With fly fishing ants, anglers are constantly striving to match the hatch. Finding the perfect pattern and fly is always a challenge. At times, we over complicate the process and end up being skunked on the water.

During these days where anglers struggle to get anything to work, there are a few flies that you can always fall back on that have proven to be successful. Ant patterns are one option that are often overlooked, but always worth throwing.

Think about it, ants are everywhere. Why don’t we use them more often? This past year, I started focusing on using ant patterns. If I saw rises, but couldn’t quite identify the hatch, I’d try an ant and usually land plenty of fish.

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What is an Ant?

There are over 12,000 species of ant in the world. They are invertebrates and span from one tenth of an inch to one inch. Carpenter ants have wings and both the males and females have them.

A close up of an ant for fly fishing flies.

These wings are the reason why many ants enter the water. They aren’t quite sure where they are flying and find themselves on the surface of the water. They usually don’t last long and become fish food!

Life Cycle of an Ant

Ants aren’t too uncommon in their life cycle. They go through metamorphosis just like many of the other insects in the animal kingdom.

Life Cycle of an Ant

Stage One

The first stage of an ants life cycle is their beginning as an egg. The fertilized eggs become female ants and the unfertilized eggs become the male ants. These aren’t going to be food for the fish. The eggs are laid on land.

Stage Two

The second stage of an ant is the larva. The ant hatches and turns into a small worm. The adult ants spend their time feeding the larva and they quickly grow. Again, these aren’t a common form of food for fish. They’re more worried about the ants when they enter the adult stage.

Stage Three

The third stage of an ant is the pupa. These are known as the emerger flies in the fly fishing world. They’re not quite adults, but they resemble them in a variety of ways. The wings aren’t usable. At this point, the ants are resting and preparing for their life as an adult.

Stage Four

The fourth and final stage of an ant is the adult stage. These are full-grown, have an exoskeleton and are finished growing. The ants that are able to mate have wings and will fly around as they search for their partner.

Males are only going to live for a few weeks and the workers live for a few months. Queen ants actually have the potential to live for nearly a decade under the proper conditions!

What’s Fly Fishing Ants All About?

Fly fishing for ants is all about proper imitation. If you can’t imitate an ant, you’re stuck unable to land fish. These flies awkwardly land on the water. It’s never their intention to be on the water so be sure you keep this in mind when fishing them.

Ants are going to work well as search flies and in the fall. These are when they’re the most active and when the mating season occurs. Groups of ants grow wings and search for new areas to create colonies.

When To Use Ant Flies?

Using ant flies should occur in three different occasions. The first is right as runoff is concluding. This is a common time for insects to be washed into the water. Fish are hanging out along the banks in hopes of finding some food.

The second occasion where ants should be used is when you’re unable to find a proper match of the hatch. If the fish are feeding on BWO’s or Caddis flies, you aren’t guaranteed to land fish if you tie one on. Thousands of flies are on the water and fish can easily ignore yours.

If you want to stand out on the water, throw an ant. This is something different for trout to eat. They’ll see a larger fly and may have an interest in switching up the diet. It’s never a bad thing to stand out while fly fishing. Fish are curious and if something looks appetizing, they’ll eat.

The third and best time to use ant patterns is when they’re out in search of places to mate and make new colonies. As wind patterns switch, ants will be blown into the water. If you see large groups of ants on the surface of the water, you can guarantee that the fish will be close. They love this time of year.

Ants are larger and are more of a filling meal for these fish!

How To Cast an Ant?

Ant patterns are usually extremely light. However, they’re often the most useful on windy days. This can be a complicated relationship. Light patterns on windy days make life frustrating.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself losing a few flies on these days. Use the water to your advantage on these days. Do your best to keep your fly in the water as long as possible. The less you have it in the air, the more success you’ll have making an accurate cast.

Plus, you can rest easy knowing that ants rarely land gracefully on the water. They’ll get caught up in the wind and hit the water pretty hard. A graceful landing isn’t important, but the drift is vital!

Species For Fly Fishing Ants

Ants are going to work for any fish that are willing to eat insects. Bass and trout are the most popular species so expect the most success when you’re trying to fish for these!

Fly Fishing Ants For Trout

When you’re planning on fly fishing ants for trout, you have quite a few options. These will work on streams, rivers and lakes. Anywhere an ant can land, the fish will eat.

trout feeding on the surface

The trout look for these flies along the banks.

Fly Fishing Ants For Bass

Bass are also going to eat these flies. While they’re more likely to go after sunfish and smaller prey, it’s not uncommon for them to feast on some of these ants.

