The Magnificent Midge for Winter Fly Fishing

The Magnificent Midge

Midges, Midges and more Midges.  When the weather in the heart of the Rocky Mountains has turned to the short days of winter and many fly fishers have traded in their fly rods for skis or snowboards.  Trout also realize that the dark days have taken hold for the months of November through January.  The fish are mostly hunkered down in the deep slower water and the feeding window for many fish and fishermen is very short, only a couple of hours in a day. Once February rolls around and the sun hangs on later in the day and the temperatures warm a few degrees more each day there seems to be an awakening in the rivers.  Don’t ask me why but for the Fly fisherman valentine’s day is as much the day many begin dusting off the fly rods and heading to the water, of course after buying a card some flowers and perhaps a nice dinner for their significant’s.

For the next several weeks the trout are beginning to really feed.  The bug of choice, well maybe the only choice is the Midge(Diptera).  While the majority of midges are small, they are hugely important. What they lack in size is offset by their massive populations, making them a viable food source for trout 365 days a year. Unlike many aquatic invertabrates Midges are found in all types of water from ponds to large rivers.

The most widespread group of midges are chironomids, members of the Chironomidae family. While there are about 1,000 midge species, and their identification is difficult at best, keep things simple. Don’t outthink yourself—as far as you and I are concerned, a midge is a midge. It’s hard to go wrong with the size, shape, and color formula when narrowing down your fly selection. Midges do have a complete metamorphosis, meaning they emerge from an egg to Larvae to pupae to adult.

The larvae stage of the midge looks like nothing nothing more than a worm with a distinct head.  In many streams midge larva can be a dense as 2000 larva per square meter of bottom.  Common colors are black, grey and red(bloodworms)  The lower the oxygen content of the water the more red the larva become.  Mature Midge larva are commonly referred to as Bloodworms.  Favorite Midge larvae imitations are: Miracle Nymph, Brassie, Disco Midge, Buckskin, JuJu Midge and Zebra Midge.

Mature Midge larvaeWinter MidgeMidge larvaes

After several weeks as larvae midges enter the pupal stage. When midge larvae reach maturity, they develop into pupae. Pupae are shorter and stockier than the slender larvae. The thorax is swollen, containing the wingpads, legs, and gills, with highly visible segmentation throughout the abdomen.  The pupae create an air bubble they use to ride to the surface. That’s why I like to fish pupae imitations with a bit of flash tied in.  Clear or silver beads also help to create that same look.  Forvite Midge Pupae imitations here are: RS-2, Rainbow Warrior, Crystal flash Midge, Biot midges and trailing shuck Midges.

images Midge EmergerRS-2 grey

When emerging into adults the midge pupae are working and struggling to break through the surface of the water making them a good meal source for Tout.  Once on the water’s surface they are escaping the shuck, this activity can be a trigger for Trout. Remember there maybe tens of thousands of midges doing the same thing at the same time so imitating this with a fly is often frustrating but fun anyway. The rise form trout will make during this emergence can be very subtle or maybe just the dorsal fin breaking the surface. The Griffiths Gnat, Roy’s Special Emerger, Morgan’ s adult Midge and Trailing shuck Midges are good imitations to fish.

Adult Midge fly Adult Midge griffiths gnat images (1)

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