Waters & words : a celebration of flyfishing

Book-end ants

While packing up after three hours or so of frenetic ant hatch, it occurred to me that the last time I fished a stillwater, some four months ago, had also been a wild ant hatch. In between there was a baker’s dozen of trips to streams and rivers all along the berg…a wild ride between heavy rain and summer heat.  A time of wearing out the studs on my wading boots in the lush grasslands, and getting achy feet and small browns, all in fair measure. But either side of that chapter was a day in the sweetness of spring’s cool air on the one end, and this day in the glow of a slightly pale April sun at the other.

Two distinctly different days on two different stillwaters, but both marked by the excess of a ridiculously prolific hatch of little black ants.   The few hours prior were marked with frustration, as were my hours in early December.  Ants, ants, ants, everywhere you looked, and the Trout going absolutely dilly.

Ant

Of course as soon as I saw the ants, I pulled out my box and found an imitation. A small “E Z 2 C” ant with a cylindrical black foam body, with a white tip, which, for the life of me I couldn’t see out on the water, to a Mc Murray ant, to various of my own imitations.  I tried smaller ones (to imitate the males) and bigger ones (to imitate the females). I swiped my hand through the swarm and captured one or two, and I studied them, and pulled my fly box out again. As the sun passed above and moved westward, a shiny, coppery light reflected off ten million little wings on the water’s surface. The fish had so many specimens to choose from, that introducing my own exact replica was clearly an exercise in futility. I tied on three ants at once. Three times zilch is still nothing. Why would a fish eat any of mine, when they had thirty acres of water in which they could just about swim in a straight line with their mouths open, and stuff themselves like orcas on plankton?

I took to practicing my casting accuracy. It was strangely like clay pigeon shooting. Nature presented me with totally randomized targets, which appeared suddenly and demanded a “hit”.  I was getting quite good…bang…hit the ripples marking the extremities of the fish’s window at ten yards to the left….then a single pickup and hit twenty five yards slightly right. Strip that in, pick it up, and fire a 15 yard cast far right. Bang. Bang. Bang. It was fun, but I wasn’t catching fish.

Since I was aiming for “The edge of the dinner plate”, it occurred to me to put something different on. Something big and juicy. Something to persuade a Trout that it could eat something other than a damned ant! I chose a cased caddis on a #12 longshank hook…a sort of shiny, reed-like thing that was unweighted, and had an alluring little brown-headed, chartreuse  worm, sticking out the end of the reed-stem case.

A few casts later, it worked, and I brought in a fish of around two pounds.  I sneered at it and told it that I knew caddis were tastier than bitter ants.

Rainbow Trout

The ants carried on hatching and landing on the water, and the trout carried on eating them. It was interesting to observe the rises.  Some were splashy, but  others were clearly not surface rises. Were they eating ants that had sunk, or was there a blind hatch of  something else?  I scanned the margins, but all I saw was ants, ants, ants.  Millions of shimmering wings:  ants mating and dying on the water. Their affinity for nesting near a body of water, was claiming half their number, but the orgy of excess was such that it hardly made a difference.

I changed to a bigger, juicier distractor pattern, and landing it on the edge of the dinner plate with enough of a splash to make the Rainbow turn and look at it, I got another one.

Towards the end the number of ants on the water diminished as the hatch slowed, and a light breeze blew the carcasses into the reeds. The trout were still looking up now, but they were having to go looking for food. Sensing the cue, I changed to a dry bigger and tastier than an ant:  a DCD and deerhair beetle. Presently a fish rose, a full cast out in front of me, and still in clay pigeon mode, I swung around and with two false casts shot out the longest cast I am capable of. It alighted like thistledown, and the Trout ate it. Finally!  A Trout on the dry.   I landed the fish, clicked off a picture and returned it to the water, before reeling in and strolling back to the bakkie.

My obsession with the streams had been folded between two covers. I thought back to the streams, and to the December ant hatch as I drove home. Many happy hours on the water had passed in the first three months of the year. There were days in which I stuck diligently to the dry, and others where I never took off the heavy nymph. I had had water as clear as the proverbial gin (that we are now allowed to buy again), and days in milky, murky water, where that was all that was on offer. Neil and I had fished in the rain. Graeme and I in broad sunlight. 

I had blanked on the Mooi  with PD and then with Neil on the same stretch, had a field day on a particularly sparse parachute dry with an orange post.  There was that fish that had gotten Anton shaking at the knees, and the one Graeme got which I captured on video, from the approach, to the strike, to the release. There were all those fish I got on the #20 nymph, and the enormous fish that famously stole one such nymph, paying scant respect to my silly 7X tippet.

Back at my fly-tying desk, I pulled out some CDC in black and in white, and a few strands of pearlescent flashabou to try capture those sparkling wings, and I got tying one of Marc Petitjean’s ants, complete with wing sparkle.

I tried a few more, and then I substituted the CDC  wing with some white Kapok, and I held the result up to the light to study it. It looked good.

I will carry it out to the next ant hatch. And when I get there I will strap on a caddis, and I will catch me a Trout. 

But  perhaps I will fish a few more streams before I do that. Mix things up a bit you know…… Perhaps an ant on a river (on 5X tippet of course).

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