Tying & Fishing the TransparAnt
by Harrison Steeves
Ants have long had an attraction for both trout and those who fish for trout. I imagine that trout have been turning on to ants for as long as both species have coexisted, it was not until Vince Marinaro published his classic book A Modern Dry Fly Code that the average fly fisher sat up and took notice. Granted, a few of the more perceptive fishermen used ants prior to Marinaro's work, but he was the one who really called attention to the importance of the ant in the trout's diet.
When I first read this work I was fascinated by the detail of Marinaro's observations on ants. One which really made an impression was that the bodies of many ants are not opaque but translucent. One of Marinaro's favorite tying materials was seal dubbing, which he claimed gave the necessary translucency to his imitations. To my knowledge, Marinaro tied only floating or "dry" ants and was not much concerned with fishing sinking ants. Other tiers, Bob McCafferty in particular, were very interested in fishing wet ant imitations and developed the standard hard-bodied lacquered ant. Lacquered ants catch plenty of fish, and are used extensively by those who realize just how incredibly deadly these patterns are. But today we have many new materials and new procedures for tying which make sinking ants even more effective.
The idea behind the TransparANT and the AttractANT was to produce a sinking ant with a translucent-not opaque-body which imitated the natural ant better than the old lacquered patterns. My first attempts with the TransparANT involved nothing more than forming a thread body on the shank of the hook which was then covered with five-minute epoxy. The trick was to tie the body only about two-thirds the size of the natural. When covered with epoxy the results were spectacular. The epoxy actually seemed to act as a magnifying glass, and the color of the thread shone through the epoxy, making the body appear to be translucent. After much experimentation it was determined that any thread would work, and since threads are available in many colors virtually any color ant body could be reproduced. Two-tone ants could be tied using different color threads for the abdomen and the head. Once the body was formed and allowed to harden the fly could be completed by winding hackle to form the legs. This pattern is currently produced and marketed by Umpqua Feather Merchants.
The TransparANT is very effective when tied as described above, but I now tie it using silk thread instead of standard tying thread. The idea of using silk thread came to me when I was fishing with one of my cane rods and noticed the wraps-silk thread becomes translucent when covered with rod varnish. The same phenomenon occurred when ant bodies formed with silk thread were covered with epoxy. While the entire body does not become transparent, the outer silk wraps of the body do, and the resulting fly is quite spectacular. As a result I now tie all of my hard-bodied ants with silk thread.
A few months later I was tying some LaFontaine caddis pupae using small glass beads threaded over the point onto the shank of the hook. When covered with antron, they added the "gas bubbles" necessary to duplicate the emerging natural. Again, the light bulb went on. What would happen if a clear glass bead was threaded onto the shank of the hook, a thread wrap was placed in front of and behind the bead to hold it in place, and epoxy was applied? The results were unbelievable. I now had a body with a completely translucent central section. Since glass beads also come in opaque glass it is possible to produce ant bodies in which the abdomen has a brightly colored opaque band in the middle. These patterns, the Attract-ANTS, are excellent for mimicking not only ants but also small wasps and sweat bees. The abdomen of the AttractANT contains either a clear or opaque glass bead, and the head of the fly is just the standard thread wrap. Both, of course, are coated with five-minute epoxy.
For both the TransparANT and the AttractANT I usually form the legs with only a turn or two of black hackle. There are other methods to legging these ants which work just as well. Wings can be added to either of these patterns to mimic a drowned flying ant.
I usually fish these patterns to rising fish which have refused most offerings. In this case, I sight cast to the fish, but try to deliver the ant a foot or so to one side of the rising fish. In this way I can watch the fish-not the fly-and if the fish turns to the side on which the ant was presented it's a pretty good indication it's taken the fly. Simply raise the rod tip and the chances are you'll have a hookup. The first time I fished one of these patterns this way I actually had a fish turn to take the fly, but a larger fish came out of nowhere and took the TransparANT away from him!
I also fish these patterns blind and tight to the bank, just like any other terrestrial. Here, however, I use a very small strike indicator about ten inches above the ant. Any movement of the indicator usually signals a take. Another effective method is to fish the ant as a dropper tied to the hook bend of a larger terrestrial such as a beetle, cricket or hopper. This combination can be deadly!
You can also fish these patterns deep, just as you would a nymph. The depth is determined by the depth of the water, and I frequently add a little weight to get them down to the fish. I am convinced that sunken terrestrials make up a large part of a trout's diet during the summer and fall, and the abundance of ants during this time of the year makes the sinking ant my first choice on many days. Big fish love them!