Welcome back to the discussion on how using midges will increase your success while fly fishing. In the previous blog post, WROC brought to light the importance of midges to Trout regardless of where one fishes. In this post, I will go into more detail on the importance of adult midges and how to find success when using them.
All anglers have been on a stream or lake at some time and have seen fish rising in abundance only to find few willing to cooperate. You stand there changing fly after fly trying to get a trout to take an interest with no success and you would swear that it appears as though trout are eating air because you cannot see the flies they are taking. First, let me state that this situation is very common and happens everywhere trout live. Fishing midge dry flies is the pinnacle of dry fly fishing as every element of the “game” has to be spot on. The fish are generally large, the flies are small, casts have to be precise and the drifts need to match the rhythm of the trout and be drag free. There is a “club” in the fishing world called the 20/20 club and basically it is a badge of honor and accomplishment. The meaning of the “20/20 club” is landing a 20+ inch fish on a size 20 or smaller pattern. Given the size of the fly in this club, the best way to accomplish it is fishing midges. Given this fact let’s start our discussion with the fly pattern.
Midge dries are small, and invariably, when you find trout rising to them they will be even smaller than you can imagine. Trout that are keyed into midges are selective, methodical and ultra-spooky as generally speaking, they are feeding just below the surface of the water and/or in very shallow water. Remember, the trout has to see the fly, and given the size of the midge, the trout need to be up close and personal so they capitalize their energy expenditure versus the gain of eating them. Because of their location in the water column, trout run into predator issues from Osprey and Eagles, so they are very alert and they will flee with careless casts and sloppy wading.
I run into midge situations all the time while guiding on the Big Horn River or on Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge (on the Green River) in SW Wyoming. Fishing to selective trout that are dialed into midges is challenging, but with all that plays into hooking them (wading, cast, drift, pattern, etc.) the rewards are immense. Typically, my clients will remember hooking one big fish on a midge over bringing a dozen to hand while pitching streamers or nymphing with a worm pattern. Several years ago, I watched a client spend 45 minutes casting to a very large Rainbow on the Big Horn River and finally put the size 22 pattern over the top of him from 40 feet away. The drift was spot on and the fly went right into the feeding lane of the fish at right time. The fish was in water that barely covered its back and upon the hook set, the Rainbow exploded and shot to the other side of the river. The 24” Trout jumped 6 times and tried to get that tiny hook to pull free but slid into the net minutes later. My client still talks about that fish as being one of his most memorable moments in his fly fishing career – not to mention that this guy has done it all from Steelhead to Salmon, Tarpon to Giant Trevally.
So, now that the adrenaline is flowing, what does a person need to get into fishing midges on the water’s surface? First, you need to have a wide selection of leaders and tippet material. I start with a 12’ leader and add 2 feet of tippet when I am fishing dry midge patterns. If that length spooks the fish then I can increase the leader or tippet by 2 feet and go all the way up to an 18’ leader/tippet combination. Casting a leader of that length is not the easiest thing to do so always try to start on the shorter end of the spectrum. Work towards longer lengths only when required to do so. Typically, I am using a 4X leader with 5X or 6X tippet. I rarely use anything less than 6X tippet because I don’t want to fight a fish to exhaustion; the risk of killing the fish by exhaustion increases the longer the fish is played. Equipment (rod and reel) will vary according to the water but a 9’ rod in the 4 or 5 weight category is perfect for most situations. I prefer a moderate action rod that will allow for slower, more subtle casts that let the leader lay out straight. Rods such as the Scott G2, Winston Air or the Echo Dry will do the trick and still have the backbone to land a fish quickly against a strong current. Fly lines should be dull in color – no neon orange or yellow fly lines in this game! I really like the High Performance Trout fly line by Airflo as it is neutral in color and really seems to cast well under all circumstances. Other lines I would suggest would be:
• Rio Gold
• Scientific Anglers Master V.P.T (Versatile Presentation Taper)
• Winston Trout
I prefer the weight-forward (WF) style of fly lines as opposed to the double-taper (DT) style because in the West we tend to have to battle with wind on a regular basis. Weight forward lines are superior under these circumstances. Even during calm conditions these lines can lay down delicate casts at distance. Double taper lines are very adept at stealthy casting but just don’t have the guts to handle the wind or the distance of casts in the West.
When wade fishing try to wade as close as possible to trout that are keyed into midges. However, be advised that these fish are wary, so trying to get under 30 feet from them gets really difficult at times and might be virtually impossible. I prefer to be downstream of a riser and off to one side or another so that I or my clients are fishing upstream to the fish at a 45-degree angle. This position allows the angler the best shot at getting multiple casts and/or drifts before a trout suspects something amiss and heads for the deep. Wading skills are critical in this game so remember, no bright colored clothing, stay low to the water’s surface and use vegetation to hide your presence. Avoid making too many false casts and go SLOW. A wading angler creates a “pressure” wave while wading and fish – especially fish in shallow water – will bolt for the deep when this pressure wake/wave is too much. Take your time and develop a plan to get into position without being sloppy and careless. Remember, rewards are big in this game! The last thing an angler will need in this game is a pair of polarized sunglasses. There are many brands to choose from but I would suggest Suncloud, Smith Optics or Costa. Your vision has to be on when midge fishing so don’t skimp in this area.
The next question I often get is, “how and where do I look for trout keyed into midges”? Midge-eating trout are going to be very slow on the rise – methodical, secretive and will barely be noticeable when taking flies from the surface. These are not the fish that chase Caddis on the water’s surface or slurp in fat Green Drakes. In fact, you can stare at a spot on the water and you will notice just the very tip of a trout’s nose, a slight “slurping/smacking” sound or just a slight wake (not even a rise ring) when trout are keyed into midges on the water’s surface – very similar to the rise of a trout on a Blue-Winged Olive hatch. On still waters (lakes and ponds), midge-focused fish can be just about anywhere, pay particular attention to the shorelines, weed lines and small inlets as this is where I have historically had the best luck in finding midge-focused fish. In rivers, look for midge-feeding trout along the edges of the river, side channels, tail outs of long runs or in back eddies and foam/scum lines. Most anglers that are not knowledgeable of midge-focused trout will simply walk or float by and never see that fish are actively feeding, so pay attention to these locations and you will quickly up your success. On a float trip several years ago, I happened to be floating with my father-in-law and my son and I pulled over along a run to stretch my legs. Fishing was slow so I decided to take a quick walk up a side channel to see if I could get some photos of some dragonflies that were buzzing around. This particular side channel was no wider than a drift boat is long and was probably 14 inches deep on average. The channel was a slow riffle that looked fishy so I sat down and was snapping a few photos when I noticed noses slowly plucking off midges all up and down the run. Photos of dragonflies were quickly forgotten as I hurried back to the boat, grabbed my 5 weight Winston and tied on a size 18 black hi-vis parachute post Klinkhammer; 8 inches behind it I attached a size 20 black parachute midge. Over the next hour, I proceeded to hook 4 fish that were all over 24” in length and snapped off one enormous Brown Trout that was clearly in the high 20-inch category. Basically, I was using the Klinkhammer as an indicator and watching for any rises to the midge pattern behind it. I saw the trout take the midge pattern most times but there were a couple fish that took the fly so slowly that I did not even notice until the Klinkhammer pattern was racing upstream.
Part 3 of this series will focus on the types of midge patterns and tying materials/techniques, for those that desire to create their own flies. Remember, midges should not be feared when encountered. Once an angler learns that success can be had when trout are keyed into them, the angler will surely start to up their odds on the stream. Check back next week for the final installment of this 3-part series. Thanks again and tight lines!