McMurray Ant- by Charlie Dickson

featured, Step-by-Step Tutorials — By on January 5, 2011 1:45 pm

Here is Charlie Dickson’s take on Ed Sutry’s McMurray Ant. This pattern was developed in the 1960s as Ed witnessed trout in a feeding frenzy over ants on a stream in his hometown of McMurray Pennsylvania. The body construction and fly actually hold a patten, and after Ed’s passing in the late 90s and Rod Yearger (as far as I know the only person licensed to produce the bodies) passing in 2008 the bodies have all but disappeared from the commercial market. A few different methods have been used to re-create this pattern, but Charlie’s is the closest we have seen to the original.

Hook : 14 – 22 (dry)
Thread : Black, red or brown.
Body : Two pieces of balsa wood joined with monofilament. Painted black, red or brown.
Hackle : Dry fly hackle to match the balsa

I have found that for this fly it is best to start with a 1/8inch square stick of balsa wood.  Grab the stick by one end with one hand and wrap a piece of fine sand paper around the other end and begin to spin the stick against the sand paper and round off the square edges creating a cylinder. Continue to sand the stick until the cylinder is the proper size for the ant you are making.

With a very sharp razor blade, cut off two segments of the cylinder. One for the ants head and one for its abdomen.

Poke a hole through the center of each segment with a piece of wire or a fine needle.

Thread one of the segments onto a piece of tippet. 2X to 4X works well depending on the size of the ant. Then burn one end of the tippet and form a small ball on the end.  Pull the tippet back through the segment with enough pressure to pull the ball into but not through the segment.

Thread the second segment onto the tippet.  Cut off the excess and burn a second ball onto that end of the tippet.

Pull the tippet back through the segment with enough pressure to pull the ball into but not through the segment.

Completed body, ready to paint.

Apply paint to the segments in the proper color to match the ant you are imitating. In this case black.

Put a hook in the vise and start some thread on the shank, again in the proper color to match the ant you are imitating.

Tie the balsa wood ant body you created onto the top of the hook shank.

Tie in a hackle in the proper color to match the ant you are imitating.  Wind the hackle in between the body segments.

Tie it off, trim the excess hackle and whip finish for your completed fly

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Rating: +9 (from 11 votes)
McMurray Ant- by Charlie Dickson, 6.0 out of 10 based on 3 ratings


  1. Zach says:

    That is an awesome ant pattern. I will by tying a few of those for the summer trout fishing.

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  2. larrypauley says:

    i like this ant pattern looks like it will do a find job

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  3. tuckaloe says:

    What type of paint is used? Is that Testors model paint that I can pick up at the hobby shop while buying the balsa?

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  4. NYCflyangler says:

    Now that the bodies for this pattern aren’t commercially available, tying this fly seems to be more trouble than it’s worth.

    It looks to be rather time consuming to make the balsa body sections. It also looks awful fragile. The balsa body sections look like they can easily be popped off the monofilament. The primary attraction to the McMurray ant was that they were pre-made and just needed to be tied onto the hook and hackled.

    It seems quicker and easier to make an ant by wrapping a strip of closed cell foam to make the body sections. Or the old time tested technique of simply dubbing the body. Has anyone tried taking some nylon monofilament and heating the ends to make them contract into a ball and then dunking them in paint?

    The time of the McMurray ant has frankly seems to have come and gone.

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  5. Otto W. Beck says:

    Dear Mr. Dickson,

    Rod Yerger claims a lot of things – he’s a rotten liar if he claims to be the only one licensed to produce the bodies. I’m the only one who can claim that. I have a video, written instructions (by Ed) and his original tools. I was a personal friend of Ed and for year bought his entire production of balsa bodies. Rod Yerger always tried to find out how to mass produce the bodies. Ed never told him. When Ed was dying, he asked me to visit him as he wanted to pass all the info to me.
    Otto W. Beck

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  6. Luke Albanese says:

    Dear Mr. Beck,

    Are you interested in sharing these secrets in the fishing/flytying comminity. I would love to fish Ed Sutryn’s great patterns.

    Kind regards

    Luke Albanese

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  7. Otto W. Beck says:

    Dear Mr. Albanese,
    I certainly will. Give me some time to collect my notes. I’ll try to clean up the video and post it on youtube. The process is rather simple but geared to doing several dozen of one size at the time.

    To my knowledge, Ed was probably the only person who ever went to war with a fly rod. Most young men going to war have other things on their minds than hoping to catch a German Brown Trout.

    I have a picture of Ed holding his rod and a brown trout. If I can figure out how to post it on this site, I will.

