[Article and Photography by Ted Fauceglia]
walk along the shoreline of any trout stream or river from early April to late November, and with little effort, you can spot scores of ants busily scurrying around in the bushes and on the ground looking for food to bring back to their nearby colony.
Underground ant colonies abound and flourish near trout streams. Each colony houses three groups of individuals: the queens, males, and female workers. The female workers are the wingless individuals we see roaming around the stream, and more often than not, by sheer happenstance, they end up in the stream. Periodically, however, there are true ant hatches where winged individuals fly around seeking a mate, and unwittingly land in the stream. Known as the annual mating flight, a drastic conversion in the colony’s makeup happens when both winged-male and winged-female queens are produced. Purposely produced to start a new colony, the winged individuals fly off, mate with members of other colonies, and form a new colony.
HOOK: TMC 102Y, size 13 to 19.
THREAD: Black 12/0.
BODY: Black Superfine dry fly dubbing.
WING: Light dun Saap Float-Vis.
HACKLE: Grizzly rooster neck.
The flights can be massive; I’ve witnessed two, and on both occasions there were hundreds of ants crawling along the shoreline and many more drifting downstream, likely blown in by the wind. The trout readily took those caught in the current. Ant sizes vary from the tiny one- to two-millimeter long red species to large black carpenter types that can reach up to twelve millimeters long. Specific ant imitations are not necessary; a selection of black and reddish-brown patterns tied in sizes 24 to 16 have worked for me. I also tie most of my patterns with wings because trout will take a winged pattern when wingless individuals are present, but they won’t (usually) take a wingless pattern when winged individuals are on the water. Long leaders and fine tippets (I prefer 7X) are mandatory, especially during low-water conditions.
Fly fishers have incessantly theorized (and even experimented) why trout have such a sweet tooth for ants, and why they take them so readily in the midst of a prolific mayfly hatch. As of yet, no one has figured it out, and quite frankly, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that an ant pattern is a reliable option all season long, which is why an ant pattern should be a staple in your fly box.