Catching a Bass Fly Fishing on a Pond

They’ll look for the insects along weed lines and banks.

Fly Fishing Ants For Sunfish

When you’re looking to practice your fly fishing and don’t have time to make it to a mountain stream, go ahead and go to any body of water near you and tie on an ant pattern. If there are sunfish in the water, you’ll catch them!

Fly fishing ants for sunfish.

Sunfish love to feed on the surface for ants. You can cast near structure or along the bank and have a field day landing some sunfish. Cast out a little ways away from the sunfish and you might get lucky in having a pike go after the sunfish that eats your fly. It’s always a rush!

The Best Ant Fly Patterns

There are an ample amount of ant fly patterns for anglers to select. Fly tiers from all over the country have their own specific patterns that they enjoy so check with your local fly shop and see what is going to work.

Logan’s Ant Misbehavin’

This is one of the most realistic looking ant patterns that you will find on the market. The dark, sparkle filled poem is awesome to look at. Plus, there are wire legs that add to the realistic appearance of this fly. You will not have any trouble landing fish on this fly.

When you’re looking to fish with this fly, it allows you to have some more flexibility due to the extra weight that it has. Most ant patterns are pure foam so you don’t have much freedom as to where you can cast.

Egan’s Bionic Ant

This is a nice pattern that’s going to land you quite a few fish. Sometimes simplicity is the name of the game. This foam pattern has an extra bit of hackle on the back, but other than that, the black foam seems to do the trick.

Spend your time fishing this pattern along the banks and through the riffles. While grasshoppers spend most of the time along the shore, ants are found all over the water. They fly and can’t withstand much. They can even act as a searching fly. Their versatility is wonderful.

Ant-Acid

These flies are amazing out west! Ants are a wonderful option in the rivers across Wyoming and Montana. It has quite a bit more material than a traditional ant pattern would. However, the more material is sometimes better! Don’t count this pattern out.

It has the traditional black color, but the wings are a nice mix of Flashabou and elk hair. The legs are micro-rubber legs. Yes, there’s a lot going on with this fly, but it’s going to make your fishing experience quite entertaining.

This fly will sit half in and out of the water. It’s one of the best representations of a “drowning” ant as you can find. Ants don’t always on top of the water. They gather more water and start to sink. This is where the trout or a brook trout truly take advantage of them.

Cinnamon Ant

This is one of the most common ant patterns that you can find! The interesting aspect of this fly is that has a bit more flash than a traditional ant pattern. Plus, this fly is not made out of foam. Therefore, it’s not going to sit on the surface as long as a traditional foam pattern.

If you want it to sit on the surface, you’ll have to continually coat it with floatant. However, you don’t have have to do this if you’re looking to use it as an emerging pattern. The extra hackle around the abdomen entice fish to take a closer look.

This fly is tied in a size 12-18 pattern so you it’s going to be much smaller than a traditional ant pattern. This has a nice segmented look that provides a very realistic looking pattern. Cinnamon ants have been around for years and for good reason.

You can’t go wrong with one of these patterns. If you can’t figure out what’s working, tie one of these on and see how the fish respond. Fish it on the surface as well as lower in the water column. There are few better search flies in existence!

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Umpqua Flying Ant Fly

Creating an ant pattern that properly emulates wings and a full body is no easy task. The Umpqua Flying Ant is a wonderful representation. This is tied on a size 10-14 hook.

The bloated back end of this fly is going to keep it on the surface, but also allows it to drop in the water column the more water it gains. When you’re casting this fly, go ahead and make sure that it hits the water with a bit of a pop. You want the trout to take notice of this fly right away.

The extra hackle near the abdomen is a nice little trick that many ant patterns don’t contain. Some anglers choose to clip this extra material, but don’t be so quick to do so. It has proved to be an “X factor” in my box. I have a pattern that is similar to this without the extra hackle.

The hackled fly is actually more productive than the naked fly. I think this is one of the best ant patterns on the market!

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Orvis Flying Ant

The Orvis Flying Ant is similar to the Cinnamon Ant, but you can choose from a variety of colors to match the local patterns. This fly almost acts like a nymph. The heavier material and wings pulls this fly down in the water.

Don’t necessarily waste your time covering this fly with floatant. This fly seems to have a mind of its own when it enters the water. Let is be this way! See where it sits in the water column and make your decisions based on what the fish are hitting.

This can be purchased in sizes 14-20. It’s not an over-complicated pattern, but it’s always nice to have a few of these in your box.

