Often, I think we as anglers tend to compartmentalize the hatches of various bugs. Caddis are for late summer, salmon flies for late spring and blue-winged olives for the shoulder seasons as winter either starts or ends.
Midges tend to fall into that category too, especially here out West in the Rockies. Tailwater fisheries that are open and productive year-round tend to turn into “midge fisheries” in the winter.
Just look at Pat Dorsey and his guide business on the South Platte River in Colorado. Dorsey is an absolutely astute angler, and puts his clients on great fish during the winter – all on midges. As the cold months slip away, though, we start to see guides like Dorsey move on from midges and into other, larger bugs.
Just because these other bugs are larger, though, doesn’t mean they’re as prolific. I reckon that, after caddis and mayflies, midges are probably the most abundant of aquatic insects in trout streams. I don’t have any concrete science to back that up, but I do know that a zebra midge works in almost every trout stream I’ve ever found.
So, when you think about it, we really should be fishing midges far more often than we currently do. I’m as guilty as anyone – I switch to mayfly patterns as soon as I see the first small baetis hatching on my local tailwaters. That’s more an act of hope than it is a sound fly fishing practice, but it amounts to the same thing – I’m moving on from midges.
Guide Tip: When winter fly fishing, midge patterns are a must. Fish them slow and deep. Trout won’t move far to grab food so your fly needs to practically tap them on the nose.
I’d encourage you to not move on from midges, and instead, keep them as a part of your year-round trout tackle. But which midges should you keep for solid year-round performance?
I’m glad you asked. Today, we’ll take a look at fifteen of my favorite midge patterns, the sizes and colors I recommend, as well as why you want them in your box every day of the year.
I’m not sure you can have a complete list of fantastic midge patterns without listing the venerable zebra midge. This fly just flat-out catches fish, and as a bonus, it’s incredibly simple to tie. If you tie your own, there’s no reason to have a shortage of zebra midges. I tend to stick to the time-proven colors of brown, red, and black. Silver and copper wire are good rib colors, and if you really feel like dressing it up, add brightly-colored beads as needed.
My favorite sizes are 16-22. Anything bigger than a 16, and you’re in chironomid territory. There’s nothing wrong with fishing a chironomid, obviously, but they’re not quite midges.
The Disco Midge has a ton of variations, but the general design that all of them follow is simple. You need a bead, some peacock herl, and some sort of flashy body material. Whether you wrap a clear tinsel over thread, or use a solid-colored tinsel locked in place with wire, it doesn’t really matter. The Disco Midge is made to be flashy and stand out – hence the name – and it’s another quick, easy tie.
Some folks mix it up by adding glass beads behind the tungsten bead, as well. That’s a good choice if you want a bit of extra weight to help the fly get down.
I like fishing Disco Midges in sizes 16-22. My personal favorite color combo is a pearl tinsel body with a nickel tungsten bead, and an ample amount of peacock herl.
The Rojo midge is a fly I have a bit of interesting history with. The first time I saw the fly’s name, I was tired, and pronounced it as “row -Joe,” much to the amusement of my fishing buddies. Since then, I’ve jokingly called this fly the Row Joe Midge.
It’s just a red-themed midge, and I’m a fan of how it looks and rides in the water. Sizes 16-22 are perfect for just about any trout fishing application. You can find Rojo midges for sale at just about any fly shop in the Rockies, as it’s a pretty popular fly out here.
Guide Tip: Looking for some great flies to tie and how to fish them? I’ve got a cool article that describes three effective flies to trout. The article is 3 Great Trout Flies to Try and Tie
This is a fly pattern I developed myself, and it plays on the themes of the Disco midge. Unlike other midge nymphs on this list, though, I use a straight-shanked dry fly hook for this pattern. The idea is to offer something that looks like a midge pupa, and those are generally tied on a straight hook.
But I differ from the standard design in a few ways. First off, I use a fairly large bead, followed by a hook-eye length of peacock herl. Following that is a body of some sort of solid tinsel – pearl and opal are personal favorites. Finally, I tie a hotspot at the bend of the hook, with bright red thread.
It’s a bit of an involved tie, but the Prom Pupa works really well during winter, I’ve found. I always have a few in my box year-round, and they’ve yet to really let me down.
I fish these in sizes 16-18.
This fly is one I first saw from Tim Flagler, of Tightline Productions. It’s tied on a 3x long nymph hook – something similar to the Umpqua 200R, and consists of only thread, extra-small wire, and the slightest touch of dubbing. The pattern is even easier to tie than the zebra midge, although I do tend to tie it in smaller patterns.
I opt to not put any extra weight on this pattern, as it’s intended to be fished below an already weighted nymph. Or, you can float it just below the surface to imitate a midge that is getting ready to emerge. I’ve had success fishing it both ways. I like fishing this in a size 18-24. The 3x long shank makes tying those smaller sizes a fairly simple task.
A good friend of mine came up with this fly, and while I’m sure it’s not uniquely his, I haven’t seen much else like it at fly shops, or in other anglers’ boxes.
