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.

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX – TACTICS FOR AUTUMN FISHING – PAT DORSEY

Autumn is one of the best times of the year to fish with streamers. Many anglers get trapped in a rut and rarely do anything but nymph-fish. It’s important to remain open-minded, experiment with your tactics and techniques, and think outside the box from time to time.

During the autumn months, I typically carry a separate rod rigged with two streamers so that I have the flexibility to change tactics when necessary. I’ll routinely nymph a riffle or run first, then come back through with a tandem streamer rig looking for any opportunistic feeders that I may have missed. Some of the biggest fish of the year are fooled with streamers between September and November.

Make sure you carry an ample supply of streamers this time of year. I recommend using a tandem rig, with one light streamer as the lead fly, trailing a darker offering behind it.

Some of my favorite streamers include: Size 1/0-2 Barr’s Meat Whistle (black, olive, white, ginger, and brown), 8-10 Crystal Bugger (white, and olive), 8-10 Heng’s Autumn Splendor, 10 Pine Squirrel Leech (natural), 10 Goat Leech (brown and black), 2-6 Bennett’s Lunch Money (rainbow trout, easter bunny, olive, brown trout, sculpin brown, and black), Barr’s Slump Buster (natural, olive, and rust), and a Cone Head Sculpin.

When I am walk-wading, I typically fish these with a floating line, but don’t rule out using a Scientific Anglers Sonar Sink 25 Cold to increase your sink rates when your fishing from a drift boat or inflatable raft.  It is designed with a 25 foot sinking head that gets your streamers deep quickly. When you want to get “down and dirty”, this fly line is a must-have!

Go-To Midge Larva for the Winter Season – Pat Dorsey

With the winter-season quickly approaching, fly-fishers need to break out their arsenal of tiny flies.  For the next several months, midges make up the bulk of a trout’s diet. I strongly recommend that you familiarize yourself with a midges’ lifecycle (larva, pupa, and adult) and carry patterns to imitate the various stages of their development.

Midge larvae can be identified by their wormlike appearance. Larva are characterized by their slender, slightly curved, uniform abdomen with visible segmentation. Midge larvae look like little segmented tubes! Another distinguishing feature is their small head which is easily imitated with a few wraps of tying thread.  Most larvae you’ll encounter on  streams  range between one-eighth and one-half inch in length.

winter fly fishing with midges in colorado

Throughout the winter months, anglers need to carry a thorough assortment of midge larvae in size 18-20. Pale-olive and red larva are among the top producers.

Midge larvae are commonly found in cream, tan, gray, pale-olive and red. They live in the substrate of our rivers and attach themselves to aquatic vegetation, rocks, and branches. Some midge larvae burrow into mud and silt. The amount of midge larvae that reside in our streams is mind-boggling! According to Leonard C. Ferrington, Jr., a professor at the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota, “Midge larval densities depend on month of year, productivity of stream, and kinds of stream bottom substrates. Typical densities, however, may range from 800 to 2,000 larvae per square meter.”

Midge larvae living in low oxygenated areas of a trout stream are called blood worms or blood midges. They are blood-red because they contain an oxygen carrying pigment called hemoglobin that allows them to survive in areas with little or no oxygen.

Colorado Rainbow fooled with a red midge larva in the winter

This rainbow was fooled with a Bead Head Red Midge Larva. Midge larvae living in low oxygenated areas are referred to as blood worms or blood midges.

Midge larvae are an important food source for trout year-round because they get knocked loose from the substrate and drift continuously in the water column, a phenomenon referred to as constant drift. A constant supply of midge larvae is especially important for opportunistic trout when other aquatic insects are inactive. In most cases, opportunistic trout do not waste any time grabbing a midge larva that is floating helpless in the current.

Here are a few my favorite midge larva patterns that have proven themselves over the years. I strongly recommend adding these to your midge selection if haven’t already done so.

Dorsey’s Pale Olive Larva
Hook:  Size 18-20 Tiemco 2487
Thread: 8/0 Light Cahill Uni-Thread
Abdomen: Clear Hareline Micro Tubing

Bead Head Red Larva
Hook:  Size 18-22 Tiemco 200R
Bead: red glass extra small
Thread: 8/0 red Uni-Thread
Abdomen: Red Hareline Micro Tubing

Miracle Nymph
Hook:  Size 18-22 Tiemco 100
Thread: 6/0 white Danville
Underbody: 8/0 black Uni-Thread
Abdomen: 6/0 white Danville
Head: 8/0 black Uni-Thread

Mayer’s Tube Midge
Hook: Size 18-22 Teimco 2488
Thread: Red 8/0 Uni-Thread
Abdomen: Clear Hareline Midge Tubing with red Ultra Wire inserted into tubing
Head: Black 8/0 Uni-Thread

McCannel’s Neon Nightmare Midge
Hook: Size 18-22 Tiemco 2488 H
Thread:  70 denier white UTC Thread
Rib: 70 denier orange or pink UTC  Thread
Clear Coat:  5 minute epoxy

Midge Larva Fishing Strategies

Larvae doesn’t require the same amount of finesse as it does with pupae or adults.  I typically dredge my larvae imitations close to the substrate when there are no obvious hatches. My nymph rig includes three flies: One attractor (red midge larva, egg pattern, etc.) and two droppers. Make sure you check your local fishing regulations pertaining to tandem rigs. In some states you can fish with three flies while others you can only use two.

