I’ve come to think of the large black carpenter ant as one of the most important trout stream insects of late spring & early summer, as it is certainly true in the forested region I fish. The first ant flights of the season occur during the warmest days of May & continue into July – & altogether there may be a dozen major swarms during the course of the May-July hatch season.
The large, clumsy ants are weak flyers & a great many end up in the water on both lakes & streams, bringing up the largest trout to feed. The wings break away easily, & during the struggle on the water the ants often shed their wings, hence, in my own experience, a winged imitation is not necessary for fishing the water (though I do carry winged floaters during ‘hatches’ when a lot of ants are present on the water & fish are actively feeding on them – I’ll take dryfly action whenever it presents itself). If you’ve ever squashed one, you may have noticed that carpenter ants are juicy, & they must taste good too, because trout take the imitation readily through the hatch season.
(Smart trout feeding on tiny mayflies can sometimes be diverted to a well-presented #8 black ant.)
Carpenter ants in my neighborhood are a healthy ¾ of an inch long, they are heavy & don’t float for long, drown, & are tumbled throughout the water column. I’ve found that a wet version of the ant fishes at least as good as a dry in any circumstance, but for fishing the water when no surface activity is apparent, the simple thread-body version tied with a turn of soft hackle is still my favorite.
Black Carpenter Ant
Hook: #8 TMC 2312
Body: Black UNI 3/0 tying thread – build up thread to shape, beginning at the abdomen & working forward
Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird: ucflyfishing.blogspot.com