Guest Blogger: Mary S. Kuss, Life-long avid angler, licensed PA fishing guide, founder of the Delaware Valley Women’s Fly Fishing Association

(NOTE: You can find Part 1 and Part 2 of this post here.) Many anglers don’t start fishing terrestrial patterns until early summer, once the heavy aquatic hatches of the spring season have dwindled. But terrestrials are available to the fish much earlier than that, and if no hatch is evident they can be an excellent choice, particularly on heavily fished waters. As soon as you start seeing insects in your yard and garden, you should consider fishing terrestrial patterns. They will be productive well into the fall. Because fish get so attuned to feeding on terrestrials throughout such a long season, imitations will continue to produce for a week or two after the first frosts of autumn have killed off most of the naturals.

When you don’t have any obvious clues about what terrestrial pattern to choose, take your best guess and give it a fair try. If you get some interest from the fish but no hook-ups, it’s an indication that you’re close but don’t quite have it right. You might try the same fly a size or two smaller. Make sure that your tippet is appropriate for the fly you’re using, and that it’s long enough to provide a good, drag-free presentation. If there’s no interest at all, try something completely different. It’s a good general principle in fly fishing that if what you’re doing doesn’t produce a positive result within 20 minutes or so, change something—different location, different fly, or different approach and presentation.

It’s a common mistake to get too precious with tiny flies and light tippets when fishing terrestrial patterns. Even though the water may be low and clear and a careful approach indicated, fish still do feed on larger insects as well as small ones. A size 12 or 14 beetle on a 4X or 5X tippet is a very good searching pattern if no rises are in evidence. If you get short strikes or refusals, that’s time enough to go smaller and lighter. If you automatically start off fishing a size 22 ant on 7X, you’ll never know if something bigger would have worked just as well. Bigger hooks and sturdier tippets generally provide a higher hooking percentage, better rate of fish landed, fewer big fish lost, and a better survival rate of released fish owing to shorter playing time.

From late summer onward is the time to fish crickets and hoppers. These insects do not overwinter as adults. The females lay their eggs in the soil in late summer to early fall, and all the adults perish when freezing temperatures arrive. The eggs do not hatch until late spring, when the weather is reliably warm, and it takes a while for the young to be large and mobile enough to find their way into the water. You can begin fishing smaller cricket and hopper patterns in early summer. These insects reach peak size and abundance at the same time they are depositing their eggs for next year’s brood.

wasp-912058_960_720Bees and wasps are a class of terrestrials that generally doesn’t get much play from fly fishers, and I think this is a mistake. Knowing something about the life cycle and habits of these insects will help you understand when to fish them and why. Any bee or wasp can wind up in a stream or lake, but those most likely to do so are wasps that build their nests of paper. This is because the workers make regular trips to obtain the water that is necessary for paper production.

As fall approaches, the queens leave their nests and find a bark crevice or other safe haven in which to spend the winter. The workers don’t know that further work is useless, so they continue to make paper and enlarge the nest. As temperatures drop, the workers begin to weaken. A good number of them succumb while on one of their endless water runs. This is a perfect time to fish a wasp pattern. The fish are used to seeing the naturals, and they see very few artificials. All of the workers are eventually killed off by the cold, which is why it’s safe to bring one of their ornate paper nests indoors as rustic décor once there have been a few hard freezes. In the spring, each queen emerges from her hiding place to begin a new colony from scratch. The colony grows throughout the summer and the paper wasp population peaks again in early autumn.

So there you have a quick tour of some terrestrial fly patterns and their uses. I hope this information will give you greater confidence in choosing and fishing these flies, and inspire you to try something new.


  1. Mostly a wet fly guy, myself, but I’ve been trying to learn some new tricks. This seems like very sound advice! I will definitely be tying more terrestrials, and even a few wasps this weekend.

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