​Egg-midge combos are effective a large percentage of the winter because there are always a few trout spawning in our streams. Oftentimes the egg-pattern draws attention to the midge imitation. I frequently use a red midge larva as an attractor with the same goals in mind.

If there are no obvious hatches, I’ll trail two larva imitations off my attractor.  To get my flies down in the current, I place a #6 split shot on my leader about 12 inches above my first fly. Then I put some JP’s Nymphing Mud over the split shot to get my flies to the desired depth.  If you’re not occasionally picking a little moss off your nymphs you’re probably not deep enough!

Once I begin seeing a few adults buzzing around the stream, I’ll swap out my bottom dropper with a pupae imitation. Some of my favorites include: Size 20-24 Black Beauties, Top Secret Midges, Manhattan Midges, Medallion Midges, Minute Midges, Jujubee Midges, and South Platte Brassies. This allows me to cover my bases and imitate both larvae and pupae, the predominant food organisms on any given day during the winter months.

Between November and March it is important to concentrate your efforts in the slow, deep runs and pools. This is precisely where trout overwinter, trying to maximize their food intake while expending the least amount of energy. The best fishing is between 11 a.m and 3 p.m. when the water temperatures are conducive to finding a few feeding trout.

Pat Dorsey

Dry or Die – Dry Fly Fishing Season in Colorado

Anglers throughout the state of Colorado are finding excellent dry fly fishing as of late so the Dry or Diehards should be extremely happy!!  Currently, Colorado’s tailwaters are providing fly-fishers with reliable dry fly fishing with pale morning duns, yellow sallies, caddis and Tricos. River levels are perfect and the trout are eating a variety of surface offerings with confidence!

Brian Leen fooled this beautiful Roaring Fork brown trout with a size 12 Mathew’s Sparkle Dun Green Drake. The green drake hatches have been excellent as of late on many of Colorado’s fabled freestone rivers.

Freestones streams are providing legendary dry fly fishing with caddis, yellow sallies, pale morning duns, golden stoneflies, and green drakes. Nymphing is not even a consideration right now with the explosive dry fly fishing! Anglers can begin their day by fishing with caddis or yellow stimulators, then switch to PMD’s mid day, then the finale includes green drakes between 1 and 3 p.m.

If you’re a die hard, you’ll find good caddis fishing in the evenings after 5 pm. Flies of choice have been #14-16 yellow Stimulators, #14-16 yellow Humpies, #10-12  Green Drakes,  Mathew’s Sparkle Dun PMD, and #14 Elk Hair Caddis.

In the Gunnison Valley, anglers are experiencing one of the best green drake hatches in recent memory. If you are fortunate enough to have overcast skies, the dry fly fishing is a good as its gets.  Its not uncommon to see 8-10 fish rising in a glassy pool or in the tailout of a run. On a recent float below Almont, my partner and I netted 20 fish a piece on green drakes and lost many, many more. The caddis and pale morning dun hatches are equally impressive right now in the Gunnison Valley!

A thorough selection of green drakes are important right now. I would recommend carrying size 10-12 Mathew’s Sparke Dun, Hair Wing Green Drake Emergers, Parachute Green Drakes, Extended Body Green Drakes, and Colorado Hen Wing Green Drakes. Make sure you carry and ample supply as the strikes are aggressive and its not uncommon to have several break off’s.

Look for the state’s dry fly fishing to stay strong for the remainder of the summer season. Get out while you can–it’s pretty impressive right now! – Pat Dorsey 

Why European Nymphing is so Effective

The main difference between European Nymphing and Traditional setups are simple yet small changes that make the system more efficient in getting the flies in the right zone quicker. There is no indicator (suspension device) attached to the leader that floats on the surface but rather is incorporated into the leader itself.  This serves two purposes, one strike detection via a visual clue, deviating or pausing during the drift and secondly this in-line system will tell you what the flies are doing below the surface as the indicator/sighter will always point to where the flies are.  For example, you make a cast and hit a faster current that is sweeping away from your position in the stream, the indicator/sighter will point at the opposite bank and the flies will sweep high in the water column instead of sinking.

The next added benefit to fishing the Euro methods is you no longer have to fuss and fight with adding or removing split/tungsten putty to the leader.  You simply use a lighter or heavier fly with changing water conditions. Ideally you will carry the same patterns in several different weights by varying the bead size or adding a small amount of lead wire just behind the bead.  To make identifying simple, you can color code the head of the flies with different thread color in the beginning but eventually, you will be able to look at the bead size or feel the weight difference in your hand.

