Summer is beginning to wind down. As the cooler weather moves in people around the shop are frequently asking if fishing dry flies is still a viable option. I tend to get excited answering this question because it means I get to ramble on about terrestrials. With Fall approaching most anglers begin to dream about aggressive brown trout smashing streamers. While I fall victim to the same dreams, the months leading up to the brown movement can be some of the most productive days on the water. Cold nights and warmer days this time of the year bring great fluctuation in daily water temps from this point on until winter is in full affect. This also has great impact on trout feeding habits. They understand as well as we do that cold days are ahead and will be looking to pack on calories and feed in a very opportunistic way. Those big calorie opportunities come in the form of terrestrials such as, Hoppers, Ants, and Beetles. The best part about fishing terrestrials is that it is a very forgiving way to fish, below I’ll break down some successful ways to fish these big dry flies from rigging up to what water to focus on.
The Rig- Starting with what fly rod to use, I recommend using your favorite dry fly rod between a 4wt-6wt in size. These size rods will still give you great feel but, also allow you to have the backbone to fight bigger fish terrestrials are known to move. My favorite thing about fishing this way is the size tippet you can get away with using. Leaders 7.5ft to 9ft and tippet in sizes 2x-4x work best. I know you’re probably thinking, no way will fish eat 2x-3x in places like Deckers, the Dream Stream and other Colorado tailwaters but trust me, give it a shot. Start big and if need be size down until you are comfortable and most importantly confident in the way the flies are being presented.
When- To keep this simple I’m going to say from sun-up to sun-down there is potential for success. Breaking it down a little further some things to consider will be weather and type of water you are going to be fishing. For tailwaters with steady temperatures fishing can be productive at any time with the main factors being sunlight and wind. Sunlight is important because it will tone down BWO hatches this time of year and eliminate the possibility of fish keying in on a certain bug coming off. I know wind is most anglers least favorite thing while fishing but, it does play a factor with terrestrial fishing. I’m not saying get out there when the wind is howling with 40-50mph gusts. Rather, days with slight/steady breezes throughout will be ideal. These light winds will blow hoppers, beetles and ants onto the water almost creating a hatch. This will trigger fish to be on the lookout for unlucky bugs splashing on the water. When it comes to freestone fisheries the weather is going to be more of a factor. Keep an eye on the day previous as well as the projected forecast on the day you want to go fishing. The previous day is important because it is a huge factor in the water temp the following day. Focus on days when two or three warmer days are strung together and get a little later start. When fishing these freestone waters I generally arrive around 11 am and fish until last light.
The Water- When fishing terrestrials, focus more on water with structure around. These places allow fish to have cover and make them feed with eagerness. Structure areas are going to be behind and in front of rocks, along undercut banks, below overhanging willows and seams where two faster currents run into each other. These are all areas where fish will not have a lot of time to think about eating your fly. Fishing these pockets will give you an advantage because fish this time of the year will not miss the opportunity to get a hearty meal. Just as important, they are often overlooked or not fish as effectively by the nymph fishing angle- particularly in the case of overhanging willows.
The Presentation- This is probably my favorite part about fishing terrestrials. I am not the best caster -as most of my fishing buddies would probably attest to- so any forgiveness I can get while presenting a fly greatly helps. There are three types of presentations to try when fishing these large dries, the first being your standard cast with the fly landing soft and floating smoothly throughout the run. The second is going to be the drop, try casting these flies to banks, underneath willows and behind rocks. This might sound crazy but, cast on the bank, in the willow or bank a fly off the rock. As the flies get untangled off the bank or willow it will imitate a very natural presentation similar to how these bugs naturally find the water. The last method to try is the slap. For me I naturally slap dry flies on the water without meaning to but, for the rest of you force the fly onto the water making a splash. This will imitate another natural way these bugs hit the water.
The Bugs- Now for the best part. Think big and puffy!! Here I have linked some examples of Terrestrials. Be sure to check out our larger in store collections, below I have listed numerous guide and shop favorites.
Hopper Juan Tan 8-10, Fat Albert Tan 8-12, Foam Dome black/orange or black/olive 6-10, Repeat Offender yellow 8-10, Chernobyl Ant black/red or brown/tan 8-12, Chubby Chernobyl tan and red 10-14, October Caddies rusty and orange 8-10, Crystal Stimulator orange and yellow 10-14.