Autumn On The EB

Autumn On The EB

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ant Swarms - Get Ready!

Back cast to the mid 1990's. I somehow find myself at a late August weekend craft fair with my wife. The only thing that I remember is that all of the outdoor booths were covered with WINGED ANTS. A call the next day from a fly fisher spoke of trout committing suicide for all of those morsels.

Roll cast a few years forward when I was on the phone to a New Hampshire friend who said that his yard and the air above it was full of ants. My central Mass. location had the same thing happening.

Roll cast again to the Farmington River in 2004. A blizzard of ants started that Friday afternoon and lasted until I left on Sunday. Every trout was on them!!!

Roll cast forward to 2009 on the EB when I thought that I saw the wings of HUNDREDS of BWO's but when I got into the water I found a half dozen winged ants on my shirt. No BWO's, just WINGED ANTS!!

This is the time of year for the ANT SWARMS. We're not talking about the lone individual that finds itself in the water BUT the winged ant that is on a mission. The Mission is that the colony has gotten too big and has to split up. Tens of Thousands will sprout wings and take off. This ALWAYS happens in late August for one species that is small (size 18-20) and is a light reddish brown in color. For some reason they are drawn (by mistake) to water. Big swarms will blanket the surface of lucky
streams for lucky trout. Forget what is hatching. If ants land they will have the trout's undivided attention.

What to use? Forget the big goofy foam creatures that we use to imitate individual stragglers. Size and Profile now mean a lot.

Here are my patterns - this is very simple. For years I used a reddish brown dubbing making a ball of dubbing at the rear of a size 18 or 20 hook. Then I tied in two thin blue dun hackle points at the mid point and had them extend just behind the bend of the hook. Then I make a ball of dubbing up front. That's it! Over the past few years I've replace the hackle points with grey CDC and it's fine.

The BIG patterns just don't cut it when these little guys hit the water. Sizes 18 through 20 are what you need. The dubbed body doesn't need hackle either. Just have plenty of magic powder with you to keep things high and dry. And don't worry too much about tippet size (duh) and even sloppy casters will score when this "Fall" is on.

Four years ago I was fishing the Swift at the second turnoff on River Rd in the late afternoon. I lost a dry fly and was slowly going through my fly box when a saw an ant drift by. I looked up and saw a hundred on the water with trout coming up after them. Five minutes before there wasn't a hint of them.

Simple to tie. Keep them with you!



Millers River Flyfisher said...


My son seemed to have left his 4 piece behind the other night in a mad dash to get out of there (EB). Just thought I would send a note as you mention to in case someone picked it up. It was in a green case. Orvis. Said "Happy Decade Harry" on it.

Thanks! May hit the swift on way home from Boston tonight. Have not fished in many years. Excited.


Let's make it 3 for 3 this Summer. If you've got it let me know.


Anonymous said...

Mike has left a new comment on your post "Ant Swarms - Get Ready!":

Thanks for all the great info. I am new to fly fishing and have been reading your posts everyday. I have been having a lot of luck with 18 cinnamon ant from Deerfield Fly Shop. I have been getting a lot of rises but then they turn away last second I'm going to try a longer tippet Friday. Using a 7' 5x leader to a 3' 6x tippet right now but my cast is still pretty sloppy and I tend to twitch the ant when mending the line. Thanks again for the updates.

Millers River Flyfisher said...


With all of that leader/tippet on the water you shouldn't have to do much mending. Are you casting upstream?? What size ant are you fishing??


lenny tamule said...

The same thing was happening to me yesterday some would even turn away and rise to it on the same drift coming within fractions of an inch and refusing it. I was there in the afternoon and all of my ant success has come from early mornings, is that maybe because ants do better when hatches aren't happening?


BobT said...

Ants very overlooked "go to" patterns that work almost year round. I've used a black ant pattern the day after thanksgiving on a late season trek to the Swift in 1985 or 86. The reason I know is that I didn't have a car until my junior year at UMASS so dad drove me back. He joined me in the stretch between Rte 9 and the Y. We always fished that section in the late season back then. He was working on some risers along the near bank and I was just below the Y on the far bank. I recall hooking several fish that day to his none. I saw one of those big fat black ants crawling on the log I was sitting on as I rigged up. I started getting strikes within just a few casts. He asked what I was ant I replied....his response was "Bullshit!" I showed him and he started muttering some major curse words to himself...anyhow - Ant's rock pretty much anywhere..they are probably one of the most "under-used" of all flies.

Millers River Flyfisher said...

Bob T,

Used an ant below the Pipe in desperation 12 or so years ago in early December and the trout loved it. One guy said that trout must have a good memory.

Lenny, If trout were turning away from your ant it must of had something to do with presentation ie leader movement. I take it that there were no ants on the water and the trout were rising for something else. If there were a lot of ants on the water you would of had results.