Nov 26, 2012

Winter Fly Hatch: The Midge

Fishing for trout during the winter definitely has its challenges, but it can often be worth the effort. It might take a few more layers of clothing, a bit more trudging through snow, a little more ice chipping and a few more lost steps, but it all helps to craft the change of the seasons. The trout still live there and eat there.

Although most aquatic insects do tend to hatch from April – October, there are flies that hatch during winter months. Midges, otherwise known as Chironomids, hatch in coldwater temperatures. These flies can be extremely small which means that when trout get to feeding on them, they tend to eat a lot of them! There are many different types of midges, but most of them that are found in river habitats are quite small. Sizes 18-24 are pretty typical and yes, they can be hard to tie on as well as to see on the river. Fishing these small flies may necessitate using very small tippets, like 6X so as just to thread the eye of the hook. There are times however when these teeny flies hatch in mass and become clustered together on the surface of the river. A Griffith’s Nat mimics this sort of cluster and they are more manageable to fish in sizes, 16-18.

Many midge species, when they hatch, rise up to the surface of the river fairly aggressively. During this emergence stage, the larvae (which resembles a small worm) undergoes a significant change. The winged insect inside, begins to climb out the top and an air bubble is created which lifts the bug towards the surface of the river. These pupa, or emerger patterns can be deadly when fishing to feeding trout. Once reaching the surface film, these flies pull out of their pupa casing and spread their wings.

When observing fish during a midge hatch, pay careful attention to the rise forms. Although feeding fish during the winter tend to move more slowly, you can still detect whether the fish is feeding off the surface of the river or just beneath. Look for bubbles. Even though you might see the body of a trout break the surface, this doesn’t mean that it has eaten an adult midge. If no bubbles were left by the fish, then the fish is likely feeding just below and dining on emergers that are either rising or laying suspended in the water column.

A nice way to begin fishing to an active pod of fish would be to try a two fly setup. Tie on a Griffiths Gnat that you can see and that will float well. Using a 7.5 – 9 foot 5X leader should be fine in most circumstances. From the bend of the hook, tie on an additional length of 6X tippet between 12-20 inches to which you can tie your second fly. You can tie on a smaller dry fly here, but often the best bet is to go with a smaller emerger pattern – that way you cover more areas of the water column and more stages of the fly’s life-cycle. When dead-drifting these flies, you will likely not be able to see the trailer fly, so try and focus on the fly you can see and react when it shifts or submerges. However, often times if you see a rise-form in the vicinity, it may be to your trailer fly and you should set the hook gently.

Sometimes this works very well. They may be taking adult flies from the surface and be really keyed up to flies on a dead drift presentation. But they may grow weary of your patterns or your presentation after a spell. That larger Gnat as your point fly might start to turn them off. When their natural instincts start to get the best of you, try switching it up. Fish small and disregard the need to see your fly. Tie on a size 22, get a few more dead drifts and simply watch the water in the vicinity of your fly. You may find that it was simply your fly choice, however, if it still is not working – then try working your dead drifts into a swing presentation.

Swinging midge emergers is great because you don’t need to see the fly. You feel the fish when it takes. Keep in mind that setting the hook needs to be very delicate and should only entail a very slow raising of the rod tip. Furthermore, set your reel drag so that there is a little more give when you raise your rod tip, and do not pinch the line to your rod on impact. Light tippets need to be fished gingerly, especially when dealing with flies that are under tension.

Tie on one or two midge emerger patterns and work the water in a downstream approach. Normally, what we are looking for is a slow steady swing across the river. Cast down and across the river – just slightly beyond the feeding lane and then start to slowly lead your fly line towards your own shoreline. If they are still not eating, you can play around with the presentation before stepping down. You can speed the swing up, slow it down or even try raising the rod tip up once the flies are in the feeding lane. Sometimes, this lifting is just the ticket to get a response to an emerging fly. The nice thing about fishing midge emergers is that you can do both. You can dead-drift them, swing them, or even try both approaches during a single presentation.

Even in the depths of winter, you can find rising trout. Look for days that are a little hotter than average and plan to fish during the warmest part of the day, like early afternoon. Cloudy days are often the best, however, if the sun is out, think about fishing longer, smaller diameter leaders.

Have a good time,
Duffy & The Gorge Fly Shop

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