When my good friend Ed Herbst, doyen of small stream fly fishing, fountain of knowledge and advocate of the lightest of lightness in everything fly fishing, expounds the virtues of tying a particular fly pattern and fishing it in a certain way, I sit up and listen. I take serious note because I know what he says is no thumb suck and has been thoroughly researched, and until his recent medical issues that have limited his fishing, it was all backed up with practical experience. To Ed, it is not just a lowly ant or any other creature he happens to be interested in, but it’s the life cycle, anatomy, behavioral characteristics and how to create an impressionist pattern with recognizable features to mimic life in profile and movement.
So when he wrote some years ago in Flyfishing magazine about ants in the trout’s diet and suitable ant patterns, I took note and since then have always had a few ants at the ready, but never the sinking version. If truth be told, I was pretty skeptical at first about fishing tiny ant patterns and whilst they have never fallen into the category of a ‘go to’ fly for me, I have had enough success at times to give them the credit they deserve.
It was Harrison Steeves and Ed Koch in their book, Terrestrials. A Modern Approach to Fishing and Tying with Synthetic and Natural Materials wrote, “The sinking ant is obviously an effective pattern. A hell of a lot of fish have been taken with it, so why it remains largely overlooked by modern flyfishers is a mystery.”
Most ant patterns you come across seem to favour black as the colour, but Ed said of his Copper Wire Ant, that it was after reading Vincent C Marinaro’s comment on the red — as opposed to the black — ants that he came up with the idea of a sinking ant: “Consider for example, the startling fact that in two different species of the same family, the black and the red ant, there is tremendous variance, the former being absolutely opaque in the body and the latter glimmering and glowing as though lighted by some inner fire.” Copper wire provided the perfect material to create the ‘inner fire’.
Ed’s original version is intended to imitate a small, drowned flying ant. The best hook for this purpose is the Tiemco 206 BL, a light wire, barbless sedge hook. With the weight of the copper wire abdomen it tends to tip the fly over so that it rides hook point up, which is what you want in this case. Because the copper wire is malleable Ed’s original called for the abdomen to be squashed into a slightly flatter profile. And, the rest is a small bead at the head, a turn or two of a suitable black hen hackle and a strip of kitchen cling film for the wings tied below the shank because the fly swims upside down, or should. In the rough and tumble of riffles and quick water I’m not that convinced that the wing below the shank is all that important so I’m rightly or wrongly, ok with tying it on top immediately behind the bead. I’d lay good money on it that the fish don’t take that much notice just as they won’t notice or care if in fact there are 4 or 8 legs! What is a distinctive feature is the narrow waist between the abdomen and head, like the natural.
Where Ed added lead wire, I have relied on the weight of the copper wire, where he used varnish over the abdomen, I used a UV resin that in my view adds to Marinaro’s suggestion of the ‘glimmering and glowing as though lighted by some inner fire’.
All images and copy in this post are copyright Peter Brigg Photography © 2014. All rights reserved.