Terrestrials -- real and artificial -- lure trout like no other bugs

Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2000

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Steak is finally being served at trout restaurants across the Northwest.

All winter on the Green River, trout are busy sucking tiny midges out of the surface. It is a diet of thin watery gruel, followed by dainty low-calorie aquatic insects all spring.

Enough sushi and celery already. Bring on the terrestrials.

Terrestrials -- grasshoppers, beetles, ants and other large insects that land with an ungainly 'plop' in the water -- are just big chunks of meat to hungry fish. For the fly-fisher, the sport that demands such finesse is suddenly like being on a smaller golf course with much larger holes. It started on the Green in June, with cicadas.

The horsefly-like insects click and buzz through the heat along the banks of the Green all day. Down south, it is the defining sound of summer heat. On the Green, it is a dinner bell and a gateway to the easiest fishing of the year. When a windblown cicada hits the water, it is rushed like a Mark McGwire home run ball hitting the stands.

Guides have actually been complaining that fishing a dry-fly imitation is too easy for the clients.

''Guides are actually glad they (cicada hatches) have been slowing down,'' said Pete Idstrom at Western River Anglers, a guide and tackle shop. ''You try and explain the importance of casting and presentation, but the fish are just munching it when it hits the water. Lessons are lost.''

Land-based insects are big bugs compared to most of their aquatic kin (caddis, mayflies, etc.). Most terrestrial fly patterns are large and buoyant, and that makes them a cinch to fish because it is easy to see the strike rather than try and feel it.

''It's just a lot of fun to fish the big bugs because it's more visual,'' said Dave Lewis, with High Country Outfitters fly shop, near Bountiful. ''On the Provo and the Green, you fish all these tiny size 20 and 22s and you can hardly see them sip it. That big dry terrestrial, they really come to it,'' he said.

Some trout will nudge, bump, and then slurp the big bugs in, giving the angler heart palpitations as the angler fights to restrain from setting the hook. Other trout crash the bait like a sailfish hitting a mullet. Such strikes make terrestrials the favorite of local angler Dave Hansen.

''It's just explosive,'' he said.

Casts need only hit the water. Casting techniques that are the fly-fishing equivalent of the two-handed granny shot in basketball are catching reckless trout that crash-bomb cicadas. There is no need to mimic the light landing of an egg-laying aquatic insect. The general rule with terrestrials is the harder it hits the water, the more fish it attracts. Splats equal action.

''Everyone's a rock star during the cicada hatch on the Green,'' said Idstrom. Some clients on the Green have hooked and landed so many fish during June's 50-to-60 fish days they tell their guides they want to quit by 2 p.m., he said. ''There (are) only so many fish you can catch without feeling piggish,'' Idstrom said. ''They just want to relax and float down the river.''

The Green is full of fish, and that causes competition. Trout that normally won't even swing to the left for a passing insect will swim 6 and 7 feet for a shot at one of the jumbo bugs. The main cicada hatch is winding down, but the fish are so heavily imprinted from keying on them they will hit a cicada pattern with decreasing vigor clear into September.

The heavy season for terrestrials elsewhere is just winding up. Ryan Barnes, also with Western Rivers, is catching fish steadily on Currant Creek already this year with small grasshopper imitations. Any area with heavy grass along shore will grow increasingly productive for 'hopper' patterns. As surrounding fields turn brown, the bugs really migrate into the river corridors The best time to fish terrestrials is in ''the summertime, when you don't know what else to do,'' Hansen said.

And forget matching the hatch. There isn't one. Terrestrials, whether they are crickets, ants, hoppers, or beetles, don't emerge in one narrow window from the water like the ''classic'' aquatic species. They fall in incidentally. Windy, hot days are best for that reason.

Trout are not particularly choosy about size and color, either. One of the most deadly terrestrials is a Chernobyl Ant, a pattern that originated with Green River guides working out of Western Rivers. It is big and foamy with long rubber legs, and looks exactly like no other insect at all. But trout cannot resist it. After all, a steak is a steak.

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