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In this guide, my goal is to teach you everything you need to know about fly fishing terrestrials and to help you catch more fish when you’re out on the river with your favorite hopper or beetle pattern.
Fly fishing is often broken up into a few different seasons. Spring is considered to be “runoff” season and anglers are wary due to the high flows and challenging conditions. Summer is when fishing is hot, figuratively and literally.
However, by late July and early August the water temperatures have warmed and the fish tend to be a bit more sluggish. There is a two week window where fishing slows, but then terrestrial season hits.
Table of Contents
- Flies Technique
- What is a Terrestrial?
- When To Use Terrestrial Flies?
- How To Cast When Fly Fishing Terrestrials?
- The Best Terrestrial Flies
- Best Fly Fishing Terrestrials For Trout
- Best Fly Fishing Terrestrials For Bass
- Gear To Use When Fishing With Terrestrials
- How To Fly Fish Terrestrials?
- Best Species For Fly Fishing Terrestrials
- Best Time For Fly Fishing Terrestrials
- Terrestrial Fly Fishing Techniques, Tips & Tricks
- Are You Ready For Fly Fishing Terrestrials?
Terrestrial season is my personal favorite season of them all. You can keep your early summer mayfly action or spring streamers. Seeing a trout smash an ant, beetle or a hopper is a rush unlike any other. I fall in love with this time of year every time I fish it.
What is a Terrestrial?
A terrestrial animal is one that lives primarily on land. An aquatic animal is one that lives in the water. Terrestrial insects include ants, beetles, spiders and grasshoppers.
Fish don’t often see these flies on the water and when they do, they are sure to attack.
When To Use Terrestrial Flies?
The primary terrestrial season is from mid-August through mid-October. They can be found in the contents of the stomach of a fish as late as December. Some regions of the country have high numbers of these in May and June as well.
Check with your local fly shop, but if you aren’t 100 percent certain of when to use these flies, mid-August to mid-October is a great time to try.
How To Cast When Fly Fishing Terrestrials?
You still want to use tippet when throwing terrestrials and they can easily tangle due to the size of the fly. Be willing to make mistakes and fully wait for the line to unfurl. You don’t have to make long casts with your terrestrial flies. Focus on the banks and you’ll catch plenty of fish.
The Best Terrestrial Flies
Terrestrial flies are some of the most unique flies in fly fishing. People are extremely creative in their efforts to imitate these flies. Plus, each region of the United States has their own unique terrestrial flies.
Best Fly Fishing Terrestrials For Trout
Trout and terrestrial flies are great combination. Trout love to feast on these insects whenever they have the opportunity. There are a variety of flies that you can use that will land plenty of fish.
Egan’s Bionic Ant
Egan’s Bionic Ant is a classic terrestrial pattern. It has the vintage foam body, but there is some extra material with a four “legs” tied on to them. If you’re fishing in darker water, this is a great pattern.
The extra color and material makes these flies a bit more visible when you’re fishing in high and muddy water.
Rainy’s Hi-Viz Hopper Grande
The Rainy’s Hi-Viz Hopper Grande is one of the most realistic looking hoppers on the market. The dark brown and tan mixture is a killer pattern in almost every region in the country. The “legs” however are the selling point on this pattern.
They have an added bit of length that causes a bit more action on the surface of the water. Cast it across and upstream and let it drift along the bank. A few short strips will cause this fly to make quite a bit of action on the surface of the water. You won’t have any trouble landing fish on this fly!
Cathy’s Super Beetle
Cathy’s Super Beetle is a great pattern for anyone searching for a bit of simplicity. The extra hackle tide on the back of the fly works wonders on the water. Plus, the simple rubber legs do a nice imitation of a beetle.
Beetles vary all across the country, but this one is neutral enough to survive in a variety of situations.
Dave’s Cricket is one of the most well-known cricket patterns in existence. It’s created with deer-hair and almost imitates a muddler minnow. The extra dark pattern floats nicely on the surface.
These flies are great to use in the mornings and evenings when crickets are the most active. Cast this up against a bank and let it drift downstream. You won’t have any trouble landing some impressive fish.
Parachute Ants are some of the most versatile terrestrial flies that you can find. If you want to use this in a smaller stream or a large river, it’s going to work. Plus, these are some of the most simple terrestrial flies to you can tie.
Use it anywhere from a size 10 to 18. This fly is going to last for quite awhile! You can catch a significant amount of fish and not have to worry about the fly falling apart.
Turks Tarantula is a solid imitation of a variety of terrestrials. It can work as a cicada, beetle or a hopper. You can find these flies in a variety of colors and sizes. Purchase a few of these and put them in your box.
You’ll land some nice fish on this terrestrial fly. These work well in both lakes and rivers. Don’t waste too much time with this fly. If it’s not working right away, go ahead and switch the pattern. If the fish don’t want it immediately, you can expect that they’re looking for something else.
