KW Morrow, White River

June 14th, 2004

Fishing the Zebra Midge: An Alternative Approach
By KW Morrow (silvermallard)

A Zebra Midge can be an absolutely devastatingly attractive nymph in slow and medium flow trout fisheries, but many fly anglers find nymph fishing in general to be a great mystery. And many competent nymph anglers find the Zebra Midge only marginally successful. As with most flies, success with this diminutive nymph is all in the presentation. And it doesn't produce phenomenal results until you understand what it is supposed to imitate and how the fish feed on that stage of the particular insect. I have a lot of success with Zebra Midges. So I thought I'd use this week's column to discuss this tiny fish-catching dynamo.

The Zebra Midge is a nymph that imitates midge pupae and/or emerging midges. Herein lies the first clue to how to fish them. The Zebra consists of nothing more than a size 16-24 shrimp/scud hook wrapped in colored thread and a copper or silver fine wire with a 2 or 3mm tungsten bead head of matching metallic finish. It is very simple to tie, durable, and pretty easy to fish once you know how. Colors that have worked well for me include rust, red, black, and olive.

Start with the hook and add the bead head. Next, affix your thread to the hook shank behind the bead and wrap back to a point on the shank about 1/3 of the way down the bend. Tie in your fine wire. Now wrap thread forward and build a taper that bells toward the bead head. Bear in mind that you are imitating a midge pupa. Less is more. Try to see how little thread you can actually use and still achieve a tapered look. Now you wrap the wire around the thread body from the bend to the bead head, creating a ribbed effect. Tie off the wire and clip the excess. Add a coat of clear, hard, fast-drying nail polish or coat with clear epoxy. Let it dry and you're ready to fish. (refer to FAOL Fly of the Week: Zebra Midge)

I fish Zebras below a very small, football-shaped strike indicator. Takes can be quite light, so you want to go with the smallest indicator that will float with the weight of the fly. That's pretty small. Affix the indicator 12 to 18 inches above the fly and no more. This is one of the primary differences between the way most nymphs are fished and the way a Zebra Midge fishes most effectively. With most nymphs you want to bounce along the bottom, and your depth is set according to the water depth. Generally speaking, you rig a bottom-bumping nymph 1 times the depth of the water you're fishing. The Zebra Midge is most effective when fish are actively feeding on emerging midges. You will see the fish rolling in light current as they take midge pupae they catch struggling toward the surface. You may even see occasional surface takes. By setting the fly closer to the indicator, you accomplish one of the two main ingredients of the proper... and most deadly...variation in the presentation.

Another difference is tippet size. These tiny nymphs require light tippet. I use either 6x or 7x most of the time. In faster water, I find I can get by with 5x, but I am certain that it costs me a few fish. The lighter, suppler tippets allow for more natural motion of the fly.

Now you're ready to cast. When nymphing under an indicator it is important to remember to keep your loop open to avoid wind knots. Do not try to over-power your cast. Smooth your stops just a tad. Cast upstream and across current where you see the feeding trout. Allow the indicator to drift down until it is about parallel to you in the stream. Now you need to delicately mend upstream as the fly drifts by you. Get all of the line upstream of the indicator. Watch for the slightest dunking of the indicator throughout the drift. If it goes under, set the hook. When you perform your upstream mend as the indicator comes parallel, you will notice the indicator slows down. This is not a fish taking your fly. This is your fly sinking to full depth as slack enters your line.

When your fly line begins to bow downstream, mend again...this time pulling the line of your drift closer to where you stand...and allow the fly to finish its drift almost directly downstream of your position. You can effectively fish the Zebra Midge this way in water depths ranging from a few inches in a running riffle to a few feet in a deeper, slower pool. Trout see your offering as an emerging midge pupa struggling toward the surface film. Most often, this is a trout's favorite stage in which to feed on midges. And since midges hatch all year long, the Zebra Midge is an excellent all-season pattern.

One final word of caution: be prepared for the take throughout your presentation. I have hooked many a trout while mending my line. I get very few strikes at the end of the drift. Most strikes occur in the top of the drift. You must remove all the slack in your dead drifting line very quickly in order to hook up. But be careful not to use power...just speed. Keep your arms, hands, and shoulders relaxed. Master this unique nymphing technique and you can enjoy many action-filled days of trout fishing on your favorite stream. And perhaps you will become as big of a fan of the Zebra Midge as I am. ~ Ken

About Ken:

Ken graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1988, and spent the next several years serving in the United States Navy as an intelligence analyst and Russian Language translator. He is a veteran of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Leaving the nation's service in 1993.

Ken is also a published outdoor writer and historian, having penned articles and stories that have appeared in several national hunting publications like North American Hunter magazine, on, in regional and local newspapers, and historical and literary journals. He also provides hunting and dog training seminars for Bass Pro Shops and other sporting goods retailers nationwide and works with other outdoors businesses and conservation organizations in the fields of public relations, promotional marketing, fund-raising, and advertising. He also is a partner in Silver Mallard Properties, LLC. He currently resides with his wife, Wilma, their Weimaraner, Smoky Joe, and their Labrador Retriever, Jake, in Branson, Missouri, where he founded the Branson/Tri-Lakes Chapter of Ducks Unlimited in 1998.

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