Fishing the Midge.
Fishing midges requires a great deal of attention to detail. The fish may be resting low in the water requiring the fly to be weighted to get to the fish. On the other hand the fish may be moving higher to feed on the pupa or higher again for the emerging or adult midges. In addition the minute size of the insect presents a visibility problem particularly in faster water.
A lot of midge fishing in the colder weather will be with a larva pattern on the bottom or very near thereto. For this rig one needs a strike indicator and weight for the fly. Because of the need to adjust the depth of the fly it is better to use some form of moveable indicator rather than a second fly fixed into position. The general view is to rig the indicator 1.5 times the depth of the water from the fly. Thus a moveable indicator will allow this adjustment to be made fairly conveniently.
The other factor in getting down to the fish is weight. The addition of lead shot to the line will get the fly down to the level required if the fly itself is insufficiently weighted. The addition of shot takes some consideration. It will depend on the speed of the water, the depth you want the fly to fall, and the extent to which you want to limit the interference with the drift. The ideal is to balance sufficient lead to get the fly where you want it against weight which will unnecessarily interfere with the drift of the fly or the ability to perceive a strike.
Furthermore, where quite an addition to the weight is required because of the conditions, it is preferable to space smaller shot along the line rather than a single large piece.
One problem with attaching weight is that with a light leader the pinching of the lead will tend to compromise the integrity of the line. On the Frying Pan I will fish with 8x so there is not much room for error. In this instance by joining 8x to 7x one can place the weight above the knot so that if it is not pinched sufficiently to hold the lead, it will not slip past the knot.
The other important aspect of midge fishing is to cast accurately over the feeding fish. This requires sighting your quarry. Trout do not tend to move far laterally when feeding on midges. Instead they tend to wait for the food to drift to them. It means that they expend minimum energy while feeding. Better to wait for the meal to drift to them than expend energy moving too far and then having to reposition when there is plenty of food drifting straight at them.
This also means that you can have a number of shots at a feeding fish provided you don't disturb it. If you are careful you will be surprised how many times you can actually cast to a feeding trout in these circumstances without disturbing him. Once you are absolutely sure that he has refused your fly but continues feeding, you will be able to put on a different fly and if he likes it he will take it. As trout are feeders of opportunity, particularly coming out of winter, I find that more often than not it is the failure to get the fly to the fish rather than the midge pattern itself which spells defeat. The point cannot be overemphasized. There have been times I have been rigged with an emerger fished dry with another emerger as a dropper but both in the surface film. A fish has been feeding maybe 12 to 18 inches below and not showing any interest. The simple quick addition of a split shot between the 2 flies just to get them down to that fish has produced immediate results. Then I can remove the shot and go back to the fish feeding closer to the surface.
In slower water, rather than using attached weight, a bead head pattern as a dropper with a longer length between both flies will also work well. Sometimes I will put up to 3ft of tippet between both flies so that the pupa pattern can get down deeper. Often in these circumstances, I am in fact using the dry/emerger as a strike indicator with the added bonus that the odd fish will come up and take it.
If the fish are leader shy mend upstream or cast across the current and high stick to get a good drift. Alternatively hook your cast so the fly will drift by the fish with the line on the side. Because you will be targeting a particular fish, there is no need to try for long drifts.
As the hatch proceeds the feeding fish will begin to rise in the water and move about taking the rising pupae. In this case, it is appropriate to fish the fly higher in the water or just under the surface in the film. At this point , I like to use a fly with a dropper. I like to grease the line with floatant almost to the lead fly. This will tend to make the leader float which has the obvious effect of holding the fly higher in the water. The dropper will be a pupa or an emerger. Size #20 and smaller is generally recommended however sometimes on the Fork, a larger size will work as well. Ideally, the emerger pattern will emulate a cripple which cannot fully emerge from its shuck. Furthermore, one may consider having a bead head fly to get the dropper under the water surface. Applying sink to the line will also work. Again it depends on one's observation of the conditions at the time and the desired position of the fly.
In clear water, I will sometimes use a brooks sprout. The tiny white bubble is visible under the water and works as a strike indicator as well as being a target for a hungry fish.
Alternatively one can use an Adams parachute with an emerger dropper. The Adams is visible and serves as a strike indicator as well as a target for a feeding fish.
One has to be careful using 2 flies when the fish start feeding in earnest. If the trout takes the lead fly there is always the risk of foul hooking the dropper or just twisting the line. This means it may take longer to release the fish. So if the emerger is working fine, I will use just one fly and watch where the line joins the leader to see any evidence of a take.
When the pupa has risen and hatched a dry pattern is recommended. However it is unwise to switch to a dry pattern too early. Fish near the surface might still be taking pupae rather than adults from the surface. Watch carefully and see if the heads of the fish are breaking the surface. If you see a fish tail breaking the fish could actually be feeding 6" - 12" under the surface so drifting a fly over the top on the surface will not work. In such a case, a bead headed pattern such as a glass bead rather than heavier tungsten will allow the dropper to sink to where the fish will take it. So keep on fishing the emerger so long as it is working. Again, using a dry such as an adult midge pattern or an Adams parachute together with the emerger will give you the best of both worlds.
I must say that the majority of the time fishing with midges success is under the surface rather than on top. Personally I prefer to fish on the surface rather than nymphing, so for me it is a matter of a judicious combination of longer tippet and a weighted dropper.
Another point to remember is that it is easier to mend the line with two flies under the water than a single dry floating on top. So if you are seeking a longer drift and the fish are taking both emergers and dries, use two flies in the film. This will work if a lot of fish are bulging in the surface and you want to drift the fly past a number of fish in a single drift.
Midge fishing successfully is exacting but is very rewarding. I like to use a shorter rod (8ft) because it gives more flexibility closer to under hanging branches and works perfectly well mending for short distances if necessary. The other matter to note is the choice of tippet. Generally we will advise using 7x. However we carry Varivas 8x - 12x specifically for midges so if you want a challenge try it. I use the 8x most of the time and sometimes 9x. It is more challenging because a large fish taking a fly and moving quickly away is almost impossible to stop in the river current. But it adds to the fun. The other matter to note is be prepared to vary your weight to adjust the depth at which the fly drifts. The best rule is that it is better to be deeper than shallower unless the fish are visibly coming out of the water to take an adult off the surface. But experiment and remember that particularly with midges, failure to get a response is less likely a refusal as simply the fish ignoring the fly because it is too far away from its mouth.
Midge fishing with dry flies in winter calls for even lighter equipment. I tend to use a fiberglass Hardy "Stream" or "Test" and fish very small flies down to #32 with lighter tippet [#8x - #10x]. The reason for the lighter rod is that a larger strong fish will snap light tippet very easily if the rod does not have sufficient flexibility.
This is discussed further in a section on Winter Fishing on the Pan.