Fly Fishing with Ant and Beetle patterns

imitating ladybird fly fishing

imitating ladybird fly fishing

In his excellent books, Fishing Small Flies, and Tying Small Flies, Ed Engle suggests trout eat a large number of ant’s during the summer months. Ed uses an ant pattern to fish for bank feeders during ‘that’ part of the day in high summer when many anglers are taking a well-earned nap, after an early morning’s start.

I’ve long had a few of Ed’s ant patterns in my box but failed to use them enough (save for my excellent mint leaf beetle in early spring) until very recently, when I found a large number of trout feeding on top.

I assumed the fish were on small olives and after going through duns, emergers, and floating nymphs, did what I should have done at the start, and seined the water with the little aquarium net, I always carry in my fly vest.

The insects were, in this case, flying ants, and as they floated down the river with wings extended, looked very much like olive duns, until you actually had one in the net. Then you could clearly see the jointed insect was an ant, with large backward facing wings.

Their size was smaller than other flying ants I’d seen in the past, maybe 20s with three segments to the body, including the head. The ant’s in my box were tied on a small 14s wide gape and looked far too large to fool any discerning trout, but I had no choice.

During the hatch, I did manage the odd fish but knew the fly I was using was just too big.

So back home at the tying desk, I fashioned several smaller ant’s (with black foam) on a size 18s, with a small tuft of poly yard to represent the wings.

The flies looked really good, and I couldn’t wait to give them a try. Sadly the next time I fished, the ant’s didn’t come off, (but I have them for when they do) but it got me to thinking about beetles too?

Now I have taken some very nice fish over the years on beetle patterns, especially on a black and green one imitating the Mint leaf beetle ‘Chysolina menthastri’ found on water mint in April and May.

The river I fish does not have the blanket hatches often spoken about in fly fishing magazines. I did find some wonderful hatches when I lived in France and fished the mighty river Dordogne.

But they too were very patchy. However, when the weather conditions were just right, cold, damp and dark with low cloud, the hatches could be dramatically heavy.

With bwo up your nose, in your ears and inside your clothing when you packed at the days end? But as I said, we just don’t get that quantity of fall in Lincolnshire. What we do get plenty of however is the wind, and wind can sometimes mean excellent terrestrial insect falls!

Just recently I noticed several good trout taking ‘Coccinella 7-punctata’ our common ladybird.

So not to miss an opportunity I tied a few of those up too. The trout loved them, and I took a nice 16” fish on one such tying, just a few days later.

I really believe trout will take, or at least inspect any surface object that looks like food. The larger older trout must have tasted most available insects, and remember large fish have to eat more to maintain their body weight. So don’t be afraid to try something just a little different when nothing is hatching.

If you asked me what beetles and ants I would carry in my box for the whole season, here is my list.

  • Mint leaf beetles for early spring and all through summer in size 16s wide gape.
  • Ladybirds in the same size.
  • A large black beetle in size 14s to make an extra splash when casting near under hanging branches.
  • Ants in foam size 18s wide gape, with and without wings.

And lastly, an Ant tied and varnished to sink, in black and red/orange to fish as a wet fly, deadly early mornings to moving fish!

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