Midge Fly Patterns for the White River Tailwaters
Midge fishing is a specialized aspect of fly-fishing. Generally, it requires light tackle (3-5 weight rods), long leaders (9 feet or longer), light tippets (6-8x), tiny flies (#18-26), magnifiers, and a good supply of patience. A small hand seine or aquarium net helps to capture flies so you can see what you are supposed to be matching.
The pleasure of midge fishing, however, can overcome the frustration of inopportune tangles in your tippet, break-offs, and the difficulty of seeing your fly. Fooling a modest to big fish in inches of water, playing them on light tackle, and being able to fish "dry flies" in the dead of winter are just a few of the joys of fishing to trout feeding on midges.
Midges have three stages that are important to trout: larval, pupa, and adult. In the larval stage, the midge is basically a worm. The midge in this form can be exceedingly thin such as a blood worm. It can also be fatter and shorter, closer in appearance to a caddis larvae. Trout take advantage of this larval stage when the bottom is disturbed, and the insect is made available to them. Wade fishermen discovered many years ago that shuffling one's feet around in the stream is like a dinner bell to fish. This "San Juan shuffle," or the "Taneycomo shuffle," is also highly illegal in most regulated trout streams. Enforcement agents are often on the lookout for anglers purposefully doing this. Fines apply. Trout also grub for all kinds of small food items off the bottom or in vegetation.
Larger forms of midge including crane fly larva, largest of the midge family, can also be found in the tailwaters. These larva are often translucent in appearance, but have strongly defined segmented bodies with a definite head and tail.
The pupal form of the midge is the form in which the midge ascends through the water column to the surface to hatch as an adult. This is perhaps the most important stage for trout. As emerging insects, midge pupa are particularly vulnerable. Anglers often see trout "midging" or rising to take pupa off the surface. The sign they are doing this is: the trout will not leave bubbles on the surface, and all you will see of the trout above the water line is the back of the head, or "shoulder," or perhaps the dorsal fin. How much of the trout you see will depend on the depth at which they are taking the insect.
Midge larva can also take on a fatter shorter form which is often translucent in appearance.
Aquatic earthworms also inhabit gravels of the tailwaters. Worms often look like a miniature "red worm." A San Juan worm tied with brown micro-chenille approximates the natural.
Adults come out of their pupal shucks in the surface tension, and dry their wings by "buzzing" around on the water before lifting off. Trout often chase these adults down on the surface and can even be seen cruising with their mouths open taking numerous midges in at one time. Skittering a midge dry on the surface works very well to induce a take at times.
An adult black midge
Gray, olive, cream and black will cover about all the variety of midges you will see. I would carry gray and olive dries and emergers in size 20, and cream and black patterns down to size 24 or 26. Many traditional dry fly patterns are effective in sizes 20-24. When tying them in these sizes, I don't bother tying wings on these patterns.
Zebra Midge (#18-22)
Zebra Midges have become very popular, and they are effective under an indicator. They represent a pupa silhouette. However, in a pinch, I have found them a good pattern to also use fished without an indicator for a Tiny Blue-winged Olive hatch. On the tailwaters, this size #24 mayfly is often mistaken for a Trico hatch.
A dead-drifted zebra midge mimics midge larva and pupa.
Generic Emerger (# 18-26)
Most midge patterns have three things in common: a striped body, a dubbed thorax, and some kind of spotter. The spotter is usually a piece of foam tied above the thorax to aid in floatation but, more importantly, to also aid the angler in seeing the fly.
Fly tiers used to use stripped peacock herl for the segmented body. It produces a nice effect. But vinyl rib has all but replaced it on store bought patterns for its durability.
Epoxy Midge (#16-20)
Some midge patterns, such as the Brassie, are effective deep water patterns. One option that presents a more subtle silhouette is to use a pattern which has sparse materials and uses hook weight to achieve depth. The epoxy midge does this by using thread and wire for the body and a drop of five minute epoxy for the thorax. A 2x heavy hook is usually enough to sink the fly on 6x or 7x tippet. The resulting weight balance is similar to the Zebra Midge with a small beadhead. The fly is more lively, however, and is more responsive to slight currents. For still or slow water scenarios, it is ideal.
Crystal Midge (# 20)
A pattern I have used with success particularly in the summer time when fish are finicky during high sun is a crystal midge. Body is a piece of pearlescent crystal flash. Hackle is a few wraps of natural gray ostrich herl. I tie these in sizes 22 or 24.
Griffith's Gnat or Cluster Midge (#18-24)
A Griffith's Gnat is a simple imitation of a midge cluster.
Midge clusters, several midges clustered together on the water mating, attract the attention of trout. A Griffith's Gnat or Cluster Midge pattern is simple to tie and very effective at times.