Posts Tagged ‘Ant patterns’

Lockdown Day5

March 31, 2020

Corona Lockdown Day 5 a focus on ants:

 

Before I carry on with producing what I hope will be an educational, informative and entertaining blog I would like to make a couple of requests.

If you know of other fly tyers who you think might enjoy these posts do kindly consider copying them the links.. Currently the blog is receiving a lot of attention here in SA but I know that there are readers sitting much further afield and it would be nice to try to spread the information to a wider audience. Many of the techniques shown vary considerably from what is standard in the US or Europe and I would hope that there are fly tyers out there who may find the information useful or entertaining. I am not chasing numbers, nor do I really care about reaching some record of views, I am just trying to provide something that perhaps people can participate in and enjoy during these very difficult times.

Secondly, if you don’t like the presentation or the information you are most welcome not to read the posts. They have been produced in an effort to provide something worthwhile to entertain whilst we are all locked down, no matter where in the world. I doubt that the presentation is perfect, writing and collating for four hours every morning to produce these posts, there are bound to be errors in places.. Sorry about that.  But the number of negative comments I have received has been quite astounding, complaining about the video content, the “super intimidating wall of text”, complaints about minor grammatical errors etc. Most of those haven’t been posted on the blog but rather surreptitiously sent to my email, or Facebook page. If you have a genuine concern perhaps put that in the comments section for all to see, if there is something to be done to improve the posts I am open to discussion. That is why the comments section is there. But if you don’t like it, you are under no obligation to read further.. With people dying all over the world and the news filled with gloom and doom the idea of these posts is to spread a bit of cheer, distraction, education…. the last thing I wish to create from these posts is more negativity coming into my inbox in any form. Your consideration in this respect would be appreciated.

And with that said,  for those who are interested in some more fly tying discussion and exercise today I am going to take a look at an often much neglected area of fly tying, terrestrial patterns in particular ants.

ANTS:

Only a few weeks back I was fishing on a local stream during what for us would be a pretty significant hatch of Blue Winged Olives.  A veritable regatta of tiny, slate sailed, miniature yachts drifting down the current and being herded into neat rows by the bubble line.

The trout were all over it, and I watched as these lovely little insects were picked off by the fish as they innocently floated the current. I was able to select a suitable imitation from my box and with some careful casting catch more than a few trout. That is what fly fishing is supposed to be like isn’t it?

That is what most of the books describe and if you are fortunate perhaps the streams and rivers you fish produce these sorts of hatches on a regular basis. It isn’t the norm in these parts and I suspect it isn’t the norm for many anglers in many places. Much of the time there are not strong hatches, frequently if the fish are rising you can’t see to what and “matching the hatch” becomes little more than a guessing game, even if you decide to seine the waters with a little net to try to understand what is going on.

So one of my more effective tactics is to fish a terrestrial, often in my case a diminutive ant pattern, trout just seem to like ants. If you are on the water during an ant hatch the sport can be spectacular, in fact without a suitable ant pattern you might as well go home, the fish get truly fixated on these bugs. However they do  offer a very useful “get out of jail free card” even when there are not necessarily a lot of ants apparent on the water.

But why should fish be so partial to ants?

It isn’t entirely clear why it should be that fish like ants, there has been debate about them tasting “nice” as a result of the formic acid they contain. Some adventurous souls have even eaten a few to “find out” and that could very well be a factor. Certainly I have seen trout and yellowfish react to ant patterns in the most positive if not aggressive manner on more than one occasion.

A more interesting view, one long held by myself and voiced in Peter Hayes’ new book “Trout and Flies: Getting Closer” is the idea  that ants have a very distinctive “prey image”, the double or technically more correct triple body segmentation is instantly recognizable to both fish and angler. (The link to Trout and Flies above will take you to a download page if you wish to get a copy of this excellent book)

The success of the “McMurray Ant” surely is a result of emphasizing that prey image. (it doesn’t seem to matter if there are two or three segments, which raises the question can trout count? )

Ants are not aquatic insects and fare poorly once they find themselves in the drink, they are helpless prisoners of the surface tension and have little or no realistic chance of escape. To a predatory fish then they are the quintessential “easy meal”, instantly recognizable as something edible and unable to escape. From an Afrocentric perspective the piscatorial equivalent of a wounded and limping wildebeest stuck in a mudhole in front of a pride of lions.. in effect close to irresistible.

