Fishing with midges is one way to all but guarantee yourself fish year-round. Unlike caddis, mayflies, or stoneflies, midges are consistently present in both nymph and dry forms throughout the year. Since they’re always around, trout are used to eating them.
What makes fishing midges a challenge is that they’re so stinking small. I have a few patterns that I tie down to a size 30, when I can find those miniscule hooks. Believe it or not, but I’ve landed my fair share of big trout on size 30 midge patterns.
Is it necessary to go that small to have success with midges? No, but I’d also say you’d be hurting your chances if you don’t carry at least some size 24s in your box.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. To give you a full picture of midge fishing, let’s start with identifying when you want to fish them. From there, we’ll dive into different setups, presentations, positions, tips, and tricks.
Guide Tip: If this Midge topic is all new to you, read this article: What is a Midge and How to Select the Best
When to fish midges
Generally, you can get away with fishing midges year-round. Trout may not always key in on the bugs, but I can vouch that they’ll work 365 days a year. In February this year, I was guiding in some cold weather. The fish weren’t moving for much at all, but a size 16 black zebra midge put enough trout in the net to make my clients happy. In fact, that midge was the fly that helped one of my clients – a nine-year-old girl – land her first fish.
Midges also fish well when there’s nothing else obviously hatching. While mayflies, caddis, and even stonefly nymphs are generally fairly active throughout the year, midges are always doing something. So if you don’t see fish up and feeding in the higher areas of the water column – which suggests that they’re eating actively emerging insects – then it’s a safe bet that midges are on the menu.
In all honesty, I fish midges almost every time I’m on the water. Whether it’s first thing in the morning, middle of the day, or at last light, I’ve caught plenty of fish on midges. These patterns just work throughout the year, and it’s worth always having some in your fly box to take advantage of how readily trout will snack on these.
One question I hear often as a guide from my clients is how to rig up for fishing midges. While I take care of the rigging when guiding, clients ask because they want to know how to fish midges when they get home.
I usually recommend a three fly system called a dry-dropper-dropper rig, but fishing three flies isn’t legal in every trout fishing state. If that’s the case where you live, then just roll with the dry dropper.
The key to successful midge fishing is light tippet and constant contact with your flies. This is where you’ll see a lot of influence from the Euro nymphing crowd, as that’s story of their mantra.
Let’s take a deeper look at what your rig needs to look like for fishing midge dry flies versus wet ones.
I default to fishing a two-fly system when I’m fishing midge dries. Unless the fish are outrageously picky, you’re in super-clear, shallow water, or the trout are exceptionally picky, two flies is a great way to fish midge dries.
I’ll usually tie something larger as my first fly – like a size 18 or 20 parachute Adams – so I have something I can see in most light conditions. One of the hardest things to master about fishing midge dry flies is seeing the stupid things. Half the time, you’re not looking for your fly so much as you are a rise in the general area where you think your fly is.
Guide Tip: I’ve got an AWESOME article on my favorite midge flies. Link – 15 Must Have Midge Patterns That Catch Trout
That’s why a two-fly rig works great. If you can tie on a larger fly to be an indicator, then tie two feet of tippet off that to a size 24 parachute midge, RS2, or other similar fly, you’ll be able to see the take – even if you can’t see your fly.
In these situations, I’m torn on what kind of leader and tippet to use. I size down to 7x for midge dry fly fishing, but I’m still not settled on whether I like fluorocarbon or monofilament the most. Fluoro obviously has the edge in invisibility, but its tendency to sink quickly doesn’t make it ideal for use in dry fly fishing situations. In fact, I know a few guides who refuse to fish fluoro when they’re taking clients out to throw dries.
On the other hand, monofilament isn’t as invisible, but it’ll float higher – and longer – than fluoro. So, I reckon this is more a choice predicated on where you’re fishing, and how picky you think the trout are going to be.
Finally, make sure you use a long leader. 12-foot leaders aren’t uncommon for me when I’m fishing midges. Usually, you’re fishing midges in clear, slow water, where fish have plenty of time to contemplate your offering before deciding to eat or not. A long, fine leader gives you a longer drag-free drift, which will hopefully result in you putting more fish in the net.
Nymphing with midges is what most folks think of when they think about fishing with midges. And I’ve caught my fair share of fish on midge nymphs.
Most folks fish these under a bobber, but that’s not the most effective way to fish midge nymphs. Since you’re usually using a size 18 or smaller hook, a big indicator doesn’t always show every take from trout. Those tiny flies can go in and out of a trout’s mouth, and not move your indicator.
This is where Euro nymphing makes it money, because it allows you to see so many of the takes that you miss when using an indicator. Even if you don’t Euro nymph – or just don’t enjoy it – you can still employ some of their techniques when fishing midge nymphs.
For example, my dry-dropper rig is a great way to balance the ease of an indicator rig, with the feel of Euro nymphing. Because I’m using a dry fly as my indicator, I’m using something that has less surface resistance than an indicator. That means when a fish takes either of my subsurface flies, I’ll see the movement of my dry fly. Often, I’ll feel the take too, because I haven’t knotted up my leader to fit through an indicator. It’s amazing how much feel you lose when tying on an indicator.
Now, I’m not knocking indicators entirely. They certainly have their place – on lakes, especially – but for river fishing with midge nymphs, I prefer to use a dry-dropper rig, or Euro nymph.
