Mutations of the Chernobyl

Mutations of the Chernobyl

Since its successful debut a decade ago the Ant has continued to evolve

  • By: Skip Morris
David Dedmon did what any keen guide would do on his home water: He recommended specific fly patterns he'd come to trust. I did what I often do when I'm fishing with a guide: I listened to and considered his advice, then pretty much ignored it as I worked through a variety of fly patterns I needed to test. By the last hour of the last day of a week's fishing on Montana's Bitterroot River, I still hadn't even tried one of David's flies. Then, as I was waiting at the boat launch near a bridge for David to shuttle his truck from upriver, I noticed how good the water looked below the bridge.I hurriedly grabbed my wife's rod, which still bore the fly David had put on her tippet before the rainstorm. It was called the "Fat Freddie," and it was ugly as hell. Yes, it was an odd fly, but David believed in the Freddie. I tossed it up along some drowned brush. A few casts later the Freddie went down with a little splash. The brush could have been a problem, but the fish didn't make it one, and when he came in he was perhaps 17 inches, thick, and with as much brilliant orange and red splashed around his jaws and cheeks as any cutthroat I've ever seen. I wished then that I'd tried the Fat Freddie sooner. David knew. He told me that the Freddie was hot on the Bitterroot from the first time he tried it; it drew lots of violent strikes. The Fat Freddie is a variation on the original Chernobyl Ant and Chernobyl Ant-type flies that followed. These flies seem to both surprise and puzzle fishermen by how strangely effective they can be. I first tried the original black Chernobyl up in Canada on a cutthroat river where the trout seemed to want nothing but this peculiar and massive fly. When I wanted to learn more about the Freddie, I called David. He told me plenty, but he also asked fly tier Wes McKay, who ties most days right in the Flyfishing Center fly shop in Hamilton, Montana, to call me with a few technical details. What I got was an update on the state of the Chernobyl Ant and its variations, along with Wes' own techniques for making such flies durable and effective. The Fat Freddie is the creation of guide John Foust. Foust uses an olive adhesive-backed felt for the underside of his fly. The top is thick brown foam sheeting. Wes gets the pre-cut foam-felt bodies directly from Foust, but Wes and I agreed that it wouldn't be difficult for the average tier to glue some felt to foam sheeting with a flexible waterproof glue. One laminated sheet would last a long time. Chernobyl bodies with dark foam on top and various colors of foam underneath are increasingly popular. And so, too, are legs made from all sorts of wild new rubber-strand--speckled, striped and even embedded with metal flakes. A wrapping of ostrich or short-fiber hackle along the hook's shank, beneath the foam, is also becoming common on Chernobyl Ants. Wes finds that all Chernobyl-type flies need some work to keep their bodies from twisting around on the hook, so he likes to bind the body not in the standard two places, but in three. He takes this a step further by building a foundation of seven--yes, seven--layers of 3/0 thread along the shank. He also coats this thread base with head cement just before binding the foam on top of it. If he is adding hackle or herl, he puts down the coating of cement first, winds the herl or hackle, then pulls down and binds the foam. This is a man who wants his Chernobyls to be durable. I've determined through my own experience that a little glue can be a blessing with foam flies of all sorts--really tight thread-turns can weaken or cut pliant fly-tying foams, so firm turns and cement are a better approach to locking foam down to a hook. I've also found that making the thread bands on Chernobyl patterns a little extra-wide not only helps secure the body but also helps the legs spread properly. Big though they are, Chernobyl Ants are typically dark and low-riding, and therefore can be hard to spot on the water unless they have something bright on their tops. So most tiers bind on a rectangle of bright foam, a short wing of bright elk or deer hair, or a tuft of bright yarn.