Flies and beetles

It makes sense to use the flying insects and crawling bugs found at the waterside: they are a natural part of the fishes’ diet and on some hot summer days, all too readily to hand.

The advantages of using a natural insect bait, as opposed to one that is ‘introduced’ such as bread or mag-gots, are worth careful consideration by every angler. Not only are these baits cheap—no small thing with to-day’s rising prices—but they can be obtained at very short notice and when traditional baits may be in short supply at the tackle shop. While many natural baits are easy to catch and to present on the hook, there are a larger number that re-main virtually unknown or that may not immediately spring to mind as being useful.

There can be few anglers who have not forgotten to empty a maggot box at some time only to open it days later and discover a sleepy swarm of bluebottles. These make an excellent bait at any time of the year, and can be easily mounted on to a fine wire hook at the junction of the wings and thorax.

Two-winged flies

The order of two-winged flies, Diptera, to which houseflies and bluebottles belong, also contains other excellent fishing baits, in-cluding the adult crane fly or daddy long legs. In autumn they abound in grassland beside the water and need no prior catching or storing.

Several aquatic flies, which are imitated with an artificial by the fly fisherman, obviously make a good natural bait. Stone flies, in the order Plecoptera, are usually found in run-ning water, but some of their 34 species can be found in lakes and ponds. The female is large, brown, with four heavily veined wings and offers a better mouthful than the smaller, non-flying male.

Caddis flies generally appear late in the evening and are often confused with moths because of their dull colouring and long antennae. There are 185 species embracing some members that are 2in or so in length, making a sizeable bait.

Alder flies take to the wing reluc-tantly and are prolific in the early part of the season. Their habit of folding their large wings back over the body makes them look as if they are camping under a ridge tent, and helps the angler to pick them up off reeds and stones where they settle.

The useful fly-board

Catching aquatic flies need not entail chasing along the banks with a butterfly net. Many kinds can be collected from vegetation at the water’s edge as they emerge from the pupa stage. But an easier method is with the assistance of a fly board. Many river keepers use these. Fly boards are lengths of plain wood some 2ft long by 8-10in wide, which are anchored in the water as an encouragement to insects. With its aid, insects can emerge from, or gain access to the water and also lay their eggs on the underside where the hatching fly will be protected from predators. A board is simple to make and should be set just off the bank, using a long piece of cord to retrieve it as required. If it is pulled in gently to the bank most of the insects aboard it will remain and can be collected and put in jars.

Storing such baits in a plastic box is to invite mass evacuation when the lid is opened. Far better is a small plastic bottle with holes for aeration punched in the lid. A loop can be strapped to this with Sellotape so that it can be fastened at the waist of a roving angler who can remove one fly at a time as required without losing any of his precious bait.

The leatherjacket Of the many grubs that can be found, one especially constitutes a first-class bait, and that is the leatherjacket, larva of the crane fly. Twenty minutes spent slicing up turf on old meadowland will provide an abundance of these long, grey grubs which can then be kept in grass or moss in a box. The tough leathery jacket of skin which gives them their name makes them easy to hook and they will remain firmly in place for cast after cast. Fish take them readily, especially when there is a little colour to the water following rain.

Most land and water beetles take time and effort to find, but one small species is worth catching for use on the hook. This is the whirligig beetle of the Cyrididae order. These small oval beetles with shiny black wing cases are familiar along pond and slow-river shallows during summer days, endlessly cruising in circles as they search for food. Once caught they will keep well in damp moss or a handful of wet waterweed and can be mounted on to a small hook, looped lightly through the underside of the body. But catching them is not easy; the best approach is to note where a gathering of whirligigs are swimming, then lower a small handnet on to the bottom. Wait quietly for their return, when the net can be raised sharply, usually with some success.

The grasshopper

Finally, a universal little insect that can be a killing bait—the common grasshopper. Through the summer and late autumn months they can be driven out of long grass, caught and kept in the bottle described for use with aquatic flies. They are hooked gently through the thorax and, once in the water, work exceptionally well, their long back legs kicking up a disturbance that is itself an attraction few fish—least of all chub and dace—can resist.

The vast majority of anglers con-sider using only one style of fishing with a natural bait—dapping. It is certainly effective, particularly with a large bait that is likely to make lively movements on the surface. But eventually any natural bait that falls on to the surface will sink, and it is equally acceptable to fish as it drops through the water towards the bottom.

A self-cocking float with one dust shot pinched on to the cast to sink the bait gently through the water, is perfect, as are the straightforward, one-shot laying-on rigs that give immediate and definite notice of a bite. Midday heat, when most fish seem to be sluggish and inattentive to conventional baits, is the best time to use these natural insect baits, relying on a roving approach to search out the better fish which can-not resist an unexpected offering.

When setting out to fish natural baits, it pays to do a little research into the habitual diets of the species you may catch. A fat old bumble bee, struggling in the surface film, is a common meal for the canny chub lying among the trailing leaves of a willow tree. It will feel the vibration signalling the bee’s distress, long before the insect itself comes into sight. If you raise and lower the bee to simulate its failed efforts to lift off, the lure is irresistible.

Roach and dace shoals would not respond to the same bait and need a more varied approach. The range re-quired or the speed of the current may prohibit dapping. Then, a method which serves is a combination of dapping and sink-anddraw techniques. Two or more flies or small beetles are lightly hooked on a size 14 fine wire hook. Swan shot is pinched on 6ft above the hook and the hook is attached between this swan shot and a small float or piece of polystyrene. The shot gives you the casting weight needed, while the float keeps the bait on or near the surface. When you get the balance right, it’s a tremendous rig.