Welcome to Not Quite Entomology

Welcome to Not Quite Entomology! This is a different approach to matching the hatch, or learning which insect the fish are really eating. The flies and methods to make it all work will be here as well. We hope this series will inspire you to go out, look on top of and under rocks, check the stream-side vegetation, really investigate your favorite water and learn which are your local trout's favorite foods!

The Essential Ant

Old Rupe
By Old Rupe

They always produce. There are almost as many ant patterns as NASDAQ has companies, and by the looks of the current market the ants may carry the day. I'm older than dirt, and so I've had the opportunity to see and fish ant imitations that were so close to the natural you would expect them to crawl off dragging your leader, and others only an abstract artist could visualize as an ant. Both types caught fish, even when it seemed they shouldn't.

In trout fishing we have two ant events: the "chance ant" that drops into the river and the flying ant "mating flight" where many of its members are accidently blown in, resembling a sparse mayfly hatch. These ant hatches can occur for up to two weeks at a time as subsequent colonies take to the air.

The lone ant and its flying relative that drops into a stream have at least one thing in common. The main thing you will notice is no matter how an ant is dropped, thrown or placed into the stream, it floats. The surface tension just won't let it sink. Getting a size 20 ant to break the surface film is like trying to put toothpaste back into the tube. Some must sink because I've caught a jillion trout on a red lacquered ant that wouldn't float with a balloon under it. Why do trout seem to love the sunken ant? I don't think they see many in nature but the sub-surface lacquered ant has been a winner for centuries. Maybe the double humped multiple legged imitation is a genetically imprinted search image independent of whether it sinks or floats.

Ants don't splash when they hit the water, but I will admit to trying a slightly rougher landing with the winged form to no conclusion.

Both stages of the insect float so low to the water that a set of binoculars would be a real asset. If you are over thirty you can't see well enough to fish an ant. Every fly has a problem and with ants its visibility. It's just hard to fish what you can't see. I think I've seen every trick in the book. Paint or yarn on the top of fly, and small indicators etc. The bottom line is that ants are always going to be a problem. They will always remain small flies whose construction and presentation generally precludes observation. A size 18 black ant at 25 feet is a challenge even to NASA.

The lone ant that drops in has one feature that is immediately noticeable. It's legs always move. I know as I have probably thrown in five hundred of the AuSable's (Michigan) big black size 14 carpenter ants, locally known as elephant ants, just to watch the trout feed on them. After seeing the ant's leg movements it's hard to fish Gerald Almy's fur ant with the stiff deer hair legs, besides it's impossible to see it at ten feet. Gerald may have a serious understanding of ants and such, but he has almost no grasp of old men's eyesight. I haven't observed that many flying ants but I would expect leg motion and the corresponding predatory trigger there also.

We have a mating flight of ants size 16 to 18 here each April that happens with the Hendrickson hatch. I really think the trout prefer the ants. A windy day in mid-April is sure to see a few into the stream. Many streams are fortunate enough to have several such ant attacks a season. During such events trout can be as easy as village maids. Why the semi-spent wing versus the delta type? I don't know why but the semi-spent wing is better.

I have never fished a "chance ant" more than four feet from the bank. This is probably the result of an ingrained prejudice that most ants fall in close to the shore and that is where trout expect them to be. I'm sure the basic idea behind this restricted presentation is incorrect, but it's hard to change an old dog. The occasional ant has to be taken for a free lunch by any cruising trout that happens upon it, no matter where it may be.

There is a patented fly that consists of two cork or balsa pieces connected with a six pound piece of mono. This dumbbell is tied to a hook with a hackle in the center. A bit of paint on the front section makes it my favorite "chance ant."

I tie a lacquered red flying ant with a semi-spent wing with a little hackle in front. The natural doesn't look that way but it seems to work better than the delta winged tie. Sally Hanson's Hard as Nails over Danville 6/0 thread is a hard act to beat.

Harrison Steeves sinking ant

Harrison Steeves may have a better thing in that he uses five-minute epoxy over silk thread and a hackle in the center. That combination produces a translucent look similar to Vince Marinaro's dubbed dry seal ant. Read Marinaro's thoughts on ants. Harrison's sinks and Vince's floats. Translucency as a theme in both a wet and dry fly by different people. If real seal becomes available don't even tell me. I couldn't afford it.

Andrew Somerset of Ontario Canada ties a wet ant I really like. It's tied smaller than the hook should dictate, like a low water salmon fly with black Krystal Flash for the legs. Krystal Flash in its various colors should be a trout main menu item. Dan Bailey's has a similar flashy material, that I'm currently trying to get, that is so bright that sunglasses are a requirement. A flashy leg material, in my opinion, doesn't seem to be a bad thing.

Try spraying the dubbing with Scotch Guard (if you can find it, it's been discontinued) or Gorilla Proof before you tie. The resulting fly may not float forever, but if you are wagering that it will sink you will think it's forever.

A 7 to 8x tippett is necessary for the serious ant fisher, and it had better be a long supple one. Size 14 ants on most streams are as hard to find as income tax refunds.

I'm buying new glasses this week, and promising myself not to tie any ants smaller than a size 18.

Sunday it will be Crabill's cheeseburgers and flying ants on the Mad River, if I'm fortunate. Those burgers are still fried to order in aged grease the same way they were when I first ate them 25 years ago. I can't pass them up. I guess trout feel the same way about ants.

P.S. Never fail to stop in Urbana, Ohio for Mad River trout and Crabill's tasty burgers. I regularly drive 60 miles one way for both. Try the trout on a dry ant and the burgers like the locals eat them, "dipped." When you order them "dipped" they dip the bun in the grease the burgers are fried in. Sounds bad but it's great. Four cheeseburgers with relish "dipped" please. ~ Old rupe

For more on ants, you might try the pattern in Brown Fur Ant and Transparent Ant, or the Black Fur Ant.

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