There are over 1,000 different midge species making their identification challenging on the river. But don’t let that stop you, fly fishing with midges can be very straight forward if you have a basic understanding of their lifecycle. As well as a few of the basic techniques to fish them effectively.
Understanding the midge lifecycleThe midge lifecycle has four life stages: egg, larvae, pupae, and adult. It is important to understand the three stages of larvae, pupae, and adult stages as it pertains to fly fishing. Once the midge egg is laid it will become dormant anywhere from a few days to a few months based on external conditions.
LARVAE – After the egg hatches, the midge becomes a larva. The larva looks like a tiny worm and is found in the substrate (bottom) of the river or lake. Midge larvae can be found in a variety of colors, most often black, red, or olive. Larvae are most active during the night, so if you do find yourself nymphing at night, larvae imitations can be effective.
PUPAE – Once the midge larvae have reached maturity they begin to hatch into pupae. The pupae are much shorter and stockier than the larvae as the wings, legs, and gills have begun to form. The pupae are typically found just above the bottom (sub-surface) wiggling around trying to break free of their larvae sheath. Once the sheath is shed they begin their journey to the surface of the water. As this happens, a small air bubble is formed on the head of the midge. This can be imitated with flies by adding a flashy beadhead, flashback, or tuft to the fly.
ADULT – When midges become adults, they break the surface of the water and wriggle out of their pupal sheaths. The wings become visible, as the midge begins to shuck its pupal sheath. It will then sit on the surface of the water briefly as its wings dry out. Anglers can use tiny dry flies that imitate a single midge, or larger dry flies that imitate clusters of midges. Adult midges can live anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.