One of the most important tools you can have is a Euro Specific rod. It is hard to commit those hard earned dollars to such a specific nymphing method but you will soon realize it was worth every penny. There are several options from Sage, Redington, Cortland and Syndicate that will fit your price point.

Major Benefits from a longer fly rod:

  • Increased sensitivity/strike detection from super supple tips that fish under load (slightly bent) as well as light tippet protection which sinks way faster than larger diameter tippet.
  • Ability to cover more water with added reach of 10′ or longer rods and adjust your drift depth by raising or lowering instead of changing weight or moving indicator
  • Improved fish fighting ability and better angles when landing fish (better leverage and angle)

The next and most overlooked piece of equipment is the fly line itself.  Your standard weight forward fly line works for propelling your rig out into the river but then begins to cause issues during the drift.  Because the leaders are longer, very little fly line is out of the rod tip and fishing with the rod tip elevated, this type of line wants to slide back toward the fly reel introducing slack into the system.  The solution to this in the beginning was spooling the reel with monofilament or fluorocarbon line which was light enough to maintain tension in the system to better transmit strikes.  The one issue with this setup was the line would twist over time from casting and wrap around the tip of the rod which created a multitude of issues including breaking the rod tip when setting the hook.  The solution to this was a 4 month collaboration between RIO and Steve Parrott creating the RIO Euro Nymphing Fly Line which is a modified double taper line that is 80′ long with the tip section measuring .023″ and the middle of the line .025″.  As you can see, there is not a ton of taper to the fly line over 40′ which makes the fly line act like an extension of the leader.  Casting this thin diameter line is not as hard as you may think because the weight of the flies will pull the leader/fly line through the guides with ease and there is very little slack in the line/leader system which will drastically increase sensitivity.

Most people get these basics above with the heavier flies and longer rods but really do not understand the actual concept of fishing these methods.  Most think you cast the heavily weighted flies upstream and then drag them back down stream at the speed of the current.  While this may work occasionally, it is the most common misconception about these techniques.  With some instruction or practice, most anglers will have that moment of awakening where they see the surface currents (foam, bubbles or debris) racing by while the sighter is slowly moving downstream.

Why is this?  Hydrodynamics!!!

What is hydrodynamics you may ask?  Hydrodynamics is a branch of physics that deals with the motioon of fluids and the forces acting on solid bodies immersed in fluids and in mo4on relative to them.  Whoa!!!!!  Too much technical information for fly fishing you might say but it is actually a very simple concept.  In the image below, you can see that the water in the middle of the river channel is a pretty straight flow with the fastest being at the surface and the slowest at the bottom of the river or stream. Why is this?  Simple, the uneven bottom of the river causes the water to deviate around rocks, depressions and other structures which provides cover and food delivery for fish in the heaviest of flows.  This is where the thin diameter tippet section of Euro leader slices through the faster flows and allows the flies to tumble in the slower bottom section without drag unlike a traditional tapered leader that is larger in diameter and gets caught up in the faster currents at the surface requiring you to mend.

 

Here you can see a cross-section diagram of a traditional vs Euro leader and how the hydrodynamics of the stream affect them. This is the real key to why Euro Nymphing is so successful!!!

Traditional Nymphing Setup

     Euro Nymphing Setup

There are those that think Euro Nymphing is snagging fish and not really fly fishing which really baffling as realistically, it is one of the purest forms to effectively deliver flies where the fish are residing in the river.  The bottom line is having fun on the river and this style of fishing is very interactive as you are not only feeling the takes through the rod but are able to control exactly what the flies are doing throughout the drift which will only make you a better angler as you will have a better understanding of the interaction of your flies in the current.

Give it a shot and decide for yourself!!

What to Expect When Fly Fishing Cuba

There’s a reason you keep hearing about fly fishing in Cuba. A place where the flats extend as far as you can see, and low tides provide as many bonefish tails as you can chase. A place where you can target permit, bonefish, tarpon, snook, mutton snappers, and barracuda among many others, and often all in the same day. 3 of us from the Blue Quill Angler had the opportunity to spend 6 days fly fishing Cayo Largo, an island a little over 40 miles south of the main island of Cuba. Our expectations were high from all of the hype and the stories we had heard, but how could they not be after hearing about these endless flats? After fishing 6 days in Cayo Largo, I can tell you first hand that the fishing not only lived up to the hype and then some, but it completely surpassed our expectations.

Read more

Cuba – Where the Flats Never End

Most people have heard of the never-ending saltwater flats in Cuba, but most Americans have only dreamed of casting a fly on them. I have been one of those dreamers for many years after hearing of a friend getting there through “other channels.” Stories of bonefish averaging 4 pounds, and snook over 20 pounds were just the beginning of a yearning to cast at a Cuban Permit, the famed “el Palometa.” Thoughts of mangroves teeming with baby tarpon only created a stronger yearning to see their bigger, more mature ancestors that migrate to those flats certain times of year. For me it was always, “someday.”

Read more