Certainly on stream anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that frequently a fish will take an ant even when busy feeding on other things, as though the “easy meal” option is too much to resist.

All of that means that a fly angler is well advised to have some ant patterns in their box.

The author’s rather overstocked “Ant Box” ready for a trip to Lesotho earlier in the year.

Ant pattern design:

To my way of thinking if the above hypotheses are true the one absolutely critical element of a good ant imitation then would be, to as far as possible, emphasize that prey image and certainly to avoid minimizing it through poor construction.

Is this fly capturing the “prey image” required of a good ant pattern?

To my mind this “ant” imitation is spoiled by hackling which hides the segmented body, what I would consider the most important trigger in an ant pattern

By contrast, this simple sunk pattern has a very clearly defined “prey image”

This simple “wet ant” would seem to offer a far better profile and enhanced “prey image” compared to the previously shown “over hackled” imitation.

 

So many commercial ant patterns seem to lose that all important segmentation through over dressing or over hackling, something which surely then negatively affects its potential attractiveness to the fish.

I fish a number of different ant patterns, some very small ones for much of my trout fishing and larger patterns for yellowfish.. but I try to always maximize the segmented “prey image” format of any ant patterns.

Parachute ants can provide both visibility as well as obvious segmentation, this version uses both foam and fur for the segments and a small parachute hackle.. A highly visible dry ant pattern than has been very effective on both trout and yellowfish.

The author with a “Ant Caught” Bokong River, Smallmouth Yellowfish.

Larger “ballbyter” ants often used in these parts for yellowfish

This foam balbyter ant still has a fairly pronounced segmentation and the crystal flash legs don’t clutter the waist in the same way that perhaps wound hackle would do.

The “Compar-Ant”

The super simple Compar-ant can be tied with either poly-yarn or CDC wing.

However perhaps my favourite ant pattern for trout is the Compar-ant, a foolishly simple fly with no hackle and only poly-yarn or CDC wing. The wing is deliberately placed on the rear segment of the ant, which although anatomically incorrect is designed so as not to detract from the obvious segmentation of the body.

To further enhance that segmentation the whip finish is done in the middle at the waist so as to provide maximum space to separate the segments on a small hook.

You can have a lot of fun designing your own ant patterns, whether floating or sinking, foam, fur whatever, but I do think that insuring that the segmentation is clearly pronounced is a key factor in producing a successful fly.

If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

A Throw of the Dice Two

February 4, 2020

A throw of the dice and the best day ever. Part two

We encounter rain as we sit for a spectacular supper, the guides do as good a job on the catering front as they do on the water. The only problem is that the rain pours as much as the whisky and the clouds are gray and threatening. Eventually the skies open up and the deluge lifts the river levels to a point where we know fishing would be hopeless if not dangerous. But we are HERE.

Supper time, the rain pours down and we hope for better weather in the morning.

Sleep is undisturbed in the comfortable rondavels, but the morning dawns with the roar of a river in spate. The ice rats which live in the wall around the camp don’t put on their normal morning entertainment, they are hiding from the weather.

The Ice Rats didn’t come out in the morning, the weather wasn’t to their liking, or to ours for that matter.

Things are not looking good and we elect, with input from the guides, to drive the hour long track around the dam to fish the Malabamatsu below the dam wall. The Katse dam hasn’t been full in years and thus the rains don’t negatively affect the fishing lower down. Not our first choice but the opportunity to throw a line and hang onto a decent trout, the yellowfish are for the most part absent.

