Hellgrammite, The King Kong of Aquatic Insects

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If Jabba the Hut from Star Wars was an aquatic insect, he’d have to be a Hellgrammite. Photo By Louis Cahill

I was on the water trout fishing the other day, when my buddy Erik Ashlin said, “it was just about this time last year, when all the hellgrammites began crawling into the shallows to begin their pupation.

Let me flip over a rock and see if I can find one real quick, these guys are wicked looking”. No joke, the first rock Erik turned over, this freaking giant 3″ Hellgrammite was laying there with its jaws of life (mandibles) snapping. It was very clear it was gesturing, “come on, get closer…, let me get a piece of you”!

If you ever get the opportunity to examine a big Hellgrammite up close, there will be no doubt in your mind that the Hellgrammite is the King Kong of all aquatic insects. Be careful handling them because they can pack one hell of a painful pinch capable of breaking the skin. Hellgrammites are like a five course meal in terms of food value to trout. I’d lay a bet they pack every bit as much caloric worth as sculpins and crayfish do. Great times to fish hellgrammite imitations are during high flows after heavy rains. During these conditions, they often get dislodged from under rocks and swept down stream. Hellgrammites are also very vulnerable during behavioral drifts, when the larva are searching out new feeding grounds or better water conditions.

If you’re trying to tempt a trophy brown trout, rainbow trout, or smallmouth bass into eating, you can’t go wrong with a hellgrammite imitation. That being said, Hellgrammites shouldn’t be used as your everyday searching pattern. Somedays you’ll find fish won’t pay them any attention, while other days, they’ll be your big fish producers. Eirk Ashlin, the creator of the “Hellaiser” with Rainy’s Flies, agrees saying, “I frequently tie one on during the spring summer months right off the bat in the morning and after I fish two or three holes, I know if I’m going to keep it tied on or stow it away in fly box the rest of the day”. I think every fly angler should always carry a few hellgrammite patterns in their fly box, if not just to pay respect to this amazing aquatic insect.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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9 thoughts on “Hellgrammite, The King Kong of Aquatic Insects

  1. A bug big enough to be articulated is my kind of bug! and in the case of a Helgie articulation of some sort makes sense…old school long shanked patterns were far more rigid than the natural.

  2. My egg-dunking dad instructed me at an early age to turn over rocks and find these nasty critters and then somehow get one on my hook. He promised me a “big one” with every ‘mite.

    You’re absolutely right that these big bastards come out fighting when you try to pull them from their rock spot.

    Thanks for this flashback.

  3. When I lived in Connecticut, and in my mid twenties. I used to do a lot of fishing on the Housitonic river in Cornwall, I used a sifter screen held it in the water and starter lifting up rocks to get the Hellgrammites to fish with. I took only what I was going to use. Their by far without a doubt Trout killers. and Large Mouth Bass, I had my limit in about 45 min. I had other fishermen scratching their heads, they where there for a couple of hours already

  4. I started fishing with these things when my Dad told me about them. We’ve fished with them on the Cahaba River in Central Alabama. We always caught something with these nasty things. Dad showed me how to grab them right behind the head in order to take them off the rocks. If you grab too far behind the head, the thing will curl under and latch on! Great bait, though, and worth the risk. I was fishing with one of my cousins one day, in a little hole about 75 feet long , and we caught 5 catfish in less than 30 minutes.

  5. My Dad also taught me about finding the leather backs.. he told me once he put one on his hook and got a bite, reeled it in to see that the hellgramite had the sunfish by the lip until he pulled it off and released it back in the stream.. now that is a catch, catch and release!

  6. We Hellgrammites drift in current do they retain their elongated shape, or do they ball up into a circular shape? I’ve been told that to imitate a drifting hellgramite, the pattern nneds to be a circular shape.

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