    Ed was attached to the 45th Infantry Division during WWII where he commanded an artillery company. He was highly decorated and reached the rank of Lt. Colonel. After the war, Ed settled in McMurray, Pa. and became known for his invention of the McMurray Ant.

    Ed died on August 5th 1999 and was buried in Indian Town National Cemetery.

    Otto Beck

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  8. Tim Barker says:

    Holy Moly!!!…I haven’t seen these in years…I remember being able to purchase the body sections back in the early 80’s…I believe they were from Creative Sports Ent. I still have a bunch of these guys in black and black & red in my terrestrial boxes…THANKS !!!

    Tim B.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

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  9. A Ripepi says:

    Hey All-
    A friend of mine sent me this link.
    I tied McMurray Ants for Mr. Sutryn throughout high school.
    He would have rejected that pictured fly as:
    “too much hackle, make ’em sparse”
    I certainly heard that enough times.
    He sent me the bodies, hooks and hackle already sized and I tied them by the hundreds of dozens after homework was done.
    He was a class act, as is Mr Beck.
    A Ripepi

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  10. Barry Watts says:

    I would like to know if Mr. A. Ripepi would like to tie and maybe sell me a few dozen of the black ant in the most popular size which is probably size 16. How would I go about contacting him?

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  11. Clint Brumitt says:

    Why couldn’t you tie the pattern with foam cylinders.
    Cut the foam to size, thread the mono. I would rough up the mono ends with fine grit sand paper and put on a Zap a gap glue. Slide the foam over the glue. Measure the second piece and you are ready to go.
    You could have multiple foam pieces threaded and make a series of bodies, one right after the other.

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  12. Clint, why not simply place the pre-cut foam cylinder on the top of the hook shank, wrap thread around it to compress it tight to the hook, wrap a hackle around the middle & call it a day? Sure works for me.

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  13. Tam says:

    The claims for the balsa ant were pretty tall. My sense is that when Fly Fisherman, at the time magazine of record for fly fishermen, made a claim that a fly was totally revolutionary they were right for me about half the time, and may have been dead right in other parts of the country. The stand out example was Wolly Bugger about which they did a whole article. At that point there was pretty much just FF, and they had one fly tying column, and if they did a whole article on a fly it was a big deal. Now every month there are probably a book’s worth of flies coming out and they can’t all be wooly buggers except I suppose you do occasionally get a lot of variants.

    Of course some of the flies like the Aztec don’t make much of a splash today.

    So the MM ant was supposed to be really special, and we had foam, thread, and fur then too. Plus the article back then did give exactly these instructions except one die cut the parts using a small brass tube, which eliminates most of the trouble. I don’t like painting flies it is toxic and messy, so I never made too many.

    The silhouette is particularly clean, I prefer to use a few legs of deer hair. The paatern floats for ever. You can roll cast them or draw them into place. You can cast them on a mountain lake and put that rod down, then fish a leech while waiting to see what the fish strike first. There really isn’t anything like them. In reality they have probably as much trouble in the tying as a making the eyes for a crab fly and then coating the fly with epoxy, with none of the tying in the middle.

    The other thing is while there are a small range of ant flies, there are thousands of mayfly variations or caddis, etc… So it having say 4 ant variations does not seem excessive.

    I think on argument against the fly is that it isn’t really a fly, like all the others that just use a bead for a roe fly or a molded foam bit for a body. It may not be great fly tying wise, but it can be useful and fun.

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  14. cbrian moran says:

    gentleman ,some styles of ants are effective, the balsa mcmurry ant is worth it ,besides the pattern requirements will broaden your tying ability’s, if there was only one ant ,a high floater for me to ever use again it is hands down Eds mcmurry ant a true trout catcher . thank you

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  15. jim ritter says:

    I just read the comments for the McMurry ant fly, is
    there any chance getting some of the info from Otto
    Beck on how he mfg’s these flies. Any help available
    would be appreciated, thank you.

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  16. John Bonasera says:

    I think maybe some are missing the point, and that is to fish a classic pattern as it was intended. While there may be easier, faster ways to make a similar pattern the charm of the McMurray Ant is that it is made of balsa wood and hand painted. If the object in fishing was to make it fast and easy, playing an online fishing game would suffice!

    I applaud the guys who take the time to continue making these and fishing them, so many historical patterns are lost and getting lost as the years pass.

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  17. Lorenzo Swanson says:

    Love it. Awesome small hook that looks like Mustad 9706 type. Where to find pictured gold hooks?

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