Tied in an 18-28, it’s a simple pattern – black thread, some Antron yarn for the parachute post, and a tiny, thin piece of hackle. I use 50 or even 30-denier thread if I can find it, and you only need a few wisps of hackle to help keep this thing floating. Surprisingly, it’s relatively easy to see on the water, and one of the more effective flies for when trout are munching on bugs so small you can’t really tell what they are.
Guide Tip: Midge patterns are fast to tie. Once you get accustom to tying small you can quickly fill a fly box.
The Rainbow Midge is simply a variant of the classic Rainbow Warrior. Usually, the Rainbow Midge is tied with a larger wing case, sometimes in place of the bead that we’ve come to expect on the Rainbow Warrior.
This is a great attractor pattern, especially if you’re fishing new water and just aren’t quite sure where the trout are holding.
I typically fish these in sizes 16-20, simply because the hook gets a bit crowded with all the materials this fly needs when you dip below that size threshold. That said, you could easily tie up a pared-down version of this fly to function as an emerging mayfly.
I have a love-hate relationship with the RS2. I love it because the fly works so well, but it’s frustrating because it seems to work well for every angler except myself. I can count on one hand how many fish I’ve caught on an RS2, and that’s not a knock on the fly. Some days, I’ll watch people net 20 or more fish on this pattern, especially in the middle of the summer when water warms up and the fish hang low and deep in the heat of the day. A small midge zipping by them is an easy target for a meal.
This is best fished in sizes 18-24, from my observations. It’s an all-around solid fly, so don’t let my less-than-great experiences with it ruin your perception.
At first glance, the Blood and Rojo midges are essentially the same fly. But the specific style of blood midge I’m referring to uses plastic red tubing – or squirmy wormy material – as the body, with no bead, and no peacock herl to decorate the head. Instead, the Blood midge patterns I’ve found success with are all red bodied with thinly-dubbed black thorax sections.
I’ve found these to be incredibly effective during callibaetis hatches, when fish are taking emergers and seem to want nothing to do with your dun. It’s also a great stillwater fly from early spring into the fall, because midges are always active during those times, and it’s hard for trout to resist a midge that’s so obviously packed full of protein.
Top Secret Midge
The Top Secret midge is a favorite pattern of tailwater guides across the Rockies. Originally developed by Pat Dorsey on the South Platte River in Colorado, the Top Secret midge is a must for winter and early-spring anglers. It’s tiny, and the body is mostly thread, dubbing, and a bit of sparkly material. It’s simple enough to tie quickly, and you can add beads as needed or wanted for extra weight.
Personally, I’ve always liked fishing a Top Secret midge unweighted, but as the last fly in a three-fly rig. That position helps it sink, but the Top Secret midge will then bounce and careen in the current like a real emerging insect, which is one of the many things it looks like.
The name “Flashback Midge” refers to an awful lot of midge nymphs tied in generally the same style. In addition to a thread or dubbing body, a piece of flashy material – like opal tinsel or Flashabou – is secured to the back of the shank of the hook. Of course, it’s held in place with the same wire that’s standard fare on just about every midge pattern.
Guide Tip: While wading pick up a sunken log. Pull it apart to check out what bugs are available. Match the color and size, usually doing this will save a slow day.
One of my favorites is a Flash Back Green Caddis Midge. Check out the video above for fly fishing in the winter with midges.
Popular Flashback midge patterns include ones like the JuJu baetis and the WD40.
Black Beauty Midge
The Black Beauty is one of the simplest midge patterns there is, and it’s a slight variation on the midge pupa that I first learned to tie years ago. All you need for this pattern is a glass bead, dubbing, thread, and small wire. The dubbing and glass bead are used to create a head and thorax for the fly, while the thread and wire make up the rest of the body.
This is a simple tie, and it works surprisingly well. The pattern is meant to imitate midges in their pupal stage of development, something trout readily key in on.
I like tying these on a long-shanked nymph hook, like the Umpqua 200R. Tied in an 18-24, these flies can be deadly for even the most wary tailwater trout.
The Manhattan Midge is a slight variant on a few other midge patterns on this list, which isn’t surprising. There’s only so much you can do when tying up midge patterns. The Manhattan’s small wing, though, helps it look more like an emerging bug rather than a pupal one, so take that into account when tying it on.
I like these in sizes 16-20.
Matt’s Midge is the non-parachute version of the Parachute Midge I discussed earlier. It’s a dry fly pattern, perfect for midge hatches, and works exceptionally well when you’re trying to convince picky tailwater trout to eat.
These are a bit harder to see than parachutes, but they’re still a great fly. Use them in sizes 18-24.
No list of midges would be complete without perhaps the best midge dry fly of them all – the Griffiths gnat. This fly looks like a cluster of midges on the surface, which is enticing because fish want to get the most food they can while expending minimal energy. A clump of midges offers a bigger meal than a single one, which is why the Griffiths gnat works so incredibly well.
Check out the tying instruction below for the Griffith’s Gnat
I like these in a size 16-22.
These midges are among the best flies you can have when small bugs are out to play. Keep a good stock in your fly boxes, and you won’t be disappointed next time you run into a good hatch.
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.