Fly Fishing Terrestrials

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article by Ron Newman
Drawings by Barb Krimmer & Ron Newman

The terrestrials may have aquatic relatives but none intentionally spent any of their life cycles in the water. Bees and wasps, houseflies, butterflies, caterpillars, spiders and so on are not important to the trout except for those that occasionally fall into the water. These 'land' bugs comprise less than 1% of the food consumed by the trout during a season. However, on occasion they are what the fish are after. The following is a quick look at the more common or important terrestrials you may encounter on our interior lakes.

Flying Ants:

If you are interested in looking up more information, Ants belong to the order of Hymenoptera. Like Bees, ants work cooperatively in a community union, and like bees, this relationship of community to individual is not fully understood. Ants are not aquatic creatures but many of the 'flying ants' end their days by accidentally landing in a lake or stream.

The queen ant lays her eggs and those are nurtured to become a queen, worker, soldier or drone. Unfertilized eggs become female and these include the future queens, and any workers or soldiers. What they become depends on how they are fed by the colony. Any fertilized eggs become a drone or fertile male. When a colony is successful, the queen will lay a batch of fertilized eggs along with batch of unfertilized eggs. These are specially tended by the worker ants, go through a pupa stage and develop wings for flight. They are the fertile male drones and future queens of new colonies. These are the flying ants that you see landing in the lakes.

Several colonies often hatch these winged adults at about the same time for mating flights. After the mating flight, the males will shortly die. However, the fertilized females will go on to become queens, lay eggs and establish new colonies. The single fertilization during the mating flight will be stored in a sac within the queen to produce males whenever they are wanted. During these mating flights, both the winged male and female will become exhausted and fall into lakes and streams. With about 14,000 species of ants, these "hatches" are quite variable in terms of an individuals size, color, or timing of hatch.

I have seen flying ant hatches occurring from late April through late September. The ants seem to hatch their flying offspring when the weather conditions are just right. The type of ants range from the small reds to the large black Carpenter Ants. The Carpenter Ants seem to be the most frequently observed and are most abundant through April, May and June. The small red ants tend to hatch near the end of July through early August. From late August through September, a medium sized brownish-red ant is hatching that could be mistaken for a terrestrial beetle unless closely examined (very fat and plump).

Fishing Tip

When the fish are feeding on flying ants it is usually on the surface. Try dry flies that resemble the shape, size and color of the flying ant hatch. An excellent imitation is a fly that is tied with cellophane wings. Although it is a good imitation, it doesn't cast well, but it will catch fish. If you can get a pattern with cellophane wings (or similar) which casts well and floats, it should be a winner.

Grasshoppers & Crickets:

These belong to the order of Orthoptera if you want to find more information. Cockroaches, mantis and walking sticks also belong to this order. There are over 10,000 species of Orthoptera in the world. BC has a reasonable share of these. Like most terrestrial bugs, these sometimes find their way into our water systems where trout and other fish readily utilize them as a food source. Grasshoppers (goppers) seem to find their way into our water systems much more frequently than crickets but both can be considered as a favored food source.

Goppers and crickets lay their eggs in the late summer or early fall and then die. The eggs are usually laid in holes burrowed into the ground. These eggs over-winter and hatch in the spring. This usually starts in early June in the BC Interior. The newly hatched look much like small versions of the adult. They go through about five in-stars or molts before becoming adult. Most species have wings but some are only able to 'hop' with their well-developed hind legs.

Those goppers or crickets that fly are more likely to become a meal for the trout than the hopping variety. Those, which fly, are more apt to land in the deeper water. Those that hop land near shore and often reach land before a trout considers them worth eating. For the same reasons, goppers and crickets are more likely to become a food source on rivers or streams than on our lakes because they get swept into the current and deeper water.

Fishing Tip

Try fishing a dry-fly grasshopper imitation from early July to late August on our rivers. During the "hot months" the lake fishing is known to be slow. At precisely that same time the goppers are in their prime. Put on a pair of shorts, floater vest and old tennis shoes for wading. You are cooler and the fish are more active in the rivers. A fish of fourteen inches will put up a much better fight in the cool currents of a river than the still warm waters of a lake.

Moths & Butterflies:

Both moths and butterflies belong to the order Lipidoptera which means 'scale wings'. If you touch the wings of a moth or butterfly it will seem that fine dust is left on your finger. This dust is actually many very fine scales that look much like feathers under a microscope. The Lipidoptera life cycle is egg, larva (caterpillar), cased pupa and adult. Both usually feed on flowers and have a siphon tube for sucking up the flower nectar. Butterflies usually rest with their wings together and perpendicular over their back. Moths usually rest with their wings apart and parallel to the body.

Both moths and butterflies will occasionally fall into the waters of our lakes. Butterflies have much broader wings and brighter colors than moths and are seldom found in the feeding samples. I have sometimes seen very small fish nibble off the legs of a butterfly but little more than that. Moths on the other hand look very much like a Caddis. Both the trout and the fly fisher can easily mistake them. On close examination the fly fisher will see the scales on the wings and the siphon tube for feeding. The caddis doesn't have these. If a moth is unlucky enough to fall in the water during a Caddis hatch the trout will likely eat it. The best advice for the fly fisher is to just fish your normal Caddis patterns if you see moths being taken on the lake.

Spiders, Bees, Etc.

Spiders, bees, wasps, and various other terrestrials will fall into the lake and occasionally be taken by the trout. I can't say that I have ever actually seen a spider, bee or wasp in a feeding sample or know a fly fisher that actively ties a fly to imitate these. However, when food is scarce, the trout will feed on most anything that offers protein and a few things that don't.

Terrestrial Beetles

Beetles come in both terrestrial and aquatic species. All belong to the order Coleoptera and there are more types of beetles than you would want to count. About 20% of all animal species on earth belong to Coleoptera. The aquatic forms of these are discussed with the section on other aquatic critters. Due to the tremendous variety of terrestrial beetles and their life cycles I will not discuss them here. Enough said that most go through the egg, larva, pupa and adult stages. Many of the terrestrial beetles are able to fly and thus fall into our lakes and streams. Often you will see Ladybugs, Bark Beetles, Ground Beetles and other types on the water surface. Trout will sometimes feed on these if other food sources are not readily available. The best advice for the fly fisher is to observe and imitate. Almost any color or size is possible

Extra Terrestrial Beatles

Be sure to read other articles by Ron Newman

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