TAILWATER TACTICS: ELEVATE YOUR SMALL FLY GAME TO THE NEXT LEVEL by Pat Dorsey

In all honesty, midge-fishing is only as difficult as you make it!  Many anglers shy away from fishing with tiny flies and spider web thin tippets, but trust me–that is a huge oversight!  The most challenging part of midge-fishing is tying on the minuscule offering that is oftentimes required to catch trout during the winter.

Recently, I caught a beautiful rainbow on the Farmington River, a tailwater in northwestern Connecticut, with a size 28 adult midge on 7X tippet.  That experience was about as rewarding as they get! Thank goodness for a fly box with a threader, otherwise; I might still be standing in the river trying to tie that tiny midge imitation on.

The small fly game is simple but effective! None of these will win a fly tying contest, but they do fool selective, hard-fished, tailwater trout throughout the winter months. Savvy anglers show up to the river with a thorough assortment of midges in sizes 20-26.

It’s important to note, what midges lack in size, they make up in numbers.  Midges produce 3 to 5 broods per calendar year, which punctuates the importance of continuously imitating the various stages of their lifecycle (larvae, pupae, and adults).

Some of my favorite midge larvae and pupae include: Pale Olive Larvae, Red Larvae, Mercury Blood Midges, Mercury Black Beauties, Mercury Midges, Manhattan Midges (black and red), Top Secret Midges, and Minute Midges.  Other favorites include (not pictured above): Bling Midges, Zebra Midges,  Jujubee Midges, South Platte Brassies, Miracle Nymphs, San Juan Emergers, Medallion Midges, and the Neon Nightmare. As far as the adults are concerned, it’s hard to go wrong with a Matt’s Midge, Griffith Gnat, or Parachute Adams.

In some watersheds, midges make up as much as 50% of a trout’s diet. What they lack in size, they make up with their huge populations that emerge day in and day out.

This time of year, it’s never a bad idea to fish with a egg-midge combo. A micro egg (size 18, tied from McFlyfoam) is the perfect attractor trailed by two midge imitations. I typically run a larva as my second fly,  then trail a pupa below it. Make sure you check your local regulations with regard to the number of flies you can legally fish in a tandem rig. In some states like New Mexico and Montana, you can only use two flies, but in Colorado, you can fish with 3 flies. I find the 3rd fly increases your odds exponentially.

Mid-column midge-fishing requires a lot of finesse and skill to master. I recommend using a yarn strike indicator and a number 6 split shot in your nymphing rig. It’s important that you do not use too much weight, otherwise; your offerings are presented below the fish, instead of mid-column, where you’ll find the majority of fish keying on pupae. I make small adjustments with JP’s Nymphing mud and move the indicator up and down the leader to achieve the proper depth. Observation is important when trying to determine which part of the water column the trout are feeding in.

Trout overwinter in the slow, deep pools. Avoid fast riffles and runs and these areas tend to be void of fish between November and March.

It’s important to target the soft water margins,  concentrating your efforts in the slower pools and tailouts during the winter. 6 and 7X tippets and long leaders are mandatory for success.  Only a keen eye detects the subtle strikes this time of year.  If the indicator slows down, twitches, twists or turns, set the hook, as this is a good indication a trout has taken your fly.  Make sure  you set the hook downstream, back into the trout’s jaw with a firm stroke, but short range of motion. Wide-gap hooks like a Tiemco 2488 help with your hook-up to landing ratios.

The good news is that anglers willing to battle the elements typically a few cooperative fish on just about any winter outting. Sometime just getting out is half the battle, catching a fish or two is a bonus! If you can consistently catch a handful of fish during the winter, the rest of the year seems a little bit easier.

Pat Dorsey’s Stream Report – Elevenmile Canyon – South Platte

Elevenmile Canyon is known for its superb dry fly fishing. The Trico hatch is one of many that anglers should concentrate their efforts on.

Current Conditions

Clarity: Excellent

14 Day Forecast: Look for sporadic hatches of midges.

Tips and Other Information:

Eleven Mile Canyon is fishing fair right now.  Dead drifting tiny midge larvae and pupae in the slow, deep pools is your best bet right for the next several weeks.  Matt’s Midge, Parachute Adams, and Griffith Gnats are fooling a few fish on the surface during the height of the hatch, especially in the shady areas. If you really look for them, you’ll find plenty of rising fish.  Plan on concentrating your efforts in the mile below the dam, as the lower stretch is frozen.  Dress warm, Eleven Mile Canyon is a frigid place this time of year!

