The History of the Chernobyl Ant

By Don Fine

Once upon a time (actually 28 years ago) on Utah’s Green River, a group of fishing guides were tying flies to imitate large crickets. Initially their cricket patterns (the great grandfather of the Chernobyl Ant) were made of deer hair and polypropylene yarn. Perhaps the first major advancement in the lineage of the Chernobyl Ant was the use of foam for the fly body. This forerunner incorporated Emmett Heath’s foam body, rubber-legged Mutant Ninja Cicada and Butch’s Wiggler (a large Renegade with black hackle and rubber legged tails). Mark Forslund took the fly one step further and created a large foam-and-hackle ant called the Black Mamba.

chernobyl ant fly

The next major advancement in the Chernobyl lineage was made in the Summer of 1990 when Allan Woolly substituted rubber legs (for hackle) which made the fly a tremendous success. At that point the fly had no name, until the evening that a group of guides were tipping a few brews. One of the guides noted that the fly didn’t need a name, “It’s just an ant”. To which (guide) Mark Bennion replied, “But it’s a [……] Chernobyl Ant”. Quickly thereafter the success of the Chernobyl Ant spread, especially when it won the prestigious Jackson Hole One-fly Contest.

Perhaps the key to its success is that the Chernobyl Ant can be tied larger, smaller, and in different colors to imitate virtually any terrestrial insect; larger patterns imitate frogs and even rodents. The Chernobyl Ant or its descendants have captured the attention of various fish species around the world including snakehead and freshwater dorado.

So what are the factors that make the Chernobyl Ant a success? Fly tying expert, Scott Sanchez gives credit to the wing of the fly; which is highly visible to the fly fisher (rather than to the fish) and which makes the fly land upright and soft upon the water. My amateurish opinion is that the legs contribute as much to the flies success (as a lure) as its other design features. Having compared a variety of nymph, streamer and terrestrial patterns with and without legs, invariably the presence of legs which impart life to the fly step up the number of takes in my fly fishing. Keep that in mind the next time you sit down at the vise to tie a new (or old favorite) fly pattern.

Portions of this article were derived from “Happy 25th Birthday Chernobyl Ant” (by Scott Sanchez) American Angler, May/June 2016.