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The Ant Carol
By Skip Morris

Termite Flying ants, though the fishing books and magazines seldom mention them, can be serious business to the fly fisher. I've seen flying ants as tiny as size-24 hooks sprinkled like gray dust over the surface of a Montana lake; and I've caught good trout out in water sixty feet deep that were hunting the surface for flying ants with thick brown bodies. But where I live — on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula — the most important flying ant is the termite. Brown-orange bodied with long brown wings, it begins its nervous flights in the hot evenings of mid-August and continues them into the first part of September. It's big, as trout-food insects go, calling for a size-10 or -12 hook for imitation, and it can hit the lakes in respectable numbers on the best days. I've seen largemouth bass uncharacteristically far out from shore quietly picking termites from the surface like trout. And I'm sure that bluegills and some of the other pan fishes also occasionally focus on termites. But despite that other fishes have a taste for them, termites and all other flying ants I think of as trout food. And though termites and their relatives must drop onto streams, again becoming fare for trout, I nonetheless think of them as trout food of lakes.

Flying Ant

My imitation of the termite, the Ant Carol, evolved over two decades of hunting lakes for trout (and sometimes bass) that were themselves hunting termites. It sort of developed on its own, along that oft-mentioned path of least resistance, replacing or revising inefficient aspects of its design and shedding unnecessary parts along the way. Simplicity in a fly pattern (that is, a fly pattern intended for fish rather than for displaying behind glass) must always be a virtue, and the Ant Carol is simple indeed. It's buck-tail wings are spare enough to suggest the veined translucent-brown wings of the natural, supple enough to flex and let the hook do its job, stiff enough to hold their shape through the rigors of riding out casts and catching fish. Its body of synthetic dubbing is buoyant (like the wings, when they've been treated with floatant). Its hackle is sparse enough to suggest a few legs. One could start over with a whole new design to improve buoyancy—extend the body and reduce the mass of the hook; make the body of something incapable of absorbing water, like closed-cell foam—but that would make a heavier demand on the tier, and there is no pressing need for great buoyancy in a dry fly that, like the Ant Carol, is only quietly manipulated on standing water. Besides, flying ants seem heavy and their fall to water is usually harsh, so they often wind up a bit low in the surface of the water... about as low in the surface as an Ant Carol lies.

A simple fly for a simple job. But an effective fly, especially when fish are seeking flying ants atop lakes.

Materials for the Ant Carol:

    Hook: Light wire, standard length to IX long (standard dry-fly hook), sizes 12 and 10 (smaller or larger for imitating flying ants other than the termite, size 20—even smaller if you dare—up to size 8, though I seldom go smaller than 14 and never larger than 8).

    Thread: Red 8/0 or 6/0 (for versions other than the red-orange termite, thread-color should echo body-color).

    Abdomen: Red-orange synthetic dubbing (or some other ant-color, typically black or brown) poly, Superfine, Antron...

    Wings: Brown buck tail.

    Thorax: The same as the abdomen.

    Hackle: One, brown (or whatever color imitates the natural).

Tying Instructions for the Ant Carol:

    Step 1

    1. Start the thread at the hook's bend. Dub a full, rounded abdomen over the rear third of the hook's shank. (You can dub down the bend a little, if you like.)

    Step 2

    2. Cut a small bunch of hair from the natural-brown area of an undyed buck tail. Use the long stiff hairs, not the short soft ones. Comb out the short hairs and under-fur. Stack the hairs in a hair-stacking tool. Bind half the hairs on one side of the abdomen, half on the other. The abdomen should push the two bunches out to the sides in a shallow "V". The length of the wings should equal the full length of the hook, or be slightly longer.

    Step 3

    3. Bind the butts of the hairs tightly along the shank to just back from the hook's eye. Trim the butts. Build another bulge of dubbing just behind the eye. Build it to only about half to two-thirds the length and diameter of the abdomen. End with the thread behindthe dubbing. (An alternate approach for the wings: bind them as a single bunch atop the hook, right back to the abdomen, then split them with crisscrossed turns of thread.)

    Step 4

    4. Spiral the thread back to the wings and take a turn or two of thread around each, if needed, to gather them into distinct bunches. Remember that tight thread-turns will flare the hair, firm turns will gather it.

    Select a proper-size hackle from a dry-fly neck or saddle using a hackle gauge. Strip the long, soft fibers from the base of the hackle's stem. Bind the hackle to the shank at the front of the abdomen. Bind the stem along the shank most of the way to the dubbed thorax. Trim the stem closely.

    Step 5

    5. Wind the hackle forward in a few open spirals; the result should be sparse. Bind the hackle's tip just short of the thorax. Whip finish the thread behind the thorax, cut it, and add head cement to the whip finish.

    You can trim the hackle fibers away underneath, for perhaps a touch more realism, but I haven't yet felt the need.

    Various colors and sizes

    ~ Skip Morris

Credits: The Ant Carol is from Skip Morris's book, Morris on Tying Flies, published by Frank Amato Publications, (2006). The book contains seventy-four patterns, Skip's favorites, updated from top to bottom.

For more great flies, check out: Beginning Fly Tying, Intermediate Fly Tying and Advanced Fly Tying.

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