Effective Patterns:  #20-22 Mercury Midge, #20 Red Larva, #18 Micro Egg, #22-22 Mayer’s Tube Midge, #20-22 Manhattan Midge, #20 Pale Olive Midge Larva, #22-24 Black Beauty, #22-24 Bling Midge, #22-24 Top Secret Midge, #22-24 Minute Midge, #22-24 Jujubee Midge, #22-24 Matt’s Midge, #22-24 Griffith Gnat, and #24-26 Parachute Adams.

Pat Dorsey’s Stream Report: Colorado River

Fishing the Colorado River should be on everyone’s bucket list. Whether you’re a walk/wade fisherman or prefer float-fishing, this river has it all!

Current Conditions:

Clarity: Excellent

14 Day Forecast: Look for intermittent hatches of midges.

Tips and Other Information: It’s that time of year when you’ll earn every fish you catch on the Colorado River. Your best option is to target the Parshall area to the confluence of the Williams Fork. Dead drifting tiny midge larvae and pupae in the slow, deep pools is your best bet right now.  Matt’s Midge, Parachute Adams, and Griffith Gnats are fooling a few fish on the surface during the height of the hatch. The Parshall Hole is a good place to find midging fish for the next several weeks. The Williams Fork is a good option right now as well.

Effective Patterns:  #20-22 Mercury Midge, #20-22 Pearl Jam, #20-22 Manhattan Midge, #20 Pale Olive Midge Larva, #22-24 Black Beauty, #22-24 Bling Midge, #22-24 Top Secret Midge, #22-24 Minute Midge, #22-24 Jujubee Midge, #22-24 Matt’s Midge, #22-24 Griffith Gnat, and #24-26 Parachute Adams.

Pat Dorsey’s Stream Report: Blue River

The Blue River is a pocket water paradise. There are miles of public water between the town of Silverthorne and Green Mountain Reservoir for you to sample.

Current Conditions

Clarity: Excellent in Silverthorne

14 Day Forecast:  Look for intermittent hatches of midges.

Tips and Other Information: Flows are well below their normal historic values. Dillon Reservoir is low, so expect for Denver Water to keep flows low all winter. In town, a Mysis pattern, red larva, dropped with and assortment of  mayfly nymphs are your best bet right now.  Fishing overall on the Blue River has been a disappointment as of late, as the number of trout are way down. Your best bet is to fish in town and sight fish to increase your odds of hooking fish. Anglers who are blind fishing are not enjoying much success…

Effective Patterns:  ​#20-22 Mercury Midge, #20-22 Manhattan Midge, #20 Pale Olive Midge Larva, #22-24 Black Beauty, #22-24 Bling Midge, #22-24 Top Secret Midge, #22-24 Minute Midge, #22-24 Jujubee Midge, #22-24 Matt’s Midge, #22-24 Griffith Gnat, and #24-26 Parachute Adams.

Pat Dorsey’s Stream Report: Williams Fork River

The Williams Fork is one of the prettiest places on the planet.  This stretch is proof that trout don’t live in ugly places.

Current Conditions

Clarity: Excellent

14 Day Forecast: Look for intermittent hatches of midges.

Tips and Other Information:  Flows are excellent considering the time of year.   Anglers should prepare themselves for intermittent hatches of midges. Dead drifting tiny midge larvae and pupae in the slow, deep pools is your best bet right now.   Egg-midge combos are one of the most effective strategies. Matt’s Midge, Parachute Adams, and Griffith Gnats are fooling a few fish on the surface during the height of the hatch. If you look for them, you’ll find a few rising fish in the slower pools and tailouts.

Effective Patterns:  #20-22 Mercury Midge, #20-22 Manhattan Midge, #20 Pale Olive Midge Larva, #22-24 Black Beauty, #22-24 Bling Midge, #22-24 Top Secret Midge, #22-24 Minute Midge, #22-24 Jujubee Midge, #22-24 Matt’s Midge, #22-24 Griffith Gnat, and #24-26 Parachute Adams.

Fishing Report: Clear Creek

Clarity: Excellent

Hatches: Midges

Major Food Organisms: Midges

Conditions:  Fish are feeding on midges under the surface in any open water you can find.  Most of the river is frozen.

Suggested Patterns:  #20-22 Tungsten Flashback Black Beauty, #20-22 Minute Midge, #20-22 Periwinkle, #20-22 Pearl Jam, #20-22 Brassie, #18-22 Buckskin, and #20-22 Chironoflash

Fishing Report: Bear Creek

Clarity: Excellent

Hatches: Midges

Major Food Organisms: Midges

Conditions:  Fish are feeding on midges under the surface in any open water you can find.  Most of the river is frozen.

