The Chernobyl Ant Fly Pattern

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in what things should look like or how things ought to work that we ignore what does work.

The Chernobyl Ant is a perfect example.  At first glance, it looks terrible, like a child’s drawing of a cricket or the kind of thing somebody would come up with the first time they sit down at the tying vice.

Anglers overanalyzed it and the initial response was skeptical, at best.

But, if you turn the Chernobyl Ant over and look at it from a fish’s perspective, all of a sudden it all starts to make sense.  It’s damn near perfect.

Since those shaky beginnings, it’s become a go-to terrestrial pattern.  It’s big, easy to see, and the fish love them.

Description Of The Chernobyl Ant

This is a foam and rubber fly and resembles an ant, sort of.

The closed cell foam used floats like a cork and the eight rubber legs dance on the water just like a struggling grasshopper’s would.

This pattern was the product of Rainey Riding’s imagination after the Chernobyl atomic plant accident.

There are a lot of variations, so nailing down a definite description is hard.  Basically, the Chernobyl Ant is anything that’s big, foam, and looks kind of like an ant.

What Does the Chernobyl Ant Imitate?

The Chernobyl Ant does a good job of imitating pretty well any big, terrestrial insect – grasshoppers, ants, beetles, crickets.  It also makes a passable stonefly imitation.  I’ve even heard of people using it as a dragonfly pattern.

Ultimately, this is an attractor pattern, not a perfect imitation.  It’s not likely fool a fish by being a perfect replica, but then, it doesn’t have to.  It entices them by looking like a big, easy, meal.

History Of The Chernobyl Ant

This fly dates back to 1990, which makes a certain amount of sense – after all, who would have named something after Chernobyl before the nuclear accident?

It’s something of a group effort, and originated from a group of guides on Utah’s Green River, who were attempting to tie flies to resemble the river’s large, black, crickets.  A variety of deer hair and polypropylene cord were tried, but ultimately guide Rainy Riding’s foam flies that kicked off the design.

It was the addition of rubber legs by Allan Wooley, however, that really gave the Chernobyl Ant what it needed to succeed.

Credit for the name goes to Utah guide Mark Bennion.  According to fellow guide Greg Gaddis, when Wooley was asked for the fly’s name he responded “It doesn’t need a fancy name.  It’s just a damn ant.”

Bennion responded…

But it’s a F—— Chernobyl Ant!

When to Fish the Chernobyl Ant

The Chernobyl’s a terrestrial pattern.  Grasshoppers, crickets, and other land-bugs don’t intend to be in the water – they get there by falling or being blown in by the wind.

In still or slow waters, it’s recommended to fish this near the bank, in areas where large terrestrial insects are likely to fall.

I like this pattern the best in the heat of summer when big insects populations are high.

How to Fish It

This is one of my favorite goldeye patterns.  I fish it in deep eddies of big rivers, and I drag it back against the current a little bit.  I think that gives the sense that the bug is struggling after a fall.  Whatever it is, the fish seem to love it.

Don’t worry if this fly slaps down with a splash.  It’s not imitating a delicate, dainty fly.  It’s supposed to be big, meaty, confused, and scared.

In faster water I usually let it drift like a typical dry.  A little bit of action isn’t a bad thing, but I don’t overdo it too much.  It should still look natural, and grasshoppers, beetles and crickets aren’t great swimmers.

Variations of the Chernobyl Ant

Popular Chernobyl Ant Variations

There are a whole pile of effective Chernobyl variations out there.  Besides the expectedly wide variation in size and color, there are a couple noteworthy ones.


Of these, the most popular seems to be Will Dornan’s winged variation.  It’s not too different from the original, but has big, polypropylene wings.  These wings do a couple of helpful things.

First, they make it easier to see.  And second, they help the fly land upright and softly in the water – a feat which is harder than it sounds.  In fact, the wings help so much that people sometimes tie two sets on, one in the front and one in the rear.  It looks dumb from on top, but fish don’t seem to care.

It might surprise you, but getting foam flies to land correctly is a big issue. In fact, early versions of the ant used just a front wing, but many now sport a front and rear wing. Two wings make the fly even more visible, and a thick, dubbed body helps hold the foam in place and ballast the fly when it’s soaked with water. Dornan’s style ant is also an incredibly easy and quick fly to tie.

Willy’s Red Ant

The other notable variation is Willy’s Red Ant.  These usually have mylar dubbing and a krystal flash tail.  And, for some reason, they come in all sorts of colors, not just red.

Currier (who is also a good personal friend) says you can’t go wrong with whatever variation you pick…

Just shut up, tie it on, and catch fish

He says, though I should note many of the color variations in the Jack Dennis Outdoor Shop are there because he had them custom-tied.

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