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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!