It has been several years since I replenished my parachute ant supply, so I was not surprised when I performed a quick inventory and discovered 5-10 size eighteens in my fly bins. In addition to a dwindling supply, I was not pleased with the quality of my ties from two or three years ago. For these reasons I jumped into parachute ant production over the last couple weeks of January.
I do not utilize ant imitations frequently, but I would not want to venture onto a stream anywhere without an ample supply in my fly box. I have discovered that a black size eighteen parachute ant covers nearly all ant scenarios, It is small enough to mimic naturals, yet with a highly visible wing post I can follow it reasonably well in poor light and riffled currents. The parachute hackle causes the fly to land upright and to ride low in the surface film like a natural ant, and in the rare occasion where flying ants predominate, the wing serves its purpose.
Over my many years of fly fishing I have discovered two main situations where an ant ends up on my line. The first is during blustery days, and these are more frequent than one would desire in the western half of the United States. I have vivid memories of days on the upper Colorado River near Parshall when I was not having much success with a dry/dropper or a single dry fly presentation. Periodic gusts of wind caused a brief flurry of rises, and I reassessed my approach only to guess that the wind was blowing terrestrials into the river. I swapped my subsurface beadhead nymph for a parachute ant behind a large visible foam attractor that enabled me to follow the small terrestrial. This ploy yielded several fifteen inch brown trout that sipped the low riding parachute. Trout seem to have a strong craving for terrestrials and especially ants. The scene that I described on the Colorado River has transpired on other streams, and my success is probably only limited by my inclination to test other flies before resorting to an ant.
The second application of a parachute ant is the fussy fish situation. We have all been there. We sight a fish sipping something from the surface film in a fairly consistent rhythm. In my case I abandon my usual “three casts and move on” style of fishing, and I dwell on a sighted riser. I generally cycle through a series of fly changes in an attempt to dupe the selective fish in front of me. The menu usually includes a mayfly and caddis. If neither of these fool the reluctant fish, I default to a parachute ant. There are few experiences in fly fishing more rewarding than duping a difficult fish after numerous fly changes with a tiny parachute ant riding flush in the film. These scenes remain permanently etched in my memory bank.
During the latter stages of January I churned out twenty parachute ants. They are all exact size eighteen replicas with varying wing colors. I made ten with a bright pink wing, five contain a bright green wing, and five more present an orange wing. Hopefully these will cover the many varied lighting situations I encounter in the upcoming season. All my parachute ants are tied using the detailed tying steps that I learned from Tom Baltz at the Fly Fishing Show in 2012. Tom’s method assures an excellent visible wing post and symmetrical hackle while maintaining the all important narrow waist of a natural ant. Check out my black parachute ant – 01/11/2012 post to follow the documented steps and the recipe for these valuable assets in my fly fishing arsenal.