Black Ants and Trout

Summer evening, and the water temperature was a good 64 degrees.  I enteredOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Black Willow Pool with a spinner fly at the tippet, but the surface feeders were not interested. In eastern rivertop regions, many of the caddis and mayfly hatches had already come and gone. It was time to think about terrestrials, the land-born insects, of beetles, ants and ‘hoppers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI hadn’t yet seen the flying ants, the zigzag flights above the stream, the flecks all backlit by the sun, but they were there. I pinched the fly line of my forward cast across the pool. The dry Ant tumbled softly to the pool, and a brown trout quickly took it. Eventually I would capture and release another dozen fish from this pool and a series of holes upstream. Nearly all the fish were natives, wild brooks measuring seven to 10-inches long. A larger trout, that also tagged an Ant, was twice the size. After two or three good runs across the creek, it managed to spit out the fly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ants are a simple tie. I use a #14 to a #18 dry fly hook. Working with black thread, I post a white “wing” for visibility just ahead of center on the hook. I dub a small round abdomen and then a larger thorax up ahead of the post. Black hackle is wrapped once or twice behind the post (a bit of starling works well), and the fly is done. This basic pattern has a lot of variations, of course, but it’s one I find effective when ants are on the wing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn riffles or on faster water, an old dry fly known as the Rio Grande King (RGK) can be extremely attractive to terrestrial insect eaters. I think it has to do with the pattern’s floating capability and its darkness that suggest a large ant or beetle. On a recent outing with a RGK, the brook trout wouldn’t leave it alone.

Ants and beetles fall upon the streams through much of summer and intoOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA autumn. Hungry trout adore them. These terrestrials step to the fore of the fly-fisher’s plate. To cast their feathery counterparts is fun, and memory is filled with images of larger trout bolting for a small black ant, a medium-sized beetle, or an outlandish grasshopper pattern.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn this Genesee River tributary, a half mile above Black Willow Pool, I once hooked the largest trout I’ve ever taken with a dry. I’d been watching the great brown for days, and finally managed to raise him on an Ant. The fish surrendered to the bank, a 25-inch trout for certain. Only inches from the net, the brown then tore the tippet from the leader and escaped…

As I recall the memory, there’s a Black Ant in the mix of it. Like the fine wild fish that got away, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe fly remains inseparable.

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About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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8 Responses to Black Ants and Trout

  1. Fly fishing for trout seems to be equal parts adventure and artistry. Thanks for sharing the experience with those of us who can’t wade those creeks with you.

    • Bob Stanton says:

      Ah yes, Walt, the “ones that got away” are the ones we will always remember. I will always carry with me the recollection of a twenty plus inch brown that I hooked on my first cast on the Allegheny a couple of years ago. The caddis eater went aerial six times, showing me his almost dime sized black spots and vividly orange belly before breaking me off. I hooked or stung that fish several more times that season, but never did I bring him to hand. Still, better to have made his acquaintance than not. I’m still looking for that fish. Is it possible to carry a torch for a trout?

      • I’d say that many of us do carry a torch for trout, Bob; we’re haunted by their exceptional character that teased us into thinking we were their equal, at least. By definition, the One That Got Away will always be there, out of reach, and tempting us to try again. It’s possible you’ll get that bruiser of the Allegheny. I’m told by others he (or similar behemoths) is swimming there, waiting. Good luck, and let me know how it goes.

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    • I suspect that adventure and artistry (admittedly found in flyfishing for trout) can be developed in many areas of outdoor activities, Jim, but this is the area it seems I’m most adapted to, by virtue of where I live, and I’m pleased to be able to share it with interested readers.

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  2. Leigh says:

    Great post – I like terrestrials, and I’m also a fan of the RGK.

    Started making beetles out of coffee beans a few years ago. You’d be surprised how popular they are. Search on my blog if you want to see more.

    Glad to see you’re getting out.

  3. Joseph Hord says:

    Sounds like a great trip! I’ve had a good bit of luck fishing a Rio Grande Trude in the summer, but I never stopped to think about it being a good terrestrial imitation.

    • Tried and “Trude”, Joseph, good pattern. The RGK’s connection to terrestrials was accidental on my part. Used it as a substitute during an antfall, and it really kicked in.

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