Chernobly Ant

No list of best ant flies is complete without the Chernobyl Ant. This is one of the most famous patterns in all of fly fishing. The long, foam pattern with rubber legs and two splashes of red is a welcomed sight for all anglers.

If you hear that ant patterns are working, this should be one of the first flies you choose to use. They’re an extremely simple pattern, but the larger size is an attractant for some of the larger fish.

Plus, if you’re interested in tying your own flies, this is a great pattern to start with. You don’t need much skill for tying this fly. And with all fly fishing, the more homemade it looks, the better it works. Fish don’t always want to see a traditional looking fly!

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Gear To Use When Fishing With Ants

When you’re fishing with ants, you have the potential to land fish from all sizes. Be sure that you know the size of fish that are in the water you’re fishing. As long as you’re prepared to handle these fish, you can use almost any type of gear you would like.

Rod

When you’re choosing the rod to use for fly fishing with ants, make sure it is sensitive enough for you to feel the fly. Anywhere between a 3 and 6-weight is going to work quite well for you. These aren’t going to overpower the fly and have enough power to land whatever fish you hook into.

Reel

Like any fly fishing setup, be sure that your reel matches your rod. If it’s too heavy, you’re going to lose the balance of the rod. It shouldn’t be more than one weight lighter or heavier than your other rod. Balance is key to making the proper casts.

a fly rod and reel

Also, it’s smart to purchase large arbor reels. These are going to help you fight some of the larger fish! If you hook into a bass, they’re going to give you everything they have. A large arbor will give you peace of mind that you won’t lose any fish due to a lack of line.

Line

Depending on what type of fishing you’re trying to do, your line will change. If you want to strictly focus on fishing on the surface, then be sure that you are only using floating line. Floating line isn’t going to drag your fly underneath the water.

fly line for salmon fly fishing

Even if you want to fish your fly a little lower in the water column, floating line is going to work well. You can let your fly fall where it would like in the water column without it being forced down by the weight of the line.

As long as you aren’t looking to fish at the bottom of the water column, floating line is going to be the answer.

Leader

Leader is important when you’re fishing with dry flies. You want to use tippet so you don’t necessarily want to tie on a tapered leader. These are more difficult to use tippet. Use a 3 or 4x leader!

Tippet

When you’re choosing a tippet size, go ahead and use 4 to 6x. These are light enough to not spook the fish. Again, you want your fly to slap the water so don’t scare the fish away with the size of your tippet!

Fly Fishing Ants Techniques, Tips & Tricks

Fly fishing with ants differs depending on what type of water you are fishing. Trout look for these flies in a variety of different areas so don’t be afraid to switch up your technique when needed!

Small Streams

If you’re fly fishing an ant on a small stream, any part of the water is free game. The fish are looking along the banks, in the seams as well as the riffles. Ants may get knocked down quickly and fall directly onto a riffle so don’t count these areas of the river out.

best fly rods for small streams - featured image

Also, pocket water is a wonderful spot to fish ants. Any sort of pocket behind a rock or timber is likely going to be dominated by a larger fish. Throw your ant to the side of one of the pockets and let it drift. Once it drifts, wait for it to be sucked behind the structure.

At this point, you’ll likely find yourself hooked into a fairly large fish!

Big Rivers

When you’re fishing ants on the big rivers, you must stay along the banks. Larger rivers usually have extremely large cut banks so cast as far under them as possible. It’s not unlikely for ants to get sucked under these banks as they try and escape out of the water.

fly fishing nymph with waders in small stream

The difficulty with fishing ants is that they do not have any rhyme or reason to their behaviors. This makes life a bit easier for anglers because the trout are not looking for anything specific.

Lakes

When you’re fishing ants on lakes, the only thing you must be sure of is that the fish are feeding on the surface. At this point, you can throw the ant anywhere and everywhere. Lake fish are going to strike insects in all portions of water.

Fly Fishing in lakes

However, if you want to have a really solid shot at landing fish, then you should stay along the weed lines and closer to shore. It’s not super common for these insects to find themselves in the middle of the lake!

Are You Ready For Fly Fishing Ants?

Ants are one of the more interesting flies any angler can throw. You never know when they’re going to work or how they should be fished. All we know is that they’re successful and the fish will do their best to eat them whatever chance they can get.

It’s best to take these flies to a local pond or lake and give them a try. You’ll learn more about how they drift and see what type of action you can create with them. If you’re ever unsure what to throw, this is a safety measure!