by Kirk Deeter
Want to make a New Year’s resolution that will absolutely, positively turn you into a better fly fisher in 2011? I have one: Increase your knowledge of midges and midge fishing, and you’ll catch more trout, guaranteed.
Why? Well, for starters, midges (insects of the order Diptera, most of which are in the family Chinonomidae) account for over half of the bugs in the water you’re likely fishing… lakes, rivers, ponds, streams… fast current, slow current, no current… all included. So trout are naturally keyed into eating them. Midges are also all-season, all-weather bugs. If you go fishing now (and through the winter), odds are, you aren’t going to find any grasshoppers on the banks, and rarely will you find mayflies hatching, but you’ll find midges.
In fact, odds are, wherever you go fishing, whenever, midges are obvious, right in front of your nose… all those little “flecks” flying around above the river? Midges. Well, “obvious” maybe isn’t the best word, because midges are tiny little suckers…but that’s not always the case. Midges can be larger than you think. They’re grouped together because of their shape (particularly wing shape), not necessarily their size.
I often get asked, “How do you fish a size #24 midge dry fly? I can’t even thread the tippet through the eye of the fly.”
My answer is… I don’t fish size #24 midge dry flies. My favorite midge fly is a zebra midge, which I tie myself with a tungsten bead, using black thread and thin silver wire (only three ingredients) on a size #16 scud hook. I think the zebra midge, made popular in the mayfly-free zone of Lees Ferry in Arizona, is one of the easiest flies to tie (along with eggs and San Juan worms…why anyone would buy any of those patterns is beyond me), and certainly one of the five deadliest bugs in my box. I don’t leave home without them.
Last time I fished a major midge hatch on the Bighorn river, I didn’t throw micro-mini flies, I threw a size #14 Blue Dun, and let the midge naturals cluster and raft on my fly, making a “meatball” the trout couldn’t refuse.
When I lake-fish, rarely will I go without some midge in some form, at least part of the time. When I’m fishing tandem nymphs in technical water, a midge (like a Black Beauty) is almost always in the mix.
I could go on and on. The bottom line is, learning basic nymph fishing is like going to elementary school. If you want a PhD, it’s time to get focused on midges.
For my money, the best primer on midges is Modern Midges: Tying and Fishing the World’s Most Effective Patterns, by Rick Takahashi and Jerry Hubka. “Tak” and Jerry are in their own league on this topic, and their beautiful book not only talks about why, where and how to fish midges, it also includes a fantastic library of midge patterns to keep near your tying bench. I highly recommend it.