Winter in the southern states is a miserable time for flyfishers – long faces and even longer days spent endlessly tinkering with tackle and flies. By the time the wattles are blooming, though, they start to take on a more positive air, as not too far distant are the early callings of spring and the promise of a new trout season.
Two things are synonymous with spring – the incessant rattle of lawnmowers and termites! With the first few puffs of warm air from the north begins the first significant insect action of the year… it’s termite time. Once the barometer has risen and spring begins to string a few warmish days together the termites begin to stir.
Termites are a really well-organised community of insects with three distinct levels of society within a colony – (Royalty) the kings and queens; (labourers) the working class; and, of course, the (military) or soldiers. These insects are often the scourge of many a household, but to flyfishers they are the key to the cell of winter and the catalyst for the first rise of the year.
Of most interest to flyfishers from the hierarchy of termites is the Elates – the winged princes and princesses of the colony. All are potential new kings and queens for thousands of new colonies. Elates are notoriously bad pilots, with little or no navigational skills, and are reliant on the elements to travel.
These elates, often guarded by the soldiers, venture high into dead trees and launch themselves into the spring breezes, to be carried far and wide fluttering their fragile wings barely long enough to keep them aloft longer than a few minutes. It is at this time when they are most vulnerable, and clouds of fluttering termites drift aimlessly down and end up on the water where they are picked off at will by trout.
Just because the trout go mad and feed ravenously on these hapless insects, doesn’t mean they are going to go stupid over the first artificial that comes by. Quite often they bump your fly out of the way to get at a natural. It is virtually a case of placing your fly into or at least in very close proximity to an open mouth to get a take.
A good deal of frustration is par for the course during a solid termite fall. It’s probably only second in stress factor to a full-on midge event.
This particular termite imitation is the only one I use and stick with through the thick of the action when termites are on. Many anglers can fall into the trap of swapping and changing flies madly to try and induce some action, spending more time searching for the ‘killer’ fly, or tying leaders and knots other than actually fishing.
Termites in flight actually look like an out of control helicopter, and when you are casting this fly it actually sounds like a cross between a distressed chopper and a shopping bag, and lands looking pretty much like the latter. That said, it blends in pretty well with the naturals with wings all over the place.
Of course, trout are not the only fish that will take a termite pattern. I have had quite good success on bass, estuary perch and even bream, and I am sure that other species of fish target them from time to time as most fish are opportunistic feeders. When presented with a thick carpet of termites, most fish would adjust feeding habits to suit.
Any basic fly outfit will suffice for a termite session. Something along the lines of a 5wt or 6wt outfit with a double taper floating line with a 3-4m leader tapered to a 2kg tippet.
In terms of trying to get a take from a termite feeder, I use the shotgun casting method. Pick a section of water that has one or two fish feeding in it and just keep casting into it – no need for false casting, just present… wait… then lift off… present… wait… lift off. Keep this up until you either get a take or put the fish down. There will be others rising not too far away.
One thing about trout feeding on termites is that they rarely have a regular beat, so it really is pot luck as to where they will rise again, if you are lucky enough to have clear water to polarise them in this will raise your chances. At the end of it all when you are laying down exhausted from flailing away madly with no result, just try the old chuck it and leave it technique. If nothing else, it will give you a break and a chance to refocus!
Tying instructions – TERMITE
HOOK: Mustad R48 (size14)
THREAD: black 6/0
BODY: Tiewell midge dub squirrel belly
WING: opaque plastic film negative sleeve
Attach thread to the hook and wind to the bend of the hook. Apply the dubbing to the thread – use sparingly as the body is only slim – then taper the body gradually.
Cut the wings to shape ensuring that they extend past the bend of the hook. Lay both wings on top of one another and tie on to the hook. For extra effect, you can add vein lines to the wing with a fine marking pen.
Tie in the hackle feather and wind on 4-5 turns then tie off. Clip the excess.
Form a small head, then whip finish and apply small drop of varnish.