"If I had to pick one dry fly to use on spring-creek waters, without hesitation I would
choose a black beetle. Even though I have seldom encountered situations where I
knew trout were actually feeding on beetles, I have probably caught more fish on
beetle imitations than on any other fly." ~ Mike Lawson, author and owner
of Henry's Fork Anglers, Island Park Idaho
"In sheer weight of numbers of species, the beetles are the kings of the terrestrial domain.
They are one the earliest of all terrestrials to appear in the spring and one of the last
to disappear as the weather grows colder . . . They likewise hold a prominent position in
the trout's menu, and it's a rare summer day when fish cannot be enticed to accept some
form of artificial beetle." ~ Harrison Steeves, Terrestrials
"Beetles, all hours of the day and all seasons of the year (even in the dead of winter), form
a significant part of the trout's diet. They are such a constant component of the drift in streams
and lakes that they inspire a form of general preference in fish. The numbers are so steady that
trout usually see a helpless beetle as an acceptable food item."~ Gary LaFontaine,
"It is a curious thing about a big trout taking beetles. Nine times out of ten he is very close
to the bank, sheltered by the grass or an overhanging bush, never advertising his presence
or his occupation; when he is caught it is always a great surprise to find him bull of beetles,
since no one would have suspected that he had been busy all afternoon collecting them."
~ Vincent Marinaro, A Modern Dry-Fly Code.
If I didn't write anything else about beetles and their importance to fly fishers, the previous
quotes would give you enough information to go out and fish beetles.
Most of you know what a beetle looks like. The predominate characteristic is the first pair
of wings are hard, (called the elytra) and are a protective covering for the second
pair of wings which are the ones used in flight. The average life span from egg to
adult is one year. The eggs of the Coleoptera are laid and the larva
lives over the winter as pupae in soil, bark or some protected area. There are 24,000
species of beetles (compared with only about 600 species of Mayflies.)
The catagories of beetles fall into several shapes; elongate-slender, parallel sided,
elongate-slender; elongate-oval, elongate robust, and broadly oval. For the fly fisher,
there are two which have worked for many years - oval and the parallel sided (rectangular).
The next important thing is the size. The Japanese beetle, is best duplicated on a standard
#12 dry fly hook. Looking at the beetle closely, the underside is covered with short grayish
hairs, and has six dark metallic legs.
The first known reference in fishing literature about a Japanese Beetle fly was in the
Pennsylvania Angler in February of 1944. In an article by Charles
K. Fox who had done an "experimental" tie of a coffee bean with the hook glued on
the flat side of the bean with wooly bodies. A small triangular file was used to make
a grove for the hook in the coffee bean. This was used with great success for bass
on the lower Susquehanna as well!
Black or dark brown seems to be the prominent accepted color in the fly imitations, but the variety
of colors in the beetle families does range from black, iridescent black, brown, tan,
green, metallic green, gray and many combinations of those colors.
If you read the Flies Only series, you are aware
the overall impression of the insect on the edge of the fish's window is where
the decision to take the fly is made. So if the size, shape, and color are a match, the
fish will take the fly. (There are some exceptions to that of course, a kink in the leader
presenting the fly in the wrong attitude, drag on the fly, etc. ) The point being the fish isn't
going to distinguish black from brown at his underside view of the fly.
Beetles are found at every time of year, including crawling on top of snow banks. They
really are overlooked as trout food. Except for those who are as Harrison Steeves calls them,
"terrestrial-oriented anglers" who carry a fly box with only black beetles in different sizes
Fishing beetles is wonderfully simple. You don't have to match the various instars of their
life cycle, no nymphs, emergers, duns or spinners to match. Just fish the black beetle in size
12 or match the size of your local beetles.
Japanese beetles Popillia Japonica came to this country probably as eggs
in nursery plants in 1916. They became a major problem in orchards and farms especially
in the eastern US, and migrated from coast to coast. Eventually, the infestation was controlled.
The interesting part is though the Japanese beetle is no longer found in great numbers, the
fish take them eagerly, from east to west.
Knowing the activity of beetles will help the fly fisher to get the best results from his beetle flies.
In the cool of the morning, beetles crawl around on the ground and low growing plants.
As the heat of the day increases, beetles are more active and disperse to taller
plants - including trees. After 3 P.M. they fly back to the ground. This activity
takes place until dark, when flight stops.
Beetles are clumsy fliers, and drop into the water. They fall off overhanging bushes and trees.
Wind blows them into the water. Their arrival at the water is usually a 'splat' and in that regard
resemble other terrestrials like grasshoppers. Usually they are found close to the banks and
that is where one should fish the imitations. If you've successfully fished grasshoppers by
bouncing them off streamside vegetation, use the same method for the beetles. This is also
a great fly for those who have not yet perfected fly presentation, a soft delicate presentation
is not needed.
Something else which may not be obvious. Beetles sink. They get swept into fast runs,
heavy riffles and sink. Trout are lying in wait, expecting food in these fast water situations.
While you are tying beetles, tie some sinking beetles as well. Fish the sinking beetle by
casting upstream ahead of the fast water and let the fly wash down through the fast-water
chute with as little drag as possible. Use upstream mends keeping the fly in the moving
water column, not hitting the bottom.
Here are a few beetle recipes:
Perhaps the most famous beetle pattern, from Terrestrials by Harrison R. Steeves III and
"Marinaro's Japanese Beetle
Hook: #16 standard dry-flyhook.
Actually the color of the top feathers on Marinaro's fly doesn't matter. The fish doesn't
see it. But Vince was a very fussy fly tier, this was for the fisherman, not the fish.
Body: Black or any dark hackle put on as for a ribbing hackle,
then cut away above and below.
Wings: The largest jungle cock nail or two medium-sized nails
tied flat on the back.
This fly has lost none of its effectiveness over the years. Since jungle cock is rather
high priced these days, we suggest substituting some other feather. Many types are acceptable,
particularly if they are reinforced with Flexament."
Here is the sinking beetle: (again from Terrestrials)
"Steeves' Sinking Black Beetle
Hook: #10, Mustad 3906, Orvis 1641, Tiemco 3769.
Finally, one which makes a great deal of sense, the Foam Beetle from Gary LaFontaine's
Thread: 6/0 black.
Body: One 9-inch strand each of Kreinik beetle black (#005HL) and
emerald (009HL), heavy braid.
Wings: Kreinik 1/8-inch flat ribbon, mallard, #850.
Wing Case: Black Swiss straw.
Thorax: Kreinik fine braid, beetle black, #005HL."
Hook 8-18 (standard dry fly, TMC 100).
Basic tying method except for the foam! Color the bottom of the foam with a black
waterproof marker, but leave the top of the foam white for visibility, leave the back end of the
foam wing free.
Body: Peacock herl.
Body Hackle: Dyed-olive grizzly (palmered; clipped flat top
Wing: Closed-cell foam."
Tie a few beetle patterns, experiment with them. But most important of all, fish them!
For more on Foam Beetles, see Al
Campbells Part 41 of the Intermediate Fly Tying series.
Credits: Japanese Beetle, and Sinking Beetle photos from
Terrestrials by Harrison R. Steeves III and Ed Kock,
published by Stackpole Books. We thank Harrison for use
permission. Marinaro Beetle photo from A Modern Dry Fly Code,
by Vincent Marinaro, reprinted by Lyons. Foam Beetle photo from Trout Flies by
Gary LaFontaine, we thank Greycliff for use permission.