Honey Ants

Honey Ants

Williamson, Sid
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The rise is a curious one. Devoid of all precision and subtlety, the violent splash is trailed by a vacuum, capturing the surface tension in a brief and distinct whirlpool. It reminds you of caddis, but the hydrodynamic aftermath tells you something wholly different is at work. In the half second that unfolds, you don't even see the fish, but you know that it is big.

If you've never seen this phenomenon before you may scratch your head in wonder and continue plying the water. Look closely, though, and you'll see what the fuss is about as a cinnamon-colored morsel floats by, its wings helplessly stuck on its back in the surface film, its legs furiously wriggling. The honey ants have arrived at the Henry's Fork. Thank you. God.

The sweetness of this event is fortified by its circumstances. From the opener in June to the beginning of August, the ranch section of the Henry’s Fork gets pounded like a two-bit pugilist from Palookaville. The festival rages for weeks with a parade of drakes, caddis, pale morning duns, callabaetis, and flavs. Rod wavers from all over the world have come and gone in droves, leaving the fish thoroughly picked over and freaked out. An angling situation that was already difficult at the outset has become down right unsavory. Add the building heat of August and dropping water levels, and you might consider just moving on to another river. Most people do just that, leaving the banks of the ranch too a few hopeful and patient anglers.

Yet the queen is restless. A subterranean stirring begins as the daytime temperatures climb. In a fateful moment, she summons her sergeants and issues her command: release the drones. The males take flight her highness joins them for a mating frenzy. Because there happens to be a lot of fornication involved, the queen can be somewhat fickle about the whole idea. Whether she wants millions of males all in her "bidness" is entirely up to her. In some years the queen may simply refresh her high ball on the nightstand, pull down the eyeshade, and tell the boys to put those things away. But if she's feeling appropriately saucy, she'll take flight with her male companions and have lots of sex. Ahem.

If you are male and have lived in remote parts of the West, you can identify with male-to-female ratios that create lots of wanting and very little getting. Your odds are merely five- or six-to-one at worst.

Now imagine a million to one. Now that's competition. It's no wonder that most of the drones end up floating upside down in the river, musing over the injustice of it all.

Yet, it's hard to feel sorry for them. After all, the end product of the queen's decision is a dormant spring creek transformed. The fish are everywhere. Lessons learned over the last two months of dodging anglers are completely forgotten. Presentation is hardly at issue here. Your fly could be giving a wake like a Cleveland-bound cement barge on Lake Erie, and the fish would still find the need to come from ten feet away to slam it. The fire hydrant-size rainbow you've been working for the last two hours has now decided that what it would really like is a rusty-colored, no-frills ant pattern-size 14 no less. The absurdity compounds even further when you consider that you aren't even really imitating an ant to begin with.

Wait, huh?

Well, let's get a few things clear here. These might be ants. They're shaped like ants, but the abdomen is more bulbous than what you would expect and the wings seem more bee-like. Some people refer to them as "aquatic wasps," which seems to fit while also assigning an element of ferocity. In the end, entomology takes a back seat to simply what works.

If you find yourself a participant in the spectacle, consider yourself one of the lucky few. Predicting the emergence involves a lot of serious juju. Consulting your local oracle, laying out the tea leaves, and praying to false idols are reasonable efforts but no substitute to just being on the river as much as possible through August and September. It may occur off and on for weeks, several days in a row, one single afternoon, or even not at all.

If they do come, it will be when you least expect it. When you have given up all hope underneath the blazing sun, the fantastic rise will break the glassy water before you. Cinnamon delights will float by as you are transported to a place of unimaginable wonder. When it's finished, you'll find yourself back on the bank, crazed and marveling at the sweet trembling of your hands, the thunderous gallop within your chest, and the good fortune of being alive.

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