My Top 5 Terrestrial Patterns

Learn which terrestrial fly patterns to pack your fly box with when big bugs start flying around this spring with fly-fishing expert, Marshall McDougal!

A fly sits on a rock that is held by a fisherman who is also holding a fishing rod.

All photos by Marshall McDougal

Dry fly fishing is some of the most action-packed fly fishing. Below, I’ll explain my top-five terrestrial flies for fishing the big bug hatch in the spring, what they consist of, and how to fish them.

Terrestrial Fishing

The two biggest hatches for terrestrials, which are large insects that live on land, start in early spring when the salmon flies and stoneflies start hatching. These big bug patterns make for some awesome topwater fishing and are a huge part of a trout's diet. Presentation is not all that important as fish are coming out of their wintering state and are ready to eat anything that slaps the water in front of them. Stoneflies and salmon flies offer lots of nutrients and are easy targets for large trout craving aquatic insects as things start to thaw out from the winter months.

1. Chubby Chernobyl

A few Chubby Chernobyl flies.

Pattern

The Chubby Chernobyl is undoubtedly my go-to terrestrial pattern. These fat foam flies imitate a variety of insects and will trigger aggressive topwater action from fish. Made up of a dubbing body, rubber legs and a large foam strip, these flies are easy to see on the water and can be fished as a standalone fly or rigged up with a dropper fly.

Fishing the Chubby Chernobyl

The Chubby Chernobyl can be fished in many ways. Using it as a standalone pattern, you will want to let it drift with the current while mending your line. Find pockets of water with overhanging brush or tree limbs to float this pattern through. Any place where it would be likely for a grasshopper or stonefly to fall off vegetation and into the water is ideal.

Another very common way to fish this pattern is to tie a dropper rig off the bend of the hook. The dropper pattern can be anything from a stonefly nymph to a small midge but the idea is to use the Chubby as an indicator for the dropper fly. Fish this set up in the same waters or even run it through riffles where fish are feeding. Make sure to adjust the tippet length for your dropper pattern; you will want it anywhere from half of the water depth to 1.5 times the water depth.

Fish this combo through multiple runs on the river. Imagine a football field in front of you and make sure to fish this pattern on every five-yard line. Feeding fish may not come out of their lanes to eat the small midge so making sure you hit every possible feeding lane is key when fishing this hopper dropper.

2. Hopper Droppers

A Hopper Dropper fly.

Pattern

Hopper patterns are very similar to the Chubby Chernobyl. They are big foam flies that imitate grasshoppers. Some of the most attractive colors for this pattern are brown, yellow, green, and black. When fishing from the bank, try to find a few grasshoppers around you and match the color to your fly. Hopper fishing will attract large fish and aggressive bites and should be a staple in any terrestrial box.

Fishing the Hopper Dropper

Hoppers can be fished as a standalone pattern, just as any other dry fly, but are most commonly tied up with a dropper fly. The dropper is typically a nymph or midge tied to the hook bend that trails the hopper using it as more of an indicator. This style of fishing is one of the best ways to catch fish during the salmon and stonefly hatches.

Dropper Notes

For both the hopper dropper and the Chubby Chernobyl dropper, here is how I tie mine onto fish. The hopper fly will be tied directly to your leader or tipper with an improved clinch knot. I then tie 5X-7X tippet onto the bend of the hook with another improved clinch knot and measure out anywhere from 0.5x to 1.5x the water depth.

When deciding which length to use in the dropper section, take into consideration the water current. If you are fishing a slow portion of the stream, go shorter as the trailing midge will snag the bottom if you have a length greater than the water depth. If you are fishing in a faster current, consider longer lengths so that your trailing fly can get deeper in the water column. After you have decided on a length in this section, tie your trailing fly on with another improved clinch knot and get to fishing!

3. Flying Ant

A few Flying Ant flies.

Pattern

The ant pattern is a simple black or brown pattern tied on a small dry-fly hook. It has two dubbing balls that act as the thorax and head with either a poly yarn post wrapped in hackle or hackle wrapped in the middle of the body. These little patterns are fished as a standalone dry fly and are a must-have in your fly-box arsenal. If you are having trouble seeing these black-ant dry flies float, try to use one with a white or orange poly yarn post to make them more visible on the water.

Fishing the Flying Ant

Fish these ant patterns as you would any dry fly. Find eddies behind rocks or up against the bank, and let these flies drift through them. They won’t entice as aggressive strikes as the larger hopper patterns will, so look for fish to slurp these patterns. Mind your fly line when fishing these as they will be very sensitive to movement. Add a few twitches in the line when drifting to imitate the bug trying to take flight and watch as fish eat these ants up!

4. Foam Beetle

A Foam Beetle fly.

Pattern

The foam beetle is a large terrestrial pattern that mimics not only beetles but ants and crickets as well. They are typically tied on streamer or dry-fly hooks with a foam back to help them float. I add some peacock herl to the head to give it that green/black shine as well as an orange strip of foam so you can see these drifting on the water better.

Fishing the Beetle

Beetle patterns are typically fished in the same way hoppers and Chubby Chernobyls are. Big foam flies can be fished alone up against banks or brush areas as well as with a dropper fly. These beetles will get big strikes from fish feeding. When setting a hook on these big topwater strikes, make sure to be patient or you will pull the fly out of the fish’s mouth before it eats it.

5. Cicadas

A cicadia fly.

Pattern

If you are lucky enough to catch a cicada hatch in your area, you’re in for a treat! Cicada broods spend their life burrowed underground, and every 13 or 17 years will come out in a frenzy to reproduce. These big bugs are slow and defenseless in most fisheries making them a great food source for fish. These bugs are tied on big hooks with foam bodies and a poly yarn as the wing material.

Fishing the Cicada Pattern

Plan on drifting these flies up against the riverbanks. Don’t worry too much about the presentation of the fly; sometimes smacking these fat patterns down on the water imitates the cicada in real life. Let them slowly float into eddies and from fast-moving water to pockets where fish are visibly feeding. Add some small, short strips in your drift to imitate bug movement that will drive the fish crazy. Be ready at any moment as you will get large aggressive topwater strikes from active fish.

Summary

When the weather starts thawing out and some of the early hatches begin, tie on one of these flies and experience topwater action like you’ve never seen! Salmon and stoneflies can be mimicked with very similar patterns and fished the same. Ants and beetles are more of a stand-alone pattern that heat up in the summer. When you get the chance to fish a cicada hatch—go! It can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Regardless of the hatch or fly you throw, adding terrestrial patterns to your arsenal is a must if you want to consistently catch fish.

For tips on how to organize your fly box with these awesome terrestrial patterns, check out this How to Organize a Fly Box article. If you need a new fly box and want to make your own, check out this DIY Streamer Fly Box article. If you have questions about these patterns or where to buy them, reach out to me or another Fly-Fishing Expert here on Curated!

Like this article?
Share it with your network

Written By
I picked up a fly rod at the age of 10 and have never been able to put it down. Fly tying started shortly after and I have chased fish all over the US and Mexico. I now own a small fly tying company as well as run guided trips. My favorite area to fish is the Bitteroot River in Missoula, MT and my f...

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Read Next

New and Noteworthy