It’s summer & ‘Beetle Time’! It was in the late 1960s that I first came across a beetle imitation being used for trout. Eric Horsfall Turner who fished my local Yorkshire Derwent near to Scarborough wrote in his book, ‘Angler’s Cavalcade’ that he had stopped using his wet beetle imitation because it made catching trout too easy. As shown in the table below, beetles were still a major part of the diet of the Derwent trout in the late 1990s when I still killed an occasional fish (I now fish totally catch & release except for any stocked rainbows which I consider should never be put into a UK river).
Numerical % of diet
Black Gnats 28
Olive Nymphs 7
Eric’s Beetle was a simple hackled wet fly with a black hen’s hackle, yellow wool underbody (left visible as a tag) & an over-body of peacock herl. I too found it to be very effective in my early days of fly fishing. Eric’s Beetle has all the key features of an aquatic/water beetle with air bubble held at its rear end, However it is terrestrial beetles that make up the vast majority of beetles that I have found in trout stomach contents & nowadays I use a floating, foam beetle imitation that has over the years morphed into its simplest form, the Flip Flop Scarab Noire. I have also found this fly in its smaller sizes to be effective for grayling in Sweden & Italy, but have not as yet tried it for UK grayling.
Tying an Eric’s Beetle:
Hook: Size 16 to 12 wet fly
Thread: Black 6/0 or 8/0
Underbody: Pale yellow wool (leave a little projecting at the tail end)
Overbody: Peacock herl
Hackle: Black hen Tying a Flip Flop
Hook: Size 18 to 12 Partridge SLD or SLD 2 or similar
Thread: Black 8/0or 6/0
Underbody: Dubbed Peacock Ice Dub or similar
Overbody & head: 2mm thick black sealed cell foam tied in just in front of the dubbed body
Legs: 2 strands of single-knotted peacock herl
Sighter: Pink Poly yarn A liberal application of low viscosity Super Glue around the point where the foam is attached will prevent the foam rotating around the shank.
Flip Flop Scarab Noire
I tend to fish this pattern when there is no obvious hatch or fall of insects & my favoured places to fish it are where there is a heavy tree canopy (particularly on windy days) & along the margins of overhanging bankside vegetation. It is particularly effective when given frequent tiny twitches to simulate the struggles of a drowning beetle, which can induce incredible aggressive takes. I find the best way of generating these tiny vibrations is with a long Tenkara rod & a superlight level Tenkara line plus tippet about the same length as the rod. This facilitates a very direct contact between rod tip & fly such that all that is required is tapping of the rod butt with the forefinger to generate the required subtle movements. If the expected fish are too big for Tenkara then a long, light-line conventional rod with a French Leader/Micro Nymph line set up or a 1 weight Jeremy Lucas Micro Thin line is the next best thing.
Italian grayling that fell for a black beetle
Austrian rainbow that took a black beetle (photo by Stephen Donohue)
My favourite methods of fly fishing are dry-fly or sight-fished nymphs/bugs, but particularly during the winter, when fishing on spate rivers, the grayling are usually loath to rise to a dry fly and the water is too coloured, or the light too poor, to see the fish for sight-fishing. It is then that I resort to a range of nymphing techniques. Of which Euronymphing is my most used technique
Frank Sawyer and Oliver Kite showed nymph-fishers the value of the induced take when nymph-fishing and stillwater fly-fishers are aware of the importance of applying movement to lures. However, many of the dry fly anglers that I see appear to rarely apply movement to their surface offerings, believing that ‘dead drift’ is the most effective way of presenting surface flies.
In the early 1960s when I first started fishing split cane was still the most popular rod-making material and fiber glass was just starting to become popular. However my first ever coarse fishing rod was made of ash butt & middle sections with a greenheart wood tip. My first fly rod, bought in the early 1960s, was a second hand 9’ cane rod built by E. Kerry of Lockton, a small village near Pickering.
Presentation is another critical factor in achieving success & grayling are just as unpredictable with respect to this. Sometimes they want a fly ‘on the drop’ & often they will travel quite a distance to take a fly as it slowly sinks. So there are times that it doesn’t pay to fish a fast-sinking, heavily weighted fly.