Bob Boese, Louisiana

October 6th, 2008

Easy Ant Patterns
By Bob Boese, Louisiana

In the world of fly tying some patterns are hard. Hard doesn't mean it will catch fish, it just means it's hard. A traditional Atlantic salmon pattern can cost you $200 to buy just one, and you are supposed to look at it, not fish it. Other patterns are easy. Easy doesn't mean it's a bad pattern, it means almost anyone can do it. For the next few articles "easy" means generic flies – simple-to-tie patterns a novice tyer can accomplish and which require less than four dressing components. Generic patterns don't have to look like anything to catch fish. Some generic patterns are famous. The Royal Coachman and Prince Nymph are generic patterns that looks like…well, nothing. Trout love 'em. The epoxy spoon fly looks like…duh, a spoon. Redfish love it. A hair's ear nymph looks like your cat got sick. Trout love it too. All generic patterns are intended to sort of replicate something food-ish that fish might eat.

Generic terrestrial patterns. As summer approaches the number of terrestrials (ants, grasshoppers, crickets and beetles) falling into the water increases dramatically. Opportunistic fish gorge on insects suddenly blown into the water by a spring breeze and will lose much of the caution they developed over the colder months. Generic patterns are the apple fritters of the fishing world, they don't exactly look like regular food but they look good enough to eat – a lot of.

Now suppose the angler is approaching fishing waters and sees something black with wings flitting around where fish are smacking at the surface. It could be any of a hundred buggy things. Suppose also that around the water are rocks or stumps or fallen timber or ant piles. Lift an old log to find a smorgasbord of insects, and maybe a face full of little black flying things, some of which bite. And suddenly the welt covered fisherman is in a quandry – what pattern to use? This is where generic ant patterns are at their best. Why? Because they look like a lot of different little black things. And many little black things (like ants) are available year round when other insect species are not. In some instances, little terrestrials may actually dominate a fish's diet during the hatch-free late summer months.

Fishing an ant pattern is as simple as it gets. This is a small fly so use a tippet appropriate to the fly (which means the hook set must be gentler than usual). Cast the fly directly on top of the target area. Casting to a spot 6" above the target area and letting the fly drop on the water is more difficult but is the best approach because the intent is to replicate a terrestrial bug blown onto the water. Let the fly sit then execute the smallest of finger strips and let the fly sit. An ant on the surface film can skitter, but an ant in the surface film cannot locomote very well. No big strips are necessary. If a sinking ant pattern is used, do not use any additional weight and let it gently glide down the water column. After only 3 or 4 strips recast.

Finding your ant fly on the surface can be an optical trick for the best sighted of fly fishermen, even in still waters. A common help is to tie the ant onto another (more visible) floating pattern. Once you know how long the tippet is connecting the two flies, a ripple about that distance from the larger fly (or if the larger fly moves and you didn't do it) is likely a strike. Inspect the fishing area for ants or other terrestrials before choosing a fly. If the predominant ant colony is black or rust the color of the pattern is obvious. Some species have both rust and black, and an assortment of color combinations is a good idea.

Do they actually work? Floating ant patterns have produced several hefty bluegill when nothing else was attracting attention. A size 12 sinking version (all thread body) with soft hackle legs took two 4 pound bass one afternoon in late spring. Yes, they work.

Are they easy to tie? You bet.


    Hook: Dai-Riki 070 (or equivalent) Size 12-18.

    Thread: Black or red flat waxed nylon.

    Body: Fun foam (red and/or black).

    Legs: Black or red (badger) dry fly hackle

    Wing: (optional) poly yarn.

    1. Wrap a layer of thread from hook eye to bend and back toward the eye 1/4 of the shaft length.

    2. Cut a strip of red or black (or both) foam 1/16th inch wide and trim to point at one end. (It doesn't matter how long the strip is, any remainder can be reused on another ant.)

    3. Tie in the point (of red or black) of the foam strip with the strip extending over the hook bend.

    4. Wrap thread over the foam to the bend (tightly) and bring the thread back to the middle of the hook shaft.

    5. Bend the foam over the thread wraps toward the hook eye and tack down with thread at the middle then wrap thread up to near the hook eye. If you want a red-butt ant (red rear with black front) cut off excess red foam and tie in black at the middle with foam strip extending over the eye.

    6. Move thread back to middle of shaft.

    7. Bend foam (the part extending over the hook eye) back toward hook bend and tack with thread wrap in the middle of the shaft.

    8. Trim excess foam and cover trimmed end with thread.

    9. Coat entire fly with Hard As Nails (2 coats).

    10a. Optional wings – tie in a small sparse clump of poly yarn toward the hook bend.

    10b. Tie in dry fly hackle and wrap 4-6 times in middle of thread covered area between two folded foam ovals.

    11. Tie off hackle and whip finish at middle of fly.

    Coat the entire fly with some floatant.


    Hook: Dai-Riki 070 (or equivalent) Size 12-18.

    Thread: Black or red flat waxed nylon.

    Body: Thread.

    Legs: None or very sparse black or rust partridge hackle.

    1. Wrap a layer of thread from hook eye to bend.

    2. Overwrap thread on shaft above hook point to form an oval ball.

    3. Bring thread toward eye and form another overwrap ball behind the eye.

    4. Coat entire fly with Hard As Nails (2 coats).

    To add legs:

    5. Move thread back to middle gap between the two thread balls.

    6. Tie in a hackle and wrap 2-3 times.

    7. Tie off the hackle and whip finish at middle of fly.



    Hook: Dai-Riki 070 (or equivalent) Size 12-18.

    Thread: Black and white flat waxed nylon.

    Body: Thread.

    Legs: Black partridge hackle.

    1. Wrap a layer of black thread from hook eye to hook bend.

    2. Tie in a few barbs of soft hackle to form a tail.

    3. Bring thread toward eye and let bobbin hang.

    4. Tie in white thread at center of hook shank and make a white segment then tie off there.

    5. Tie in a hackle behind hook eye and wrap 2-3 times.

    6. Tie off the hackle and whip finish.

    7. Coat thread with Hard-As-Nails. ~ Bob

About Bob:

Robert Lamar Boese has fly fished for five decades. He is an environmental negotiator, attorney and educator who has provided environmental legal services for more than thirty-three years including active duty with the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Justice. He is a well known fly tyer with several unique patterns to his credit. He has developed and authored federal and state regulatory programs encompassing a broad spectrum of environmental disciplines, has litigated environmental matters at all levels of the federal and state court systems, and is a qualified expert for testimony in environmental law. He has authored over 60 published text chapters, comments or articles on environmental matters, is a member of the Colorado, District of Columbia and Louisiana Bar Associations, and is a certified mediator. In addition to his legal practice, Mr. Boese has been a high school teacher, an associate professor of Environmental Law and Public Health, has authored numerous fiction and sports publications, and is a softball coach and nationally certified volleyball referee. He is the president of the Acadiana Fly Rodders in Lafayette, Louisiana and editor of Acadiana on the Fly. He has been married for thirty years and is the father of two fly fishing girls (25 and 21). For additional information contact: Boese Environmental Law, 103 Riviera Court, Broussard, LA 70518 or call 337.856.7890 or email

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