Twig Water Ants – from Ed Herbst (South Africa)

The Fettuccine Foam Ant with wings made of pearl micro krystal flash

(Ed is a very creative and inventive tier with a high reputation in South Africa as one of their best. He is invariably exhaustive in his research and notes on the flies he ties.  Here are his thoughts on tying ants.)

  • Match the hatch when there's one on, but if there is not, look to terrestrials. Charles E. Brookes:
    The Trout and the Stream (Crown Publishers, 1974)
  • He cast the small ant pattern onto fast water in the neck above the deep Willow Pool and found himself fast to a good fish of about a kilogram which took the little fly ravenously. The trout was duly landed and when cleaned was found to contain a fully-grown field mouse – and yet could not resist that tiny ant. Tony Ritchie: Dry Fly-Fishing for Trout. Kangaroo Press, 1994.
  • Gary Lafontaine favoured the beetle as a general searching pattern whereas Lefty Kreh favoured the ant – dry or sunk, for while the beetle is available to trout at certain times of the year, ants are always available. We have a similar situation in the mountain streams near Cape Town – brown monkey beetles are prolific in early spring but by mid-summer they have disappeared.
  • Ant bodies tied on light-wire hooks tend to land on their sides so my favourite hookis the medium-wire #16 Dohiku303 - a wide-gape hook that the manufacturer calls the ‘Beetle Hook.
  • The ideal is to keep the waist as narrow as possible and I use the thinnest thread on the market, Uni-Caenis in a Tiemco Adjustable Arm bobbin. I grease the holes in the bobbin and the bobbin arms with mucilin or petroleum jelly to lower friction. You can’t pull on the bobbin to lengthen the thread because it will snap; you have to use your thumb to spin the bobbin.
  • As a sighter I use Solarez Copper Shimmer, but you can replicate this effect by adding glitter dust to your favourite UV light-cured resin. It is available in craft shops.

At first, I used black micro krystal flash for the legs because they give the impression of movement. I tied each leg on singly on top of the hook shank in an X shape.

I rely on others to test my flies and the first examples were tested when our streams were still high after our winter rainfall season. The complaint was that they were difficult to see in the fast current. The obvious answer was to add a wing and I mixed black and white Hareline Sparkle Emerger Yarn. I realised in retrospect that the wing would have been even more visible if I had added a few strands of Hareline Ice Wing Fibre in black and pearl.

I changed from micro krystal flash for the legs to ultra-thin rubber because they were easier to fold out of the way when adding the wing.

In the early 1980s when I was looking for the silver bullet, the fly that trout would chase up the bank, I read about the McMurray Ant. It was allegedly so effective that Art Lee called it “the deadliest fly to shake hands with a leader.

Check, for details on this fabulous fly.

Here are a few comments from the time.

  • McMurray flies are the brainchild of Ed Sutryn of McMurray, Pennsylvania. They're aquatic and terrestrial imitations characterised by small beads of painted balsa wood strung on monofilament and lashed to the hook shank for bodies, and more conventional hackle for other parts. The McMurray Ant was the prototype for the series and is the centre of cult worship in some quarters. Chuck and Sharon Tryon, Figuring Out Flies – A Practical Guide.
  • When I tried the fly out on several streams, I knew I had a winner. On limestone streams where I had been habitually skunked, the trout took the ant so deliberately and innocently that my conscience even bothered me. Ed Sutryn, inventor of the McMurray Ant, quoted in Gerald Almys Tying and Fishing the Terrestrials.
  • During public appearances I'm often asked what dry fly I'd choose if I only had one to fish with. I've always answered less than enthusiastically, the Adams. Now, however, I've changed that tune, and my answer is born of confidence. If I had only one fly - wet or dry - to fish from ice-out to the first freeze of the following winter, make it the McMurray Ant, the deadliest pattern, I believe, ever to shake hands with a leader.” Art Lee, Fishing Dry Flies for Trout on Rivers and Streams.
  • I then realised that if I used small orange foam rubber parachute posts - produced by Wapsi - coloured black with a permanent marker, the orange tips made the fly easy to follow on the water. I dispensed with legs and used pearl micro krystal flash for wings. Because of a chemical reaction, UV resin does not adhere to surfaces coloured with permanent marker ink.
  • Then a new, square foam rubber material appeared on the market, Chicone's Fettuccine Foam. If you use it in tan you can add an eye with a permanent marker and a mixture of UV resin and glitter dust will adhere to this material to act as a sighter.
  • You can reduce the size of this material by stretching it, which means that high-floating, #18 ants become easy to tie.

Materials for the Fettuccini Foam Ant:

Hook: Size 16 Dohiku 303 or equivalent
Thread: Veevus 16/0 or equivalent.
Body 1: Wapsi small ant body – orange coloured with black permanent marker except for the ends
Body 2: Chicone's Fettuccine Foam in colour of choice with resin plus glitter dust added as a sighter.
Wing: Pearl Micro Krystal Flash

Tying Procedure:

  1. Take a piece of the Fettuccine foam and shape it as a narrow cuboid about one and a half times longer than the hook. Use the photo as a guide.
  2. To keep the middle section of the fly as narrow as possible attach the foam rubber in separate steps, first the abdomen – cut at a slant to achieve the correct taper - and then the head
  3. Hold the piece of foam over the hook shank and tie it down in the middle of the shank, then bind the thread tightly towards the eye as shown in the photo. This will create the narrow waist of the ant and leave the small piece sitting up behind the eye as the head of the ant.
  4. Attach a short piece of pearl Micro Krystal Flash behind the head and use thread pressure to splay the material backwards on each side of the shank at about 45°, as shown in the photo.
  5. Trim off the Krystal Flash so that you have two equal wings.
  6. Trim and shape the rear end of the foam, as shown.
  7. To complete the fly add a black dot to each side of the head with a permanent marker and a mixture of UV resin and glitter dust to the top of the abdomen to act as a sighter.

There is a comprehensive array of articles on ant patterns on the Cape Piscatorial Society website.

Here are some other photos of Eds ant patterns: