Summer evening, and the water temperature was a good 64 degrees. I entered 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.
I 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.
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.
On 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 into 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.
On 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…