At least it is hot, the skies clearing and perhaps tomorrow will offer up what we hope for, we catch some trout and I lose a good fish in a weedbed. The river here hasn’t had a blow out in a long time and weedbeds predominate, offering both sanctuary for fish food and equally easy escape for decent trout. It is only day one, a lost trout isn’t the end of it.

Dense weed-beds on the Malibamatsu make it tricky to land larger trout.

We return to camp, not unhappy, but perhaps disappointed, this was good fishing, but not what we came for.. Perhaps tomorrow will be better?

Morning and the river is in full spate, well not quite, it appears to have cleared a bit and we elect to target the yellowfish with Euronymphing techniques. There are two problems however, this isn’t the method of choice on these trips and the fish know exactly how to take advantage of the high water. Hooked fish, and there were a lot of them, scream line off the reel, with no distinction between pools they head downstream at astonishing speed and one finds oneself  rapidly out of control.

Peter Mamacos fishes heavy Euro-nymphs in the fast murky water. We are catching fish, but this isn’t what we had hoped for.

Sure we landed some fish, even good fish, but I was becoming overly familiar with my backing, the reel was sticking a bit and I lost more fish than I would normally be happy with. That said, it was great fun, if somewhat sobering.

Tales of lost fish abound around the dinner table; everyone has hooked and lost a Bokong Bus, often without so much as seeing the fish in the turbid waters, but the skies have cleared. Hope springs eternal.

Things improve the next day, a few of the crew take some fish on dry flies, but not sight-fishing, really, just seeking out slower water in the tail-outs of large pools, but again it is encouraging, the skies are still clear, the water levels are dropping and things are clearing up. Fish in the lower sections have run back to the dam on account of the cold water and we had to work hard for fish. You quickly realise that fly fishing isn’t just about catching fish but catching the way you would prefer to. For us this means sight-fishing with dry flies and the weather isn’t being kind.

We sleep, praying for no more rain.

We know that things can get really good really fast if the rain stops.

 

After breakfast the next morning we hike up river, the water is for once looking clear, the spate has finally abated and the water is gradually getting that blue/green clarity that makes a fly angler’s heart sing. Today is the day, it better had be, this is the last throw of the dice, it is now or never. We have caught fish, even a lot of fish, but not what we hoped for, what we hoped for was sight fishing with dry flies to large smallmouth yellowfish. Was today to be the day?

We walked hard up the donkey track to an area known as the “Skate Park”, named by me on a previous trip on account of the sloping rock sides reminiscent of a “half pipe”.

We come across a couple of fish in shallow but fast water and try the dry fly, they don’t look up. It is often the case that in the mornings the fish are less inclined to rise to dry flies, when the water warms things may well change. In the meantime we resort to nymphs, I cast out  a dry and dropper rig and hook a fish on the bead head brassie nymph. After a spirited battle it throws the hook, was this to be a disappointing day?

We started taking plenty of powerful fish but they were still reluctant to come to the top.

We had discussed luck and my view is that luck has little to do with things; it was an opinion that was to be threatened in the next hour. I lost fish after fish on the nymphs, over hit the takes and snapped the tippet on three fish, calmed down and hooked a nice yellow which took me into the backing before another fish grabbed the dry fly I was using as an indicator and pulled the hook out.

After an hour or so I was nil to seven down, the fish winning easily and James my great guide for the day, laughing as much as professionalism would allow at my misfortune.

All I can say is that after that seven I never lost another fish for the day, karma!!!

After the problem with the dry fly being taken or hanging on the rocks I elected to switch to a yarn indicator in the hope that would improve the chances of actually landing one of these speedsters.

We fished on until lunch with the indicator rig, the water was still high if clearing, at one point I hooked and landed five yellowfish in six casts. That sounds rapid, but in reality each fish required a considerable run down river and five to ten minutes of battling to get into the net. At least I didn’t overcook the strike or break off during the fight.

By lunch time I had landed close to twenty fish but now it was decision time. Peter and I decided that this was it, we would forgo the nymphs and focus on dry fly, seeking out suitable water and visible fish, the decision would surely reduce the numbers of fish caught but provide perhaps the entertainment we had traveled all this way to enjoy.

