We have just returned from five days of fishing on the Bokong River in Lesotho. The water levels dropped each day, cleared each day and the fishing got better each day, although as a result the fishing equally became a tad more technical with the passing of time. On day four the “Balbyter Ants” which had proven to be highly effective during slightly higher flows were getting a good many refusals. Too many refusals really if you were taking things seriously and that we were. So seeking an answer I moved over to a different and more imitative ant pattern. It is well understood that trout like ants and it appears that yellowfish like them just as much if not more. In fact previous days on the water the fish reacted to ants far more positively than any other dry fly.
Throwing an ant pattern at a feeding yellowfish cruising the clear waters of the Bokong was, as Peter Mamacos rightly put it, “like throwing a joint at a crowd of hippies”… or words to that effect.
Ants seem to hold a special place in the hearts and minds of yellowfish just as they do trout and a quality ant pattern proved to be “The Answer” as they got more wary and selective.
This ant pattern is an amalgamation of a number of different ones and was tied up specifically with the Bokong River Trip in mind, although I am quite sure that they will work well in ant falls anywhere in the world. Like most of my flies, they are simple to manufacture even if they may at first glance appear complex and time consuming. Truth be told, although I like tying flies; I like fishing more, so time at the vice has to be efficient.
Firstly though what makes a good ant imitation?
I am very much a believer that fly patterns are pretty much caricatures of the real thing, a sort of cartoon style emphasis of key features or what you might call “Triggers” because we really can’t imitate insects properly if we intend to have a hook exiting their bottoms.
(For further exploration of super stimuli and key triggers read “ The Cuckoo and the Trout” on this blog.)
Perhaps the key trigger for ant patterns is their segmented body structure, a feature emphasized to great effect by Ed Sutryn’s McMurray Ant pattern. Named incidentally after his home town in Pennsylvania.
What Ed cottoned on to was that the presence of two distinct “blobs” of body separated by a very thin “waist” identifies the pattern as an ant. In fact more to the point he realized that the number of “blobs” wasn’t critical and for the most part two were as good as three.
However the real brilliance to my mind of the McMurray Ant is the reduction to a bare minimum of the thickness of the waist, emphasizing what I imagine to be the most important trigger of all. All too many commercial patterns have a nice segmented body which is then cluttered with hackle losing that critical waist and ridding the fly of the one trigger or super stimulus on which I believe their success rests.
With this in mind, for tiny ants, (size 18 and 20) I use a pattern called the “Compar-a-ant”, a dreadfully simple construction designed to maximize the trigger effects of both the waist and the “blobs” of the body parts in miniature form. No hackle and no legs.
For the yellowfish on this recent trip though I used two different patterns, a larger and to a degree less imitative “Balbyter Ant” with a poly-yarn wing and hackle legs and a more imitative and slightly smaller pattern with three body segments, black crystal flash legs and translucent “Clear Wing” wings.
Both those patterns worked but the more imitative one came into its own as the water levels dropped, clarity increased and the fish became more wary or selective.
As an interesting aside, it appears that the European Barbel ( luciobarbus Sclateri) undergo similar migrations and can be taken using identical methods to those we used in Lesotho, including the presentation of imitative ant patterns to them… Link to Video Spanish Barbel on Fly
It was just another reminder that ants can be dreadfully effective, fish seem to instinctively respond to the segmentation of an ant, and often, whether they are currently feeding on ants , or you are simply trying to “break a hatch” which you can’t copy, a well tied ant pattern frequently proves to be “Die Antwoord”, (The Answer)
Caviat: For non South African readers an explanation: Die Antwoord directly translated means “The Answer”, it also happens to be the name of a Rap Rave group featuring Ninja , and Yolandi Visser. So don’t get confused if you Google it.