Fly Fishing with Terrestrials: Learn to Tie and Fish the Elkmont Ant

The Elkmont Ant is a fly I came up with a few years ago. I was doing a bit of guiding at Blackberry Farm where the fish were big and the water was small. A daily string of guides and anglers kept the trout pretty educated and even smaller fish became jaded by early July.

The Elkmont Ant not only fooled the largest trout at Blackberry, but it did an impressive job on the wild fish in the Smokies. It’s incredibly effective in low water conditions and tempts everything from smaller brookies to larger brown trout. In fact, I caught 2 brown trout around 18″ around Elkmont on Little River the first season I fished it.

Terrestrials are always important in the summer. They are relatively abundant and any beetle, cricket, yellow jacket, or ant that falls into the water is unlikely to get out. In fact, it’s a certainty that they will be eaten by a fish. The only question is when.

The Elkmont Ant has a foam body so it floats great. The soft legs vibrate to give the illusion of life and a poly-yarn wing makes it visible to the angler. It even lands with a soft plop that will often lure hungry fish out of hiding.

Tying the Elkmont Ant isn’t hard. Here’s the pattern:

Hook: #14 Dry Fly

Thread: 6/0 Black

Body: Black Foam cut to about 1/8″

Legs: Black Span Flex

Wing: White Poly-Yarn; Neon orange or chartreuse may be substituted for even better visibility

Step 1:  Cover the hook shank with black thread. This will make the hook blend with the foam and provide better traction for the foam to stay in place. Cut a strip of foam to about 1/8″ wide. The foam should not be any thicker than that, but may be a bit thinner. Tie the foam in just above the bend of the hook.

Elkmont Ant, Step 1

Step 2: Tie in a piece of Span Flex on each side of the foam. You’ll want the pieces to be long initially, then clipped to size. Tie the Span Flex in so it is secured along the side of the fly in the crevice in the foam. The legs should have a “V”.

Elkmont Ant, Step 2

Step 3: Wrap the thread up the hood and secure the foam about one and a half hook eye lengths back from the eye of the hook.

Elkmont Ant, Step 3

Step 4: Tie in the Span-Flex for the legs on the front. At this point I usually clip the corners from the foam at the head and rear of the fly to give it a more rounded appearance.

Elkmont Ant, Step 4

Step 5: Tie in a piece of poly-yarn. I prefer white, but you may see the fly better if you use neon orange or chartreuse. Tie off with a half hitch or whip finish and go fishing!

Completed Elkmont Ant

Fishing the Elkmont Ant

You’ll want to use a slightly different method to fish the Elkmont Ant and other terrestrials than you would a Royal Wulff, Parachute Adams, or other standard dry fly. Most standard dries imitate aquatic insects like mayflies, caddis, and stoneflies. These insects live in riffle habitat and are most often eaten by trout while ther are drifting in current.

Many terrestrials, particularly those found along the forested streams of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, will fall from trees or streamside brush. You should cast these flies into quieter waters that you might be tempted to pass up. In fact, it’s not uncommon for brown trout to sit in “frog water”, avoiding riffle water in the summer.

You’ll do well fishing well defined feeding lanes as well. Rainbows will remain in current through the summer. Brook trout are often found in slower currents as well as eddies.

Don’t be afraid of letting the fly hit the water with a SPLAT! Insects falling from trees will make a plop and fish accustomed to eating them will be attracted by the noise. Of course, only the fly should do that, not your entire leader and fly line.

Terrestrial patterns like the Elkmont Ant will be most successful during the day while the sun is on the water. I’m not sure why, but terrestrials lose much of their effectiveness in the evening, probably because those insects are most active during the heat of the day.