Anglers can all recant tales of days that nothing in their tackle box worked. The conditions seemed perfect to catch fish. Whether it was a beautiful hatch right at sunrise or dropping temperatures at dusk, optimism was through the roof. The fish are flying out of the water to grab the flies. You tie one on that seems to match and toss it upstream. Nothing. The fish seem to be hitting everything but your fly. Don’t worry, there is a potential solution for this anger.
What is a Midge?
The easy answer is they look like mosquitoes, but don’t bite. They are always going to be in the river no matter what time of year. They won’t be any larger than a size 16 hook.
When Should I Use a Midge Fly?
There is never a bad time to use a midge. For most trout, their diet is nearly 50 percent midges. Since they are so prevalent in the winter, trout feast on them year round. If you want to tackle some water in the winter, go ahead and throw a midge. It’s going to be a great searching fly.
The biggest thing with midges is knowing their life cycle. It only takes a couple weeks for a midge to complete its life cycle and there are flies to represent all stages.
The first of four stages is the larvae. This stage is going to require anglers to fish a nymph. A midge larvae has a segmented and curved body. They’re often skinny and can be found in multiple colors. Some of the most common are going to be red, gray, brown and black. These flies are small and only range from size 16 to 22 hooks.
Don’t overlook the larvae flies. They can be extremely successful. The larvae will bury themselves in the riverbed. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself snagged quite often, but once the proper drift takes place, be ready.
How to Fly Fish a Midge Larvae
Those new to fly fishing may not have heard of Czech Nymphing. There are rigs created specifically for Czech Nymphing, but it can be done with a standard rod as well. The key is having the least drag possible. These nymphs need to bounce along the bottom.
Learn exactly HOW to Czech Nymph in this Article: Experimenting with Czech Nymphing
It can be a frustrating tactic because you’ll only get a few yards of quality drift, but done well it is one of the most successful techniques. For newer anglers, find slower moving water to practice. Cast 7-10 yards upstream, mend the fly line behind your leader and start stripping. Hold the rod as high as your can so the fly can do all the work getting down stream. As soon as the fly is a couple yards past you, reload and cast again up stream. Don’t be afraid to cover a lot of water since you’re only getting a few yards of solid drifts at a time.
If you’re fortunate, the trout will smash the fly and make it an obvious hit. However, many of the strikes will look like snags because the trout stop it and slowly swim away. You may have some premature hook sets, but you’ll be able to tell the difference fairly quickly.
Read how to setup a Dry Fly with a Dropper in this article from Guide Recommended. Rigging up a Dry Fly with a Dropper
Often, anglers will fish midge larvae in a two-fly system. They’ll tie on a pupa, which is the second stage, because it floats higher and let the larvae sit lower in the water column. This a great way to determine which stage the fly is in. If you get more strikes on the pupa, take off the larvae and vice versa.
The second stage of a midge’s life is the pupa stage. Emerging flies are in the pupa stage. These flies have an air bubble that they create to help them emerge. These are going to sit near the surface. They are in a u-shape and are starting to look like full-grown flies.
How to Fish Midge Pupa
Fishing this type of fly requires a lot of finesse. Learning how to fish it can be extremely frustrating. When fishing these patterns, look for places where the water changes. Try faster water that transitions into slower pools or vice versa. This is where the fish are going to be feeding. Only fish emergers if you find groups of feeding fish.
The other difficulty with fishing emergers is getting them to sit at the right depth. Most will sit right below the surface, but it may be necessary to be a bit lower due to where they are in the water column. This takes some extra observation on the anglers part. If you see fish tails coming out of the water, then go ahead and keep the normal height of the emerging flies. If they’re a little lower, throw on a split shot to nail the correct depth.
Similar to the nymphs, the strikes will be less forceful. The size of the flies are most likely 18-24. Cast into the faster moving water and let it float into the slower water. Right at the transition are when the fish are going to strike.
The final stage for the midge is the adult stage. These are going to be your dry fly stage. Fish a smaller mosquito type pattern. These flies are sitting on top of the water long enough to dry off their wings and take flight. These flies are going to be extremely small and can be intimidating to fish, but don’t worry. If you select the right fly during a hatch, the trout will strike it almost every time it hits the water. Watch for that swirl near your fly and strip set!
How to Fish Adult Midges
The quality drift isn’t going to last too long, unless you find slower moving water. Dry fly fishing in faster water is difficult. It can be tough to identify the takes, but again, with more practice you’ll be able to see the fly line jerk.
Cast upstream diagonally and do a quick mend to keep the fly line behind the leader. More often than not, the fish are going to hit the dry early. Within the first few seconds of it being on the water, you can expect to have a fish. If not, let it complete its drift across your body and then recast.
How to Rig a Midge for Fly Fishing
There are numerous ways you can rig a midge pattern for fly fishing.
If you’re fishing a nymph pattern it’s possible to tie one on and only fish with that. It’s a difficult method for beginners, but tying on an indicator will help you identify when the fish strike. Another option when fishing a midge nymph is to tie on a dry or emerger and let the midge be the dropper. Dry-dropper is a common phrase in the fly fishing community. The dry fly acts as the indicator so instead of having a bright “bobber” your dry fly is an option for the fish to strike. This rig is great for searching the water columns.
Emerger patterns are going to the most difficult to fish of the three. Trying to identify the proper depth is extremely difficult. You may have to tie on a split shot or let it sit in a natural way. When you are fishing with an emerger, tie on light tippet. If you can use 6x or 7x this is going to be best. We want the fish to only see the fly and not anything else.
When fishing a dry pattern, the lighter tippet is best. It can be intimidating to fish with such a delicate setup, but don’t worry. Go ahead and practice those casts. Chances are the light tippet with get knotted and you won’t lay the fly down as delicately as you would like. However, with enough practice, it’ll all come together.
Favorite Midge Flies for Fly Fishing
As far as selecting flies, pay attention to the feeding patterns of the trout. If you don’t see any rises or trout near the surface, go ahead and throw on the nymph pattern. If you are seeing some rises, tie on the emerger and if you see a ton of rises, tie on the dry pattern.
Favorite Midge Nymph pattern:
Zebra Midge- This represents a chironomid, a common midge. These can go anywhere from size 16-22.
Hare’s Ear Nymph- These are fairly standard nymphs, but always do the trick. Again, you’ll find them in size 16-22.
Crzch Mate Nymph- this is another great option for those looking into Czech Nymphing and will fall between 18-24.
Favorite Emerging/Larva Pattern:
Disco Midge Larva: This is going to be one of the blood red patterns that work for emergers. It’s a bit heavier so it’ll sit lower in the water column, but it will still find fish.
La Fontaine Sparkle Pupa: This pattern will sit directly below the surface and has caught me all sorts of fish. It’s going to be a brownish green and found in a size 14 or 16.
Favorite Midge Dry Flies:
I Can See It Midge Fly: This pattern is great. It has a splash of color and also imitates the dark midge pattern.
Midge: This is a standard midge pattern, but the trout can’t resist. A recent trip out west to Wyoming put me through six of these flies because of all the action they received. Even when they were fraying, the fish kept attacking.
Griffith’s Gnat: This is another common midge pattern that is going to be necessary to have in your box. It’s a bit stiffer than the traditional midge pattern, but the fish love it.