Eye of the Guide


Satoshi Yamamoto - Jul28, 2014

Sysadmin Note
Part 3 can be found here

Case #3: Flying Ants Mating Swarm on Slough Creek Below Campground – Part 1

I will never forget this whole event and experience. It's been deeply engraved on my brain. This might be why I decided to write this series, with this story being the most highlighted.

One early September day in 2011, I went fishing to the Lamar. I was planning to hike upstream as far as I can but there was a warning sign of bear activity in the area. I was by myself so I decided to turn then I hit Slough Creek below campground (hereafter Lower Slough). I caught some trout on either Green Drake or baetis (Blue Winged Olive) dry-flies. Though there were no apparent hatches, trout were willing to rise for a period. After rising actions seemed over, I walked along the creek downstream. It was almost 5PM. If there were no more actions, it was about time for me to head home, just like other visitors. However, just out of sudden, I started to see rise-rings one after another at one of typical flat-water spots of Lower Slough. Soon actions became so intense. I heard violent gulping sounds all over. I thought "what's hatching? Real green drakes?" As I looked around in the air and on the water, I realized it was the swarm of huge flying ants (winged ants). Soon I recognized those bigger ones were females as tiny midge-sized counterparts (males) were hanging on their abdomens. So it was the mating swarm!!

Huge & meaty queens

And their poor little counterparts…..

Painful & Desperate

Because of the season, I did carry some ant patterns or attractor foam patterns that might work. I tied on my selections and started casting. I was nowhere close to get any attention from trout. I changed flies and then tried. I was given the same no-response treatment. Besides flies, I also changed my angles of casting several different ways. I tried again, again, and again………… Swarm lasted about one hour for what I recall. All through those minutes, I was totally ignored while trout kept feeding delightedly with gulping sounds all around me. Trout treated me as if I were casting from the Mars. Worse, most likely they didn't care my existence at the creek. It was way beyond the level of frustration. I was totally ignored and defeated to the core of my soul. I literally couldn't move when swarm was over and trout and water went quiet. I barely got back to my truck and drove home. I thought I would throw all of my gears to the woodstove and burn them, then I would commit suicide and be done with fly-fishing!!

The Fly

In this case, several sips of adult beverage at that night helped me sober up from those desperate feelings. Next morning, I was able to review the situation and face my problems. First of all, I wasn't ready for this sudden event so I didn't have flies in right sizes and colors. Then second, it's the character of Lower Slough. I would have to drive about 80 miles and 90 minutes to get the creek but I could do something with flies right at my tying bench (I will cover the character of Lower Slough in next chapter). Also I heard some tips that the mating swarm can happen more than once a year from outfitters I worked with. But I could tell it would be very soon. I knew I wouldn't have a month, even a week, otherwise I would have to wait till next year. I wouldn't take the thought of carrying this feeling for a year. I had to be quick.

The first problem was: those ants were in totally unordinary sizes. Females were in sizes 10 to 12, while males were in size 22, give or take, just like midges. For females, I figured out that just tying/adjusting existing generic patterns wouldn't do as they have such distinctive features. I had to come up with something quickly. Huge abdomen, segmentations, legs, wings, and colors…….. I came up with this and named S.C.Ant Queen. Once the idea for females was designed, the male version came right after (which will be covered in the next chapter with another story). S.C.Ant apparently stands for Slough Creek but also I meant "without this fly during the ant swarm, you catch will be SCANT".

Yamamoto's S.C.Ant – Queen (top)

  • Thread: Black 6/0
  • Hook: Dai-Riki 280 size 10, 12, 14, & 16
  • Body: Brown or Tan Foam for Rear Guster and Black Foam for Front Two Segments
  • Wing: Montana Fly Company Wing Material
  • Legs: Black Bug legs or Span-Flex

Actual size on my fingers

Next Attempt

I decided to hit the creek 3 days later. Now I had a fresh fly pattern that might solve the problem. But the real question was: will the swarm occur again? Actually once I got the creek, I was slightly overwhelmed by the dreadful experience of only 3 days ago. It was slow in the morning. Then I picked up several trout in the afternoon with Green Drake or Baetis dry-flies just like 3 days ago. I waited patiently, crossing my fingers for another swarm. At 5PM, there was no sign of actions. I was at the lower end of the meadow so I started to walk back. Yet slowly. It seemed no second chance for me for the year. It looked like I had to hold off till next year. I couldn't even test my new fly. It sounded so cruel. Then, out of very sudden, just around 6PM, I started to see the swarm of flying ants and hear gulping sounds of trout. The Fishing Lord hadn't forsaken me yet!!

This time, I happened to be on the top of high cutbank. Besides rise-rings and gulping sounds (which are also noticeable from the lower bank on the other side), I could also observe the trout; how they swim, when they rise, and where they go. Now everything came to senses; why I failed 3 days ago and what I should do now. I spotted one trout that was aggressively cruising and feeding on any ants available. I targeted that one. Single it out.

Queen was voraciously eaten by a hungry & cruising cutbow.

Curse was freed. I conquered the battle against the creek, trout, ants, and fear within me. I came back to my usual self.

Satoshi Yamamoto, http://leftyangler.blogspot.com, is a guide and a professional fly-tyer in Livingston, MT.

Sysadmin Note
Part 5 can be found here


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