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
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 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.