You’ve seen the name taped to drawers and labeled on cups in fly shops. But what exactly is a terrestrial?
Terrestrials encompass a huge variety of insects that live around land, either on land or underground but not in or on the water. Anglers who study and speak eloquently about the wide variety of aquatic insects from caddis and stoneflies to midges and mayflies may stumble when it comes time to discuss terrestrials. Let that not overshadow the fact that as summer wanes and nights turn cool, the time for fly-fishing terrestrials begins to shine.
Grasshoppers are the No. 1 terrestrial fly that anglers adore. Hoppers elicit ferocious strikes along undercut banks with overhanging willows. Trout do not like anything in their gullet that can struggle, kick, grab or otherwise injure their sensitive gills.
Trout hit grasshoppers with the same stunning or killing strength as a crayfish or mouse. And just like mouse flies, they often smack their prey and come back and eat it. A trout that hits your hopper but doesn’t get hooked will often come back and hit the fly again so take a quick second cast if you have a swing and a miss.
Chubby Chernobyl is a rubber leggy, foam-bodied dry fly with a tall silhouette that is often fished for a hopper, while a panty dropper hopper is a life-like foam grasshopper pattern that seems to kick with life. Both ride high and can support the weight of a dropper easily.
Ants become increasingly prevalent throughout summer and inadvertently end up in the water. From foam patterns on the surface to traditional string and feather patterns in the surface film, and sunken ants made from epoxy or hot glue, trout love ants. Large trout, small trout, all trout will sip a slow-drifted dry fly ant under any overhanging tree.
Shade has a cooling effect over late summer warm water. Trout will gravitate to shaded areas and be more apt to eat a dry fly with the direct sunlight obscured by the tree. Sunken ants fished as a dropper off a dry fly are easy prey for late summer trout. Hot glue or epoxy formed bodies sink with the weight of a real ant and drift along in swirling currents drawing quick strikes.
Amy’s Ant is a popular dry fly pattern for late summer. However, the fly resembles an ant much in the same way a winged unicorn looks like a horse. Foam ant patterns are resilient, able to handle getting eaten by multiple fish. Epoxy ants are the best choice for a sunken ant pattern.
Beetles are the often-overlooked terrestrial. Fly anglers would be better off having a few different choices in their fly box. Foam is an incredibly versatile material for creating beetle flies. Foam beetles hold their shape well, float without sinking and taste delicious based on the response trout make. Most beetle flies are black in general, making the fly difficult to recognize or track on busy water.
The big three, ants, beetles and grasshoppers shine brightly in the late summer sun. Grasshopper flies command some of the fiercest strikes of the year, pulling trout out of their hiding lairs and up to the surface. Ants floating or sunken draw quick reaction strikes from hungry trout. Beetles, the often-overlooked bug, float like wine corks and provide a big bite of protein. So whatever your choice — grasshopper, ant or beetle — the time for terrestrials is upon us.
Michael Salomone moved to the Eagle River valley in 1992. He began guiding fly-fishing professionally in 2002. His freelance writing has been published in magazines and websites including: Southwest Fly Fishing, Fly Rod & Reel, Eastern Fly Fishing, On the Fly, FlyLords, the Pointing Dog Journal, Upland Almanac, the Echo website, Vail Valley Anglers and more. He lives on the bank of the Eagle River with his wife, Lori; two daughters, Emily and Ella; and a brace of yellow Labrador retrievers.