Suggested Patterns:  #20-22 Tungsten Flashback Black Beauty, #20-22 Minute Midge, #20-22 Periwinkle, #20-22 Pearl Jam, #20-22 Brassie, #18-22 Buckskin, and #20-22 Chironoflash

Pat Dorsey’s Stream Report: Deckers – South Platte River

Deckers is a world-renowned stretch of the South Platte River. There are miles of public water to fish in and around the hamlet of Deckers.

Current Conditions 

Clarity:  Excellent

14 Day Forecast:   Look for intermittent hatches of midges.

Tips and Other Information:  Fishing in and around the Deckers area is fair with the low flows and ice cold water. Water temps have been 34 degrees in the morning, warming up to 37-38 degrees in the afternoon. Slush-ice has been a problem on the  river, especially with clear, cold nights.  Many sections of the lower river are frozen, so plan your trip accordingly.  On clear nights, the temperature is dipping well below zero and there is a lot of slush ice on the upper river too. There is no need to be on the river before 10 a.m. right now, its simply a waste of time!! Dead drifting tiny midge larvae and pupae in the slow, deep pools is your best bet right now.  Sight fishing to pods of fish  increases your odds, as opposed to rolling the dice trying to get an individual fish to eat. Matt’s Midge, Parachute Adams, and Griffith Gnats are fooling a few fish on the surface during the height of the hatch. There have been a surprising number of rising fish in the afternoon in the slower pools and glassy tailouts.

Effective Patterns:  #20-22 Mercury Midge, #20-22 Manhattan Midge, #20 Pale Olive Midge Larva, #22-24 Black Beauty, #22-24 Bling Midge, #22-24 Top Secret Midge, #22-24 Minute Midge, #22-24 Jujubee Midge, #22-24 Matt’s Midge, #22-24 Griffith Gnat, and #24-26 Parachute Adams.

Pat Dorsey’s Fishing Report: Spinney Mountain – Charlie Meyers SWA

The Charlie Meyers State Wildlife Area (commonly called the Spinney Mountain Ranch or Dream Stream) is a classic meandering, meadow stream. Anglers have the opportunity to catch rainbows, cut-bows, cutthroats, and brown trout when they fish this fabled stretch of water. 

Current Conditions 

Clarity: Good

14 Day Forecast: Look for sporadic hatches of midges.

Tips and Other Information:

The stretch below Spinney Mountain Reservoir is fishing fair right now.  Flows are low and clear, setting the stage for some technical fishing.  Anglers should prepare themselves for intermittent hatches of midges. Anglers willing to work hard, cover lots of water, and sight fish, are catching a handful of quality trout, however; but you have to put in some effort to catch the bigger fish right now.  There are a lot of little fish to be had right now, as they are eager and opportunistic to take your fly. The river is currently ice free from the dam to the reaches above Eleven Mile Reservoir.  Temperatures have been brutally cold in the mornings, especially on clear nights. There is no need to arrive before 10 a.m. , all you’ll do is get cold. There are already a few lake-run fish entering the system and the river is jam packed people…

Effective Patterns: #10 Pine Squirrel Leech, #10 Mayer’s Mini Leech, #20-22 Red Larva, #22-22 Mercury Blood Midge, #18 Mico Egg, #20 Mayer’s Tube Midge, #20-22 Mercury Midge, #20-22 Manhattan Midge, #20 Pale Olive Midge Larva, #22-24 Black Beauty, #22-24 Bling Midge, #22-24 Top Secret Midge, #22-24 Minute Midge, #22-24 Jujubee Midge, #22-24 Matt’s Midge, #22-24 Griffith Gnat, and #24-26 Parachute Adams.

Pat Dorsey’s Stream Report: North Fork of the South Platte River

Trophy trout await you on many of our leases on the North Fork of the South Platte.  To book a day on Boxwood, Long Meadow, North Fork Ranch, or the Meadows, call the Blue Quill Angler (303-674-4700) and we’ll gladly assist you.

Current Conditions:

Clarity: Good

14 Day Forecast: Look for intermittent hatches of midge. Denver Water plans to run the Roberts Tunnel throughout the winter.

Tips and Other Information: Fishing has been fair to good on the North Fork of the South Platte River. Small midges, mayfly nymphs and a variety of bead heads have been effective as of late. Flows are low, so ice and slush are factors in the mornings.

Effective Patterns:  #18 Hot Tail Flash Eggs, #18-20 Rainbow Warrior, #20-22 Manhattan Midge, #18-20 Red Larva, #18 Red and Pink Flossy Worms, #20-22 Mercury Black Beauty, #10 White Crystal Bugger, #10 Pine Squirrel Leech, #16-20 red Copper John, #18-20 Flashback PT, #16-18 Mercer’s Psycho Prince, and #16-18 Bead Head Breadcrust.