Best Fly Fishing Terrestrials For Bass
This is one of the more unique terrestrial patterns on the market. It works extremely well being fished on its own, but it also has the possibility to act as an indicator with a nymph.
Dry dropper patterns aren’t super common for a bass fishing rig, but it’s an option if it’s something you’re looking to do. It’s large and bright enough that it will attract the attention from bass. Cast this near shore or into a field of lily pads and see what happens.
The Panty Dropper
The Panty Dropper is an extremely useful pattern for bass. It is a nice imitation of a hopper. The bright colors and large body are going to land you fish. Bass appreciate bright colors and a pattern that causes quite a bit of commotion on the surface.
Use these patterns in the mornings and evenings. These are going to be the most common times for bass to feed on the surface. If you’re fishing moving water, this pattern works extremely well. Cast into the pools and deeper water and let it float. Bass will come up from the depths and strike!
Transparant Black Ant
This is a wonderful smallmouth pattern. It has a unique look, plenty of action and has enough size to attract the attention of the bass in the area. Plus, this one fishes just below the surface. It’s not common to find terrestrial flies that are able to be fished below the surface.
Most of these Transparant Black Ant flies are fished directly on the surface so the opportunity to fish a subsurface fly is going to work extremely well.
Gear To Use When Fishing With Terrestrials
Choosing the proper gear when using terrestrials doesn’t have to be too complicated. Whatever rod and reel that you’re most comfortable with will do the trick. While these flies are large, it doesn’t mean that they’re very heavy.
An ideal rod for throwing terrestrials would be a 4 or a 5-weight. These are going to give you enough power to cover a nice amount of water and have a fast enough action handle some of the larger fish.
Terrestrial fishing is going to be the most successful along the banks so be sure that you have the right amount of power to cover the water from bank to bank. As long as you’re comfortable casting the rod, you’re good to go.
Like any fly fishing setup, you want to be sure that your reel matches your rod. Be sure that you aren’t going more than one size higher or lower than your rod. For example, if you’re using a 5-weight rod your reel shouldn’t be any less than a 4 or more than a 6-weight.
Also, a large arbor reel is always a smart option. Fish of all sizes are going to hit a terrestrial fly. It’s important to be confident that your reel can handle a 20-25 inch fish.
If you’re throwing a terrestrial fly, it’s imperative that you use floating line. Weight forward or sinking line is going to pull the fly underneath the surface. Terrestrial flies are meant to stay on the surface.
Most of these flies have foam bodies so they can absorb quite a bit of water and stay on the surface, but floating line will make your life much easier. You won’t have to worry about an unnatural presentation.
When you’re choosing your leader, do it based on the size of fish you’re likely going to catch. If you know you have a shot at a multi-pound fish, go ahead and tie on a 2 or 3x leader. These will have plenty of power to wrestle whatever fish you hook.
You don’t necessarily need to use a tapered leader when you choose to use terrestrials. You’ll be using tippet so a standard leader is going to work out just fine.
Tippet is vital when it comes to terrestrials. Fish love these flies so you can’t afford to let them see your leader or tippet. 4x tippet it going to be perfect when throwing terrestrials. You’ll still need the power to wrestle some large fish, but not too much that the fish will notice.
Attach the tippet to the leader with a blood knot. It’s going to be a strong connection and give you peace of mind. that you can land some nice fish.
How To Fly Fish Terrestrials?
When you choose to use terrestrial flies, it’s important to understand that these flies require different techniques depending on what type of water that you are fishing.
Fly Fishing Terrestrials in a Lake
If you’re fishing a terrestrial in a lake, you need to stay close to shore. These insects are rarely going to venture far from shore. Chances are they fell off weeds and into the water.
If possible, fish out of a boat or venture far enough into the water where you can cast towards shore. Fish will be much more willing to hit these flies if they see them land closer to shore.
Short little strips are going to do the trick. Remember, they likely don’t venture too far from shore so there’s no need to aggressively strip all the way back towards you. If you fish on the bank, go ahead and cast parallel with it.
Strip along the weed line and wait for fish to strike. These will result in a large blowup! Fish are not shy when they want to hit one of these flies.
Fly Fishing Terrestrials in Moving Water
When you use these flies in moving water, remember that a drift along a bank is going to work well. Ideally, if you can find a bank with some cattails or weeds, this is going to be the most realistic location.
These insects fall into the water and either float downstream or try and get to shore as quickly as possible. Be patient when you fish with these flies. Let the current take control and make the determination at how fast the fly drifts.
Best Species For Fly Fishing Terrestrials
Trout and bass are going to be the best fish to target with terrestrials. They’re the most active surface eaters and are willing to eat insects. If you’re trying to land either of these fish always have terrestrials on hand.
