"They are everywhere, dark and ruddy specks that zig zag across the ground and down holes, milligram-weight inhabitants of an alien civilization who hide their daily rounds from our eyes. For over 50 million years ants have been the overwhelmingly dominant insect everywhere on land outside the polar and arctic ice fields. By my estimate, between 1 and 10 million billion individuals are alive at any moment, all of them together weighing, to the nearest order of magnitude, as much as the totality of human beings."
- Edwin O. Wilson. The Naturalist
Ants are the most numerous insects on earth, and as such are the terrestrial insect most frequently encountered by trout. Ants can be successfully fished all season long but are at their best during "migrations" when millions of the creatures cloud the air and boil the water. Borne on temporary wings, these weak fliers spew from their colonies like glistening smoke in search of suitable habitat in which to establish new colonies. Before that habitat is found however, nearly all of the ants will have succumbed to the gnashing jaws of Mother Nature and human invention. Frequently the first sign of an ant migration is the distinctive patter of hapless bodies being dashed against your windshield. Ant swarms are often detected by the sight of wheeling birds and their raucous cries as they gorge on the tangy bug
Weather also plays an important role in the destiny of ants. A sudden cold snap will kill untold millions and wind and rain can beat them to the earth or drive them to inhospitable environs. One of these environs is trout water.
"Up slope blow in" is a phenomenon where warm valley winds laden with insects rise into the mountains and deposit their burden into the high country. Ant swarms often get trapped in these thermal upwellings and become food for winter starved trout many dozens of miles away. It is such a predictable phenomenon that ant patterns are at the top of my list as "must have" Sierra fly patterns. The majority of ant swarms occur during the first truly hot days of summer. Coincidentally, this is also the time termites are in flight. Ants typically swarm during the day and termites at dusk. Ant patterns work perfectly as termite imitations and trout love ‘em both.
|The Perfect Ant|
The absolute best waters for anting are those bordered by dead trees. Beavers and the Army Corp of engineers are notorious for drowning stands of trees and creating ant factories adjacent to hungry trout. Trout are so used to eating ants that they willingly consume them all season long. Observant anglers since the Vince Marinaro days have observed that trout actually seem to prefer ants over other morsels when a multiplicity of food items are available.
Trout go crazy over ants but seldom seem greatly impressed with
ant patterns. Ant patterns that look cool in the flybox rarely work
as well as they seem like they should. The answer is in front of
your eyes. . . if you go underwater.
Real ants are covered with minute bristles that have a tendency to trap numerous small bubbles of air. An ant that looks black from our vantage very often is sparkly silver from a trout’s view. Typical ant patterns simply look dead in the water.
Foam ants look pretty good because the tiny pockets in the foam hold glistening bubbles. Unfortunately foam ants tend to be high floaters where real ants are low floaters and sink rapidly.
After much trial and error I came up with an ant pattern that seems to address the problems of standard patterns. It has a body of loosely dubbed Antron. Antron is not only a sparkly fabric in its own right, but has a multi lobed cross-section that tends to trap bubbles. The top half of the ant is a deer hair "shell" tied on in humpy style. The deer hair looks nice, but much more importantly, its hollow celled interior helps float the ant pattern in the film. The tips of the deer hair are posted upright around which few turns of hackle are wrapped parachute style. The para hackle helps hold the ant in the film and dents the water identically to the dent the legs (and wings, if present) of the natural.
Knowing full well an imitation will never be close to perfect, I named the pattern the Perfect Ant after the tremendous amount of trial and error that went into its design. As they say practice makes perfect.Unlike mayflies which drift down current like little clones of one another, ants present themselves in all sorts of contorted forms so exact size imitation is rarely necessary. Most people tend to fish ants that are too small, in the Sierra where carpenter ants abound, a number 10 is not too large and can act as a cross pattern for trout accustomed to eating beetles.
Fishing an ant pattern is pretty straightforward. Get a good clean drag free drift and the fly will probably be consumed. If the pattern sinks, so much the better. Ants are terrestrial insects, poorly adapted to being in the water and they drown quickly. Repeatedly I’ve watched trout let live ants drift past in the overhead film and key in on those ants that had drowned and were being served at nose level. If your ant doesn’t seem to work as well as it should as a dry, bite a piece of split shot on to the leader and fish it like a nymph under an almost taught line. Trout will hate you for it.