August 6th, 2007

Go To The Ant
By Neil M. Travis, Montana

'Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise. Which have no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer, and gathers her provision in the harvest.' [Proverbs 6:6-8]

Solomon, the author of this Biblical proverb, urges the lazy person to take notice of the ant and become wise. While I am not suggesting that anglers are sluggards I would urge them to take notice of the humble ant, and in so doing become wise.

Ants belong to the order of Hymenoptera and the family Formicidae. Hymenoptera include insects with veined wings and include wasps and bees. The only ants that have wings are the queens and drones, and then only for a short period of time when they breed. Ants are a diverse group of insects with over 12,000 recognized species. Ants are found almost everywhere, and the only places that lack native ant species are Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, and the Hawaiian Islands. Ants are so numerous that they constitute over 20% of the total terrestrial animal biomass. When all their individual contributions are added up, they may constitute up to 15 to 25% of the total terrestrial animal biomass.

Since ants are such a cosmopolitian species unless you are fishing in Iceland there are likely to be ants somewhere nearby. Most ants live in colonies that sometimes have thousands of individual ants. Like Solomon suggested, ants are busy creatures and are constantly scurrying about gathering food that they carry back to the communal nest. Such activity often brings them near to the water, and a slight wind may be enough to send them tumbling into the water. In most temperate areas ants will be active during the warmer months of the year making them a potential food source for fish from early spring until late fall.

Ants are most readily available for trout when the queens and drones [males] perform their mating ritual. Ants of a given species will send out swarms of queens and drones within a set period each year. The exact timing of these events is not as predicable as the hatches of many aquatic insects so anglers need to be prepared whenever they encounter a flight of these insects. Hot, calm days seem to be favored swarming times, and I have never seen a mating flight take place on a cool, overcast day.

Ants are terrestrial creatures, and although the queens and drones have wings during this stage of their lives it is evident that God never intended them to be great fliers. Flying is merely a way of allowing ants to distribute themselves away from the parent colony, and allow for crossbreeding to take place between adjacent colonies. Once mating is accomplished the queen quickly falls to the ground, sheds her wings, and starts searching for a suitable nest spot. The males simply die after mating. Many of the participants, both male and female, are eaten by a variety of other animals, and for the fortunate angler some of those animals may be fish.

During heavy mating flights large numbers of flying ants may end up on and in the water. Ants do not float very well, but are usually trapped right in the surface film much like a mayfly spinner. Since they have such a low profile anglers often do not see them on the water, and are at a loss to explain why the fish are rising.

When ants are mating is not the only time that they end up in the water. Ants crawling on streamside vegetation are easily swept into the water by wind or just carelessness. During the warmer months ants are routinely found in the water, and trout seem especially fond of these creatures. During the doldrums of summer an ant pattern fished along the banks, over weed beds, and along current seams will often produce some of the best angling of the day. Ants fished wet, especially in riffles and below riffle areas will often produce when nothing else will draw a strike.

Ants are great insects to imitate. They are simple to tie, easy to fish, and produce results.

Go to the ant and become wise. ~ Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona

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