THROWBACK: An Army of Beetles

Beetles make up 25 percent of all the living species of life-forms on Earth, and the fish love them. This beetle imitation that catches trout anywhere.

[by Igor and Nadica Stancev]

BEETLES REPRESENT THE LARGEST ORDER OF INSECTS, called Coleoptera. The word Coleoptera describes their outer front wings, which protect their bodies and soft flying wings. It is derived from the Greek words koleos, meaning “sheath,” and pteron, which means “wing”; in other words, “sheathed wing.”

Coleoptera comprises an incredible 360,000 species, and makes up 25 percent of all the species of life-forms on Earth. Coleoptera includes the family Cantharidae, which has more than 4,000 species. It is easy to understand why beetles are so widespread and live in most environments . Although they are terrestrials, fish eagerly eat beetles when they fall unto the water, so these insects are of great interest to fly fishermen.

Let us introduce you to soldier and sailor beetles, and the fly we to tie to imitate them.

A Brief Entomology Lesson

Soldier and sailor beetles are very similar. They get their names from their colors, which look like the uniforms once worn by English soldiers. They are also called leather-wings because of the structure of their front protective wings, which are called elytra.

Soldier and sailor beetles appear on mountains and lowlands between April and August, and into early autumn in some regions, so you just have time to tie a few imitations for this fishing season. They first appear in the spring, but they are present near water throughout the summer, and are a regular and favored food of trout.

These beetles are close relatives of glow -bugs (fireflies), but they don’t produce light. They have flattened, bright orange abdomens and thoraxes. The outer wings are long and colored brown or black. Adults feed on nectar, pollen, and even other insects. They are rarely seenalone; we usually findthem in pairs during their mating. Females lay eggs twice during the year in moist soil or decayed leaves in meadows, fields, and the borders of forests. The larvae survive the winter by producing a sugar-based sort of antifreeze. The larvae are slim and wormlike with brown-gray segmentation, and they feed on the larvae of other insects, such as grasshoppers and caterpillars.


Soldier and sailor beetles are not good fliers. Their weak wings hardly bear their meaty bodies and cannot save them from the gusts of wind that knock them from streamside vegetation onto the water. After falling onto the water, they struggle, spread their legs and underwings, and try to fly. This commotion attracts the attention of hungry fish.

Tying the Fly

Carefully observing real beetles and studying photographs of these insects helps us design better imitations. Our fl y mimics the long elliptical abdomen, the segmented body, the fiery orange color, and spread legs of the natural.

The closed-cell foam abdomen keeps our imitation on the surface all day long—no additional fly floatant is necessary—and the silhouette is very similar to that of the natural insect. However, not all terrestrials need to float so well; sometimes a drowned terrestrial attracts the attention of the fish, and a slightly submerged imitation will work in the surface film.

Although it is not so durable as a pattern finished with one of the blue-light-cured resin products, we prefer using a Coleoptera imitation with an unprotected back. We add a cul de canard feather to represent the soft flying wings, which increases the appearance of a struggling insect on the surface.

You can experiment with other materials when tying this pattern. For example, rather than using deer hair for the legs, you can use thin rubber, hackle, or bristles from a synthetic paintbrush. Orange, red, rusty brown, and black are the most effective colors.

Whatever materials you use, tie a few beetles. They will bring you many pleasant moments when the real beetles are present and other insects are less active.

Nadica and Igor Stancev are two of our favorite fly tiers. They are masters at creating realistic flies for real-world fishing. They live in Macedonia, the birthplace of fly fishing.