Finally the water warmed and the fish started looking up, time for some dry fly fishing with ant patterns. Game on

The first was a sighted fish just above a cauldron of white water, it took the dry on the third drift and all hell broke loose. Driving downstream and into the rapids, James carefully kept the line from wrapping around the rocks as the fish bored down into pocket after pocket. The battle was exhausting, not just for the fish but for me too, but finally a dry fly caught yellow in the net.

It was Peter’s turn as we had pretty much decided that it wasn’t productive to both fish , better to take turns targeting sighted fish as the opportunities arose. The water continued to drop and clear.

Peter took a couple of great fish on dry fly on the side of a long run, I had ended up on the wrong bank with too much fast water to be ideal and headed upstream, leaving Peter and James to tackle a number of fish in the shallows on the far (for me) bank.

Peter getting in on the act, a nice fish from the bedrock runs of the “Skatepark”.

Once we had reunited it was “my turn” and there was a good fish moving along a shallow run underneath the overhanging grass. James (The guide) couldn’t see the fish but could still see my floating parachute ant and on my call of “he’s seen it” the fish moved out and inhaled the ant with quiet determination. The fight was epic, the real screamed and then stopped screaming as the drag mechanism failed under the strain. Another great fish on dry in the net and smiles all round.

The other anglers also started to enjoy some dry fly action. Piers with a superbly fit Bokong Yellowfish.

The day progressed like that for both Peter and I, sighted fish, dry fly fishing in clear water, all to fish between probably two to four or five pounds.. By now the water had both cleared and warmed further and some fish were actively holding high in the water seeking out food on the top.

Several times fish were spotted and taken on the first cast at them, each hook up followed by a sensational battle to get them into the net. Although it was day five, the power and stamina of these amazing fish still impressed.

Smallmouth Yellowfish are incredibly strong and have amazing stamina, putting an extreme bend in my #3 weight outfit.

The day was coming to an end, and our trip with it, I found myself a little ahead of Peter and David, above a conspicuous waterfall named “The cascades”.. James joined me and we were on our way back to join the others, it was time to go.

Then a yellowfish showed, swimming in the shallows not two feet from the grassy bank, it was going to be a tough call. Either I would catch the grass, or catch the fish, there weren’t other realistic possibilities. The cast laid out just between two potentially problematic tufts of herbage, the yellowfish continued quietly, showing no indication that he had seen the fly, or thankfully seen us either. He swam slowly upstream, encountered the ant pattern and promptly inhaled it, the strike was well timed and for the last time on this trip the reel sang. After some battle we netted the fish, took a photo and released him, as we do with all of the fish in this stream.

A photograph of the photographer. Plenty of pictures and smiles all round on a brilliant day on the water.

What a perfect end to a pretty perfect day, perhaps the best day’s fishing I have ever had, not just the fishing, the change of fortune, the great guiding , stunning scenery and the wonderful company of my fellow anglers. Lesotho is something special, I am not sure that I will ever be back, things change and life moves on. But I will always have memories of the trials and tribulations on the Bokong River, the highs and lows and what may well be the best day’s fishing of my life.

Many thanks to James, our guide for the last day, fish spotter extraordinaire. We appreciated his enthusiasm on the water and his culinary skills in camp. In fact all the guides were superb and made the trip that much more enjoyable for everyone.

 

 

 

 

A Gamble

January 8, 2019

I have three vices, smoking, drinking and one to tie flies with, I never gamble. I am not sure why, perhaps too much the pragmatist I realise that one has about the same chance of winning the lotto whether you own a ticket or not. Statistically speaking the difference isn’t significant.

Equally I subscribe to the view that gambling is simply a means of impoverishing people who don’t understand statistics, that in itself should be enough to encourage at least rudimentary concentration in maths class.

Anyway, I think that my life contains enough gambling without roulette wheels or packs of cards. There is the daily risk on our roads, which to my mind is a whole lot more of a gamble than climbing mountains or venturing up distant rivers.  But there are , like the motoring issue, some gambles that one cannot avoid unless limiting oneself to a sedentary life in front of the TV. Which could well prove to be the biggest gamble of all.

