Ant Man Beetle Guy

Here in rivertop country and on waters downstream, the time to seriously fish terrestrial patterns of the artificial fly had come. With few exceptions, the major aquatic insect hatches were complete for the year; it was time for the six-legged landlubbers to be falling on the trout and bass streams and for die-hard anglers to be out there plying the waters with terrestrial imitations hoping for some decent catches in the latter part of August.

I’d been feeling a bit terrestrial of late. I’d been  shoveling sod to reinforce sections of the lawn. I was finishing up a drainage system for a sinkhole on my driveway. I was hauling stone in various sizes from a creekbed, and my wood supply was getting stacked in preparation for another heating season.  Physically I was busy as an ant, but a grasshopper in the brain kept mumbling phrases like, “I’d rather be fishin’, I’d rather be trying something new.”

Strenuous, repetitive physical activity often brings out the release of stress. Release comes in the form of what psychologists might call “perseveration,” that is, an uncontrollable repetition of a word, phrase, gesture, or lines from a song. In my case, I’d be hauling stones in a pail while hearing echoes of Captain Beefheart’s complex ditty, “Ant Man Bee.” White ants runnin’/ Black ants crawlin’/ Yella ants dreamin’/ Brown ants longin’/ All those people longin’ to be free/… ant man bee… ant man bee…

I could’ve done worse than perseverate from “Trout Mask Replica,” (1969), one of the greatest, most creative, eco-rock albums of all time. I’m thankful I didn’t hit on something like “Baby One More Time” or the “Macarena.”

But clearly it was time for a break, to carry my terrestrials, the artificial ants and beetles and hoppers (oh my!)  to the old fishin’ hole again.

I drove down to Corning town to give the smallmouths of the big Chemung a whirl. The river’s 70 degree water seemed a pleasant thing on which to cast a 9-foot rod and four-weight line, but the bite was very slow indeed. I plied the surface with a beetle, ant and hopper, and I worked the bottom with a Muddler Minnow and a Wooly Bugger, but the only fly to make a good connection was the old reliable Hare’s Ear nymph.

Terrestrials form an essential protein boost for trout at a critical time of the year. The huge diversity of land-born insects is at a peak now while aquatic bugs are largely depleted for the season. Ants will swarm occasionally and fall on the streams and rivers, stirring up the fish and giving anglers an excellent opportunity to make some memorable catches. Casting beetle patterns is a fine way to search for feeding trout. The beetle order is so vast that matching for size, shape and color is seldom a critical issue. Grasshoppers form a big meal that really kicks out an invitation to strike. If hoppers are abundant and a midday breeze is blowing, casting an artificial hopper along a riverbank can be extremely productive.

After I returned from the Chemung River fishing I received a phone call from an old friend, Rex Marino. The timing seemed propitious. I first met Rex while fishing Kettle Creek back in the early 1990s. We’d been fishing on the same pool and we started talking. As I recall, Marino sealed our new friendship by handing me a bunch of foam-tied beetles that he’d recently purchased and by saying, “These are great.” Indeed those black-foam beetles, with flourescent orange indicator thread on top, were very good indeed. I fished them successfully for many years and they took a lot of abuse from the teeth of trout. Rex would always be the Beetle Guy for me, and his most recent call reminded me that I shouldn’t ever give up on them or let them hide away in a corner of the fly box.

In fact I was hoping to take them with me soon for a visit to the North Fork Moormans River near Charlottesville, VA, a stream originating in Shenandoah National Park and one that ostensibly fishes very well with terrestrial patterns through the month of August. Paul Needham, author of Trout Streams, once did a study on the food consumed by 250 brook trout of the Blue Ridge Mountains and found that beetles constituted 6.6% of the trouts’ annual diet, with ants and other terrestrials constituting another 3% of the yearly consumption. Currently I’m looking forward to visiting family members in Virginia and also discovering first-hand just how important beetles are to the summer diet of the mountain natives.

Ah, there’s always more “research” to be done, isn’t there? So many streams, so little time, etcetera. Strike up the perseveration music.

White ants runnin’/ Black ants crawlin’/ Yella ants dreamin’/ Brown ants longin’/… ant man bee… ant man bee….

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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