The arrival of warm weather in the Smokies means that it is time for terrestrials. While everyone gets excited about the big hatches of mayflies, caddis, and stoneflies, terrestrials provide far more consistent fishing over a much longer period of time. From early in the season all the way into fall, fish will feed on a variety of terrestrials.
The famed Green Weenie is a good fly to use, especially once the green inchworms start falling out of the trees. Fish will move across a pool or through the heaviest currents to attack an inchworm imitation. However, once the water starts to drop from the higher spring flows and the heat of summer builds, the fish start to get a bit more finicky. Sure, you can catch the occasional trout but you leave the stream feeling like you could have done much better. During a break from fishing at this time of year, you probably relax on one of the rocks and notice a bunch of ants crawling around. Starting as early as April and going well into fall, ants are one of the most consistent food sources the trout will see. They might not see tons of them every day but they do see them often enough to always remember what they taste like. Apparently they are like candy to trout.
Last summer, while working at Little River Outfitters, I started looking for that edge in my evening fishing. I became adept at fishing dry flies in all water types and really improved my mending skills. Still I felt like there were lots more fish to catch and wondered what else I could do. One evening while fishing at Tremont I noticed big black ants all over the streamside rocks. Something clicked in my brain and I decided to find out what the fish would think of an ant pattern. I generally fish two flies when fishing subsurface so I tied on a nymph and then trailed a black epoxy bodied ant pattern 18 inches behind it with a couple of split shot in between. Immediately I started catching fish and lots of them.
Over the next several days and weeks, I discovered that ants would often catch fish when nothing else would. As the summer wore on, I started seeing decreasing numbers of ants along the streams and the fish didn’t seem as excited about them. Really the prime time for ants is from May-July. Still, late in the season when things seem slow, try tying on an ant pattern. One of the very best times to fish ants is just after a summer rainstorm. The rain washes a lot of food into the water including plenty of ants.
My favorite summertime searching rig is a Green Weenie with some type of sunken ant trailing behind. The Green Weenie does a great job of getting the trout close to investigate but I believe that when they get close they feel safer eating the ant. This rig will catch fish when nothing else seems to be working and will even catch fish in water that has just been fished in the last few hours. The fish just can’t seem to resist the delicious candy ants of the Smokies!
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