Chernobyl ant fly pattern was born on Utah's Green River
Published: January 18, 2013 10:58AM
Updated: January 7, 2013 02:04PM
image

Spurred by a post on the Sportsmen for the Green Facebook page I'm revisiting a story I did back in October of 1996. Charlie Card, the infamous Charlie Card I should say, was hosting a guess-the-number of flies contest during the Fly Fishing Show in Denver last week. I was in Denver for the Reel Recovery board of directors meeting and we headed over to the show Saturday afternoon. I was pleased to find Charlie, well mostly his cool hat, staffing the booth. Unfortunately, a bad karma seeker stole a significant portion of the 450 or so flies before the show ended. The post on Facebook asked if anyone had stories about the orgins of the Chernobyl.
Here is what I wrote in 1996. The picture is just one of the thousands of versions of the Chernobyl ant called the Chubby Chernobyl.

Date: October 29, 1996 Edition: Final Page: D1
The Chernobyl Ant Idea for Big Lure Was Hatched On Green River; Biggest Fly This Side Of Chernobyl

BRETT PRETTYMAN

THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

Like most great inventions, fly-fishing patterns are usually created by desperate people. Such is the case of the Chernobyl ant.

"Fishing on the Green River really slows down in August and September,'' said fishing guide Mark Forsland. "I needed something to catch fish.''

Forsland tied a piece of black foam to a No. 6-size hook, tapered it at both ends and "way overhackled it with black hackle.''

It was 1991 and guides on the Green were already experimenting with foam cicada patterns, but using hackle was a new idea. So was the size. A 6 hook is about 2 inches long. 'I know that trout love segmentation,'' Forsland said. "I figured making something big couldn't hurt.''

As one guide put it, "The flies guides were using before that were the size of peas. This was the size of a shelled peanut.''

On one of those make-a-million-casts, late-summer days, Forsland was floating one of his favorite clients. Fishing was slow and, during a lunch break, he asked Dick Peterson if he would mind using a new fly. "I told Dick that I had this really silly-looking fly I wanted him to try,'' the guide recalled.

They were fishing a hole known as Downtown Browntown when Peterson made his first cast with the huge foam fly. "As soon as it hit the water, this big brown came from 6 feet away and just a hammered it,'' Forsland said.

The anglers laughed at the stupid fish and considered it a fluke. But they were hardly laughing when, six miles later, Peterson had landed 27 fish and missed numerous others. Forsland asked his client to name the fly. He came up with Black Mamba.

Back at guide camp, Forsland told his story and no one believed him until Allan Woolley and Stu Handy went fishing with him and watched as he reeled in fish after fish.

Woolley, known for his creative fly tying, was intrigued by the Mamba and took it one step further. Instead of hackle, Woolley used rubber legs to give it a more antlike look. "I just called it the great big foam son-of-a-b,'' said Woolley, who now resides and guides out of Victor, Idaho. "I like the way rubber legs wiggle. It gives it such a lifelike effect.''

Then one day, Handy was fishing with the adapted Mamba when another guide, Mark Bennion, asked him what he was using. "I told him it was a huge ant,'' Handy said. "Mark took one look at it and said, `That's no ant, that's nuclear. There's no ant that big in the world. That's direct from Chernobyl.' ''

And a name was born -- referring, of course, to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear-power-plant explosion in Ukraine.

Although there are various patterns -- the latest is a three-part fly with rubber legs, a quick-sight and glimmer chenille underbody -- the Chernobyl ant is still popular. So popular, in fact, that it was the favored selection at the famous One Fly Fishing Tournament in Jackson Hole, Wyo., the past two years.

Ants aren't the dominant food source for fish on any river in the West, but the Chernobyl has worked in the Uinta and Boulder mountains, Lower Fish Creek, Huntington River, Strawberry Reservoir, the Lamar River in Yellowstone and, of course, the Green.

"It taps into a instinct that makes fish pounce,'' Forsland said. "Something hits them and there is no turning back until they have it.''

Others believe fish just can't resist such a large piece of food, especially in waters where competition with other fish is high.

"It has an unmistakable silhouette,'' Woolley said. "Fish look up and they know it's an ant. Sometimes, something that big will bring up fish when other flies won't.''

Woolley uses it on the Henry's Fork, the South Fork of the Snake and the Teton River. "The Chernobyl has really been a novelty here,'' he said. "I was amazed because everybody says how hard Henry's Fork is to fish. On a sunny day with a little wind, the fish there go ballistic for it.''

But Woolley warned, "As more and more anglers use it, the fish will get smart on it. Just like any pattern, the fish will figure it out.''

And, as with all inventions, others will change one small detail and call it their own. "Some guys are fishing with a pattern they call the Slough Creek [Yellowstone] Cricket,'' Woolley said. "Basically, its just a Chernobyl.''

While the Chernobyl ant is popular among fly fishers in the American West, others don't see the humor in its name. This summer, a Green River guide was floating several Russian anglers who wanted to know the name of every fly they were using.

After putting on a Chernobyl pattern, he tried to avoid telling them its name. But they continued to prod him. When he finally whispered it under his breath, the anglers didn't talk to him for more than an hour.