Autumn On The EB

Autumn On The EB

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ants - Don't Leave Home Without Them!

" Fish sense, applied in the field, is what the old Zen masters would call enlightenment: simply the ability to see what's right there in front of you without having to sift though a lot of thoughts and theories and, yes, expensive fishing tackle" - John Gierach

It was an early September afternoon that found me on the EB and confronted by a Bliss Pool that was loaded with rising fish. The "Hatch" was still going on when I entered the water and saw that the surface was covered with tiny slate gray sets of wings. "Olives??" was the first thought but when I noticed the culprit on my shirtsleeve I knew the answer: Ants, size 18-20, black, winged with that smokey grayish hue. I always have them, at least a few, and I cleaned up that late summer afternoon.

Now, during summer days the occasional ant will fall onto the water and get eaten by a trout.  Those are not the ants that we are talking about. The ANT that REALLY grabs the attention of trout and it truly a game changer is the Swarming Winged Stage of this critter!! When they land on the water nothing else matters!!!

Ok, when does that happen?  It happens when ant and termite colonies get too big and need to split up.  Many will sprout wings and follow the queen to new places. This can happen in the spring (seems like it's always after a rain) or during the summer BUT the prime time for this activity here in New England is during the last two weeks of August and the First week of September. This is when I always see this activity whether it's on the EB, the Farmington, the Swift and so on.  About 15 years ago I was on the phone talking to a guy in New Hampshire who was about 60 miles from me.  He said the water was covered with ants.  So was my river!!!

What to use??  Up until 10 years ago my ant patterns were dirt simple. Natural dubbing of the appropriate color in an hour glass shape and two BLUE DUN hackle point tips as the wings slanting backwards. It worked perfect if you had plenty of floatant.  The main reason that this pattern is on the bench is because the hackle tips that I like or in short supply. They came from old Indian and Chinese necks that made perfect hackle point wings back when tiers actually did that.

Here's my 21st Century version:

Hour Glass body (try to keep it slim with the rear section slightly larger) of natural dubbing of the appropriate color.

Hackle - On black patterns I use a grizzly hackle that I dyed GRAY that is tied in at the "waist".  On brown or red patterns I use a grizzly hackle that I dyed BROWN. That mottled hackle, either brown or gray just looks perfect.

Now, I will tie in a bit of gray CDC for the wing on my black patterns which will add to it's floating qualities and aid in visibility. For some quirky reason I don't add many wings to my brown versions, just the hackle.

NOTE: DON"T OVER HACKLE THESE FLIES!!!  Ants lay flush to the surface and to achieve this and to help the float I use a size 20 hackle on a size 18 ant and a 22 on a 20.

Now for the question - Why are winged ants attracted to water?  There can be thousands awash in a river during a swarm!!!

Summer evenings have been fishing well!!! Contact me for a session!!



GW said...


You are right about ants. When they fall on the water the trout only want them.


Falsecast said...

Hi Ken - I love ants and usually a simple parachute pattern works well. Size up when they are all on the water. Also, don't ignore the beatles, John, Paul, George, Ringo and the little black foam ones. :)

I just got back from the best fishing of my life in MT and I have been going for 20 yrs. Finally, the Salmonfly phenomena happened for me :) I hope everyone has a chance to experience something like that. :) That said, still excited for fish ants and beatles on the swift this summer.

Millers River Flyfisher said...


Good to hear from you. I love ants but for some reason have used beetles sparingly.

Where in Montana did you run into the salmonfly hatch?


Falsecast said...

Caught them in the Upper Madison below Quake Lake, 70 fish wading nothing smaller then 16 inches and plenty of 20+......I like to fish the Beatle wet at the Swift with a split shot too.


YellowstoneBound said...

I'm heading to Alberta and BC this week for my annual cutthroat trout trip -- ants are one of my 3 go-to patterns. I've read that there is something about how formic acid (the nasty chemical associated with ant bites) is addictive to trout. Having seen more than my fair share of 20"+ cutties rise to an ant, even when there are no ants on the water, has me convinced that there is something to this. I learned to fly fish on the Saco in North Conway and we quickly learned that the brownies up there love ants, but really want them to look as if they are falling off a bridge. Crazy, right?

Brendan Mackinson said...

That's all great water below Quake Lake... Reynolds, Three Dollar Bridge, etc. I had a nice day there around this time catching fish on caddis in the morning and PMDs in the evening, but nothing like what you just had, Andrew. The Salmonflies were long gone then, but I've heard everything is 3 - 4 weeks later this year due to high snowpack. Glad it all came together for you!

