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It’s No Picnic: Fishing the Ant Pattern

Actually, fishing with Ant patterns can be a great option for late summer. The often overlooked and under-fished Ant is our September Bug of the Month.

In late summer, we think in terms of the bigger terrestrial patterns with grasshopper imitations being the first we may reach for. Think small, though, and the ant may be an option that opens up new possibilities. We may not even spot the ants on the water, but they can be plentiful, at times, on quieter water along the banks.

Image courtesy of Fly Fisherman Magazine

Some Ant Facts

Whether fishing flying ants or their earth-bound brethren, anglers will be casting adult imitations. Since these are terrestrial insects, their metamorphosis from egg through adult is all on dry ground. In the pupa stage, their wings are not usable. In their fourth stage, they have exoskeleton, usable wings, and their search for a mating partner is on.

When they get blown on to the water in a morning breeze, or when they simply fly onto the water, they are completely vulnerable to fish who are looking up. At times, even when you may not see fish actively rising, they will still take an Ant.

The late summer and fall are great times to fish the Ant because of their mating season. They are motivated to start new ant colonies, so the opportunities are there for plenty of ants on the water. While it may not be considered “a hatch,” Ants often times appear in swarms or clusters. They are on the move to mate and/or create a new colony.

Fishing the Ant Pattern

Hans Mylant takes us streamside and talks about fishing the ant pattern.

Other Thoughts on Fishing the Ant

In September, we may have the opportunity to throw some smaller Tricos or BWOs, but fish are seeing plenty of those. They may not be taking what you are offering. An Ant pattern, similarly sized to some of our smaller dries, may be the variation that gets a take. Black, brown, and cinnamon are all potential colors to have in your fly box.

The challenge with fishing Ant patterns is that there is not quite a predictable hatch. They are definitely present through the late summer, but they are not necessarily dependent on specific conditions. 

For that reason, a hopper trailing the smaller Ant may be a great option. Hoppers may be in the mix at the same time, so you are really offering up a menu for fish. Are they keying in on big meals or will they eat a smaller offerings? You may be surprised, too, when fish suddenly switch from taking the hopper and start to eat the smaller offering.

Because Ants patterns are smaller and usually a little darker pattern, a hopper-dropper rig offers one way to keep track of your nearly invisible Ant pattern.  A hi-vis pattern also increases visibility. Another variation, depending on hatches, is to use a Parachute Adams or larger BWO pattern as the lead fly. Either way, you have to be able to determine if you are presenting the Ant in a natural drift.

Ants are most effective when fished close to the bank in water that is slow moving and shallow – two feet or less.

Because of their small size, many anglers switch to a longer leader.  It’s also not uncommon to use a 6x tippet so the ant gets a more natural drift.

Tying the Ant Pattern

Tying Egan’s Bionic Ant

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