The tippet and leader you’ll want to use here doesn’t differ much from fishing midge dries. Fluorocarbon is your best friend when nymphing, and long leaders allow you to get better dead drifts across multiple current seams. Get used to high-sticking your drifts, since that’s one of the more effective ways to fish midge nymphs, especially in pocket water.
You can honestly fish midges just about anywhere. They’re such a ubiquitous bug that you’ll find them in nearly every body of water that has fish.
Guide Tip: Rivers are complex pieces of ecosystem. Heck a simple river bend has back eddies and rolling currents. Check out my article – Where to find trout in a river (Mystery Solved)
From lakes to streams, rivers to high-country trout ponds, midges are an ever-present food source. As I’ve mentioned before, I almost always run a midge on all my fly fishing rigs. They have yet to let me down. I keep a very large supply of zebra midges at the ready, so I can get fish the flies they’re most likely to eat.
Positioning and presentation
This is one aspect of fishing midges that I think trips up a lot of folks. Getting your flies presented properly is 90% of the battle when fishing anything, but it’s especially important when you’re fishing midges. Since these flies are so small, and so plentiful, fish aren’t going to move very far out of their way to eat them. This means that you need to put midges right in a trout’s feeding lane.
In rivers and streams, this usually means that you’re putting midge nymphs on the bottom. Placing them here is where most trout are likely to be holding, and therefore, most likely to eat your flies.
Guide tip: Sometimes you only get one cast. Learn some tactics for presentation this article – Fly Fishing Tactics – Learn the Art of Presentation
Getting flies down that deep requires you to use either heavy flies, split shot, or a combination of both. I prefer to use heavy flies because I’ve found that adding split shot to your leader generally reduces the amount of feel you have. As we discussed above, being able to feel every bite and tick of your flies bouncing through the water is key to catching more fish.
It’s also important to ensure that you’re not just putting flies down deep anywhere in the river. There’s a method to where you present your midges.
I like to target the areas where I know fish are likely to hold. That means any piece of calm water behind rocks, boulders, or other river features. It also means finding good riffles that aren’t moving too quickly, where fish are likely to hang out and eat the steady stream of bugs that’s delivered to them by the current.
Finally, big back eddies are great places to fish midges. These pools of calm water have almost no current, so trout can hold in them with little effort. That means they have to expend less energy to eat food, which makes them a bit more likely to move to eat your midges.
Difficulties fly fishing with midges
Most of the time, fishing with midges isn’t that difficult. You need thinner tippet, and to spot small flies, but there’s not any real special technique to it.
I will say that it’s a pain to try and spot your midge dry flies, especially if you’re fishing a hatch during an overcast day. Flat, white light makes it hard to see any dry fly, let alone a tiny midge imitation. To me, that’s the biggest stumbling block you’ll face when fishing midges.
You might also find that it’s harder to keep fish hooked with small flies. I’ve never personally had a problem with that, but I credit that to my growing up fishing with small flies. Folks who aren’t used to it will likely set the hook too hard, or not keep enough pressure on the fish to ensure the hook stays in place.
There are other issues you might face, but these are the general ones to be aware of when you set out on a midge fishing expedition.
Tips and tricks to midge fish
So, how can you mitigate the difficulties we discussed above?
It’s actually pretty simple.
For the issue of seeing your dry flies, you can either tie a larger dry on in front of it, to help you see when your smaller one gets eaten. Or, you can tie parachute posts in that are bright, ostentatious colors. Even on traditional patterns like an Adams, a bright pink post makes a huge difference in how effectively and easily you’re able to spot your flies on the surface.
Guide Tip: I’ve summarized a bunch of hooking setting techniques in this article – How to Set the Hook Fly Fishing
As for the issues with hooking fish with small flies – one thing I’ve found that makes a big difference is to learn to properly set the hook. It’s interesting how many folks I guide who claim to know how to set the hook, then end up ripping a trout’s face off.
A simple, but firm, lift up on the rod is more than enough to drive a hook point home. Keep good tension on the rod, never point the tip directly at the fish, and let the rod absorb most of the fish’s run and thrashing. Doing these things is a simple way to ensure you don’t lose too many fish.
The folks at Umpqua have a pretty good video on YouTube about approaching and using midge patterns check it out HERE.
Fishing with midges is one of my favorite ways to catch trout. Small flies are a unique challenge, but not impossible. They offer a great bit of diversity to anglers, and if you haven’t fished them before, you ought to start.
Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:
- How to Fly Fish for Bass with Poppers with 👈 Easy to catch and fun to fight, fly fishing for bass is amazing!
- How to Fly Fish for Bluegills 👈 These amazing fish are all over the USA. I like to call them the “Gateway Drug to Fly Fishing”
- How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout 👈 Find the cleanest, coldest, most beautiful streams and I’ll bet Brookes are present.
- How to Nymph Fish 👈 Step by Step details for setting up, presenting and catching trout with nymphs.
- How to Fly Fish for Salmon 👈 Image hooking into a +25 pound King Salmon in a river and your Fly Rod breaks! Seriously this happened to me on my first trip.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, guide, bamboo rod builder, and novelist from Utah. He’s the News Editor for MidCurrent, and a regular contributor to Hatch Magazine. Spencer has also written a book Learning to Fly. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.