The current throw of the dice which is occupying more of my time than it should is a forthcoming trip to the Bokong River in Lesotho. Notwithstanding the accompanying risks of long distance road travel and potential mechanical failure in the distant “Mountain Kingdom” the real gamble is the weather.

If it rains too much the river will blow out and the fishing will be poor to impossible, if it rains too little then the river will be too low and contain few if any fish. The ideal, and we are talking the absolute, rarely witnessed perfect ideal, is to have lots of rain the day before you arrive and then non after that. I don’t suppose that it is too much to ask, but fishing Gods are notoriously fickle and we hit it once like that in previous years. One has to suspect that it would take great fortune to repeat things quite that good. (Of course a true statistician would tell you that the fact that you won once in no way influences whether you will win again, the odds are the same, and for once I hope the maths boffs have got this right)

The fact that the odds haven’t changed just because we hit all time conditions on a previous trip doesn’t however mean that if we repeat the near impossible I may be moved to purchase lottery tickets on my return.

That is the way of fishing trips, there is of course the weather, then the hatches and myriad other elements which may or may not conspire to give one a red letter trip or a drinking holiday with fishing rods. In the past in various locations I have experienced, rain, sleet, flood, drought and sandstorms and the truth is there is nothing you can do about it.

Because these things are entirely out of one’s control one tries to control all those elements which one can. The fly boxes being one, and as of Boxing day my limited free time, and wonderfully indulgent few days off from the grindstone have seen me tying flies and more flies. More of a gamble still because most of them would be useless on my home waters, if they don’t work up in Lesotho they will, like their previously tied brethren from other trips, be relegated to the back of a cupboard until we can go again.

The primary word up there is “ANTS”, fish like ants and yellowfish not to be outdone will generally respond very well to ant patterns, all the more if there is an ant fall, which is far from impossible. So I have large ants and small ants, red ants, winged ants, hi-vis ants and sinking ants. Foam ants , fur ants, parachute ants, compar-ants and more. Balbyter ants, for high water and imitative ants for low. No sooner have I completed the 147 odd ant patterns required to fill the new fly box then I am overwhelmed by a thought..what if there aren’t any ants? What if I need something else?

 

So in a state of moderate paranoia I start with CDC and Elk patterns, (I like large Elk-hairs more than the unwieldy foam hoppers , although I have some of those too). Then I shall have to sort out the nymph box, if the water comes up the only option might be Euro Nymphing so I need to have a good boxful of those. Thrashing high water with heavy nymphs wouldn’t be my first choice, but then again I don’t really wish to spend four days drinking either.

In the end you realise that you are heading for the gambler’s curse of buying more and more lotto tickets in the mistaken belief that it will improve your chances. Statistically speaking, it will, but probably not by much, and no amount of fly tying is going to influence the weather. If the fish are there, we will no doubt catch some and if they aren’t, well no number of flies is going to help.

But then again, better prepared than not, so I continue to churn out flies, not so much because I will use them all, but because I don’t know which ones I will use. Fishing trips almost always end up with one fishing the same two or three effective patterns on the day. But you never have a clue which of the hundreds are going to be the winners.. I suppose that if the lotto published the winning numbers in advance it would improve one’s chances, and if the fish posted on Facebook what they intend to eat in a few weeks’ time it would take the worry out of things. Neither of those things are going to happen, so I tie flies and fret over climatic conditions, say prayers to whatever fishing Gods I can think of and tie some more flies.

I have made up leaders, matted down rods, fitted new backing to a reel or two and although the preparation is necessary much of it is merely to take one’s mind off the situation at hand and imagine that one has at least some control.

We will not know until we get there, and then we will either find ourselves in the winning circle or perhaps (and I hope not) sitting around the loser’s bar, drowning our sorrows.

Fishing trips are a gamble, and there is really very little one can do about that.

Now, time to tie up a few more hoppers perhaps?