetles. They use the logs. They make their homes in the logs," Kell said. "If you want to match the hatch just watch the logs are see what's crawling along."
Trout may not be able to lie too close to shore when stream flows are low. Instead they will be in the main current. But insects may be washed into the main current, and some fall from trees into the main current. Main currents often flow against logs and undercut banks where trout can lie in wait for terrestrials, and they can find cover.
Kell prefers to use a 5X tippet when using terrestrial fly patterns.
"But not too long because I want to be able to put the line in tight places. With a long tippet you can't control it like that," he said.
Choices for terrestrial insect patterns may change in different stream-side habitats.
"There are some places where you've got to have grasshoppers," Kell said. "A lot of streams to the south have a lot of that savannah where you've got a lot of grasshoppers."
Any stream where there are patches of grass along the shore are candidates for using grasshopper, or cricket, fly patterns. The Letort Cricket, Letort Hopper and Joe's Hopper are a few patterns that can be tied without too much difficulty. These, or more complicated patterns, can be found in fly shops.