Regarding ants, I had good action in the Y pool first thing in the morning a week or so ago with just a few ants on the water here and there. I think the ants were left on the water after falling the previous evening. The nice thing about the morning was that there were enough ants on the water to have the fish on them, but not so many that your fly gets lost in the swarm. I've had evenings where I'm catching fish, and then the ants really hit the water and I can't buy a bite in spite of fishing working like crazy. The tiny ants that are common in the fall can be the toughest in that regard.

Millers River Flyfisher said...

For the hell of it I tied on an ant in mid December on the Swift and caught trout. I guess they have good memories!


Hibernation said...

I fished the swift for 40' yesterday, maybe 4-4:45. caught 4, in the Y pool which was all mine for about 30' prior to one other guy showing up. I was AMAZED to have the river to myself on a gorgeous summer afternoon. No takes on a drowned ant, shifted to a #16 olive and gray shuttlecock and caught 3 quickly, then another one... Just prior to my wife calling to say they (she and the kids) locked themselves out of the house during a squirtgun fight. I sadly left, hiked out, start driving the hour, to hour 10 home, when she calls back and say's a friend still had their key and that they were letting them in... Since I was in New Salem at that point, I adjusted to the Millers...

I was not set up as I'd have liked... I had brought my swift stuff mostly - which is almost all dainty and minimal meat outside a couple streamers and chernobyl ants. Decided a big stone fly tightline nymphed in pockets below the wendell bridge and then swung in the sub bridge pool (below the bridge, love that spot) would fit the bill, and it did, I caught a few rainbows and several green sunfish. Amazingly, no SMB's which I was hoping for.

But, for my taste, it was a bit to much water. AWESOME to say that in July. Last year, less a week I fished the river solely for SMB's and the flow was hugely lower. I dont remember the CFS, but I'm going to say the water was literally 1.5-2 feet lower. Given I'd planned on the swift, I left my wading staff home... And I just dont feel very safe on the millers without it, which limited my fishing... Still fun and a good "save" to the day... But just know if you are heading to the millers, the recent T storms and rains have kept it flowing well, bring your wading staff to fish safely.

Falsecast said...

Brenden - Thanks, and since you know the area I can give more detail. All that water is some of my favorite anywhere. I had fished and floated downstream (Palisades to Ennis) in the midst of the hatch and did just ok, like most of the other million boats. I eventually got sick of chasing the Sammie and did pretty well on the caddis way up stream. The next day I hiked about 3+ miles down from 3$ (halfway to W. Fork campground) to lose the people and continue on caddis. I had a 20+ bite my orange indicator and take it under. Not one Sammie in the air. I switch and had 3 of the best days of my life down there was almost nobody around. I wish I could say I had a strategy, but I got lucky and walked right into the head of the hatch :) Better to be lucky then good, I learned :)

One other thing on Ants, while out west the foam ones work well, I find they don't as much here or on the swift. Same for Hoppers, for some reason??

HamOnfly said...

Due to persistent medical issues my fishing driving range is limited, so the Westfield and Deerfield are off the list and the Swift is borderline. Consequently I'm thinking of hitting an old early season favorite:the Quinnie. Does anyone know if its worth the effort this late into the season.
Hopefully the rains have helped keep it cool,


Nathan Drawbridge said...

Ham I'm sure there's fish, but right now it would probably be a lot of work for little reward. There are a bunch of small streams around that I'm sure would still fish well. And there's always warm water species

Millers River Flyfisher said...


Yes, the Millers is high BUT it's better than last year. I like flows between 200 and 250 but I'll live with 300+ any year to avoid last year.


Good to her from you.

Don't know where you live but you may want to try some stripers on the fly. I've been doing that with a 6 wt and size 4 3xl streamers. A good change of pace.

Hope you are well by the Fall!!!


Brendan Mackinson said...

Nice going finding some elbow room on the Madison, Falsecast. That river is pretty crowded, particularly by Montana standards, but as with many rivers out there (and here in New England too) hiking even a little ways from the parking lot will often result in seclusion. What's great about the West with all of the predominantly wild trout rivers is that you never have to worry that you've out-hiked the stocking truck, which sometimes happens in stocked rivers.

Ken, I'm looking forwarded to your striper report. It's been a few weeks since I've fished the brine, as the allure of tricky rising trout on the Swift has had me driving west instead of east.

Hibernation said...

Ken - fully agree on millers flow - I just dont like it without a wading staff is all. Well, I like it, but, I like it better with a staff - just dont feel safe.

Going to be an AWESOME late summer there :)

Anonymous said...

Sunken black ants are never a bad choice especially when no hatch is on!