The term “Midge Fishing” is both a specific and generic term when applied to fly fishing; specific when it’s speaking about a certain type of insect and generic when it’s speaking about a method of fishing. Midges are insects that belong to the Diptera family which includes a variety of two-winged insects including gnats, black flies and mosquitoes. Most midges are relatively small, with the exception of some lake midges, and the term has been applied to many types of small flies which are not technically midges. Fishing small flies is a specialized method of fly fishing and certainly one of the more challenging methods. The term midge has become synonymous with any small insect and many anglers consider any fly that is smaller than a size 18 as a midge.
Midges have a complete metamorphosis; egg, larvae, pupa and adult. The eggs are not important to the angler but the other stages are very important and the angler wishing to be consistently successful when fishing midges must have representatives of each stage.
The larvae are worm-like and occur in a variety of colors from blood red to coal black. I have had the most success with red and various olive colors but other colors may be more productive on the waters that you fish.
Like the larvae, the pupas come in a variety of colors and generally the thorax is a darker color than the abdomen. Both the larvae and the pupa have a segmented body which is easily represented by ribbing with thread or fine wire.
Midges that are hatching can be broken down into two classes; emerging and emerged. Emerging midges are midges that are partially out of or still clinging to their pupal shuck. Midges at this stage are nearly flush in the surface film and the rise types resemble a dry fly rise. However, when trout are feeding on emerging midges they will often ignore insects floating on the top of the film. My most successful method of fishing during a midge emergence is to use an adult midge imitation on the point of my leader and an emerger pattern on a short dropper behind the dry pattern.
Egg laying adults can be quite challenging. Some egg-laying midges dap the water when they are laying eggs and others skim the surface like ice skaters. Midges often form small balls as the males try to mate with the female. The famous Griffith Gnat has long been a favorite imitation when midges occur in clusters.
Fishing with small flies of any type presents many challenges to the fly fishing angler. Pattern selection is one of the significant challenges and there are a plethora of midge patterns but my experience indicates that the pattern choice is less important than fishing it correctly. Most true midge patterns, from larvae to adults, are very basic patterns. Adult midges do not have tails, the larvae are basically a thread-like worm without any legs or body divisions like an abdomen, thorax or head. The challenge for the fly tyer is to avoid over dressing midge patterns or any small insect imitation. My most successful larvae patterns are tied using only tying thread and fine wire for a rib. A very small bead may be used behind the eye to help the fly sink faster but I have had good success with just the thread and wire type.
Patterns to imitate the pupa are equally simple patterns but the thorax needs to be larger than the abdomen. The tricky part, for me, is getting the weight correct to allow the fly to float at a proper depth. I use different sized wire to rib the abdomen to attempt to get the fly to drift at the proper depth. I will also use various types of materials that readily soak up water allowing the fly to sink, and I especially like this type of tying method for flies that I intend to use for pupa’s that are just slightly below the surface film. By adjusting my position in relation to the place where I believe fish to be feeding I can achieve the proper drift. This is part of the challenge that I find enjoyable when using midges.
There are a plethora of emerging and dry midge patterns and I would urge anyone that wishes to fish with midges to experiment with a variety of patterns. I mentioned the Griffith Gnat earlier when discussing midge clusters and I would not be without this pattern when fishing midges; however there are many other midge patterns and I lots of them in my boxes. In recent years the use of CDC has made it possible to tie very delicate but extremely realistic imitations.
There are two things that anyone that wishes to fish midges needs to have – patience and more patience. The flies are small and the trout can be extremely picky when they are eating these tiny flies. Your patterns need to be very sparse and your casting and presentation skills need to be well refined. Get it right and the rewards can be great, get it wrong and nothing can be more frustrating than watch several large fish feeding at will but ignoring all your best efforts.