The black ant has been a “go to” fly for me for over 20 years. It was my last resort one night a long time ago when the trout were taking something I couldn’t duplicate. I found a black ant in my box and within minutes it was torn to shreds from multiple takes. I looked upstream and noticed a power line going over the river I was fishing; ants must have been falling off the line and into the water. That’s how Black Ants became my favorite terrestrial.
My dad started me fly fishing with hoppers, so I don’t knock them. As time goes by, it seems to me that the black ant is over looked. That’s a shame because I’ve landed several 18 inch trout on this fly. The real beauty of this version is how simple it is to tie, and how easy it is to teach a youngster to tie. Years ago, I used black thread to build up a body and varnished it. It was a long tedious method and I hated it. Black single strand floss never worked for me; it was too slippery and the body never stayed in the right shape. A few years ago I learned that well known fly tier and author named Dick Talleur used Uni Stretch. I tried it and became a convert. My black ants looked better than ever and were easier to tie. Go buy a spool of this stuff; you’ll be glad you did. I’m not talking about Uni-Thread or Uni-Floss. Those are good products but Uni-Stretch is what we want to tie the Black Ant fly with. Use it with a bobbin as the thread to tie this fly.
Here is the recipe for the Black Ant:
Thread – Black Uni-Stretch
Hook –Dry fly hook, I used Mustad 94840, size 12-16
Body – Black Uni-Stretch
Hackle – Black, 2 turns
Head cement over wraps on body to create hard shell
Lock the hook very tightly in the vice. The hook has to be tight because you are going to pull the Uni stretch tight as you build up the body. Uni-Stretch is a lot stronger than thread, and you need to pull hard when you wind it. When you wind it on with a lot of pressure, your body becomes easy to shape and control.
Look at the shape of the body; it is almost wasp like. Notice how the back segment goes halfway down the bend of the hook. Ordinarily, you have to be very careful when you do this on a fly. You can put so much material on the bend of the hook that you block the gap of the hook. This makes the hook less effective at catching the lip of a trout. Since this fly has a narrow “waist” right above the hook point, the gap opens and the hook works fine. That is good, because this fly is fished on a dead drift. Build the back segment by wrapping tightly, and then tie in a black hackle at the waist. Out west, I used a hen hackle. The softer fibers have more movement. I have discovered that ordinary black hackle works fine in Maine, so that is what I use. If you have soft hackle and want to use that, by all means try it; your mileage may vary. What is important is that you use two wraps of hackle only. Remember, ants only have 6 legs, so don’t tie a bushy dry fly. After you tie off the hackle in the waist of the fly, wind twice and then build a front segment. Remember to pull the Uni Stretch tightly and both segments should be easy. There is no head to tie off; just whip finish when the body is complete.
You should cover the body but not the hackle with head cement. I’ve tried special glossy cements, black lacquer, and even super glue. Ordinary head cement works fine. I’ll be honest with you; I also keep a black ant in my box that I didn’t coat with anything. It floats better at first but soon gets water logged. There have been a few situations where I wanted to have a light, floating black ant to drift past a fish and the cemented one does sink faster. The cemented fly is my first choice but fly tying is about having a box full of choices so I keep one “light weight” in the box as well. You can add a wing or make change the color; red and black together work well for some people.
Black ants routinely fall off bridges, telephone wires and tree branches. If you see something overhanging the water that an ant might crawl up on, give this fly a shot. It is simple to tie, easy to fish and a great fly to teach a youngster.