Fly Fishing Terrestrials For Trout
When you’re trying to fish these flies for trout, slower moving water is going to be your best bet. Trout often sit in pools and deeper portions of the lakes and rivers during terrestrial season.
The water is usually a bit warmer during the terrestrial season so fish sit deeper and are more active in the mornings and evenings. Find the pools and cut banks and go ahead and try one of these flies.
Fly Fishing Terrestrials For Bass
When you’re fishing these flies for bass, weed lines and lily pads are the places to focus. If you can fish these close to shore, you’ll also land some nice fish. Beetles and hoppers are going to be the most successful flies.
Best Time For Fly Fishing Terrestrials
Terrestrials are most prominent in late summer into early fall. The temperatures are warm and fish are looking to fill themselves with some larger food before the colder temperatures hit.
Fish these flies in the late afternoon and into early evening. While the mornings are somewhat successful, these flies are the most active in the heat of the afternoon throughout the evening.
A cool night with some hoppers is some of the most entertaining fishing you can find!
Terrestrial Fly Fishing Techniques, Tips & Tricks
Terrestrial fishing can be tricky so don’t be frustrated if you don’t have success right away. Like any other type of fly fishing, it takes some time to learn. Keep staying patient and I promise you’ll start landing fish.
Stealth is Important, But Not Crucial
In most dry fly fishing scenarios, you’re encouraged to stay quiet. You want to lay the fly down quietly on the water and stay out of the way as much as you possibly can. However, when you’re fishing with terrestrials, a bit of action on the water doesn’t hurt.
If possible, pop the fly onto the water. This will be a realistic sound for these flies. Since they often fall onto the water off of weeds, fish are aware and are waiting for the opportunity to eat. To make a fly pop on the water, flick your wrist at the end of the cast slightly more than you normally would.
This extra flick of the wrist is going to make the fly pop. You won’t cause too much commotion, but it will be just enough to gain the attention of the fish. As soon as you drop the fly on the surface, be ready. It doesn’t take long for fish to hit.
They’re looking at the surface and love to take advantage of a stunned terrestrial. Be ready for that strip set! Once it happens, the fight is on!
Don’t Forget About the Center
Several times throughout this article, I have mentioned that the most successful terrestrial fishing is along the banks. This is true. However, don’t completely ignore the center of the river.
It doesn’t take much for these flies to get swept into the current. Once they’re in the current, they’ll flow down into the riffles. A hopper or beetle in the riffles is never a bad idea. If the fly is working along the bank, give it a try in the riffles.
By doing this, you’ll also learn more about how flies drift in riffles. It’s often difficult to see because flies are small and get swept into the current. A large terrestrial will give you a better idea of how to mend as the fly drifts.
Even if the fish aren’t biting in the riffles, it’s never a bad idea to learn how to manage drifts and terrestrial flies allow you to do that.
Action or No Action?
There is constant debate on whether or not we should put some movement on terrestrials. Some anglers swear by dead drifting these flies and others think the most success is found when there is action.
The answer to these debate is somewhere in between. Don’t be afraid to twitch these flies. A little action is going to help. When these flies hit the water, they rarely sit there. The try and swim back towards shore.
If possible, cast down stream and start twitching the fly towards yourself back upstream. It doesn’t have to be long strips, but a few twitches is going to entice plenty of fish.
The beauty of fly fishing is that there is never one specific method that is always going to work. Fish are always looking to eat, but their tendencies and desires seem to change. Vary your retrieval rate, twitch aggressiveness and see what works.
Don’t Give Up
Trout are known to follow dry flies downstream for a few feet before they decide to eat. This is no different with terrestrials. Don’t give up on your drifts. If you think you’ve made a good cast and can’t believe you didn’t land a fish, give it a few extra seconds of drift.
I’ve caught many fish on the last parts of my drifts. Trout will still hit a terrestrial even if it’s dragging. Again, trout can be extremely moody just like fly fishing for brook trout flies. Some days they’re picky and need some extra reassurance before they strike.
On your first few casts, let our fly completely drift until it drags. This will help you determine your timing on your casts.
Embrace Windy Days
Terrestrial flies work extremely well on windy days. On windy days, the terrestrials are more likely to fall in the water! While it may be more challenging to cast, you can almost guarantee that the fish are going to strike at a higher rate.
Are You Ready For Fly Fishing Terrestrials?
Fall is the best season for a variety of reasons. Terrestrial action is just a cherry on top. Plan a trip to the river, enjoy the changing colors of the trees and cooling temperatures. Fish are going to increase their feeding rate and will want to eat your terrestrials.
It’s hard to beat an afternoon of terrestrial fishing. The aggressive strikes and continuous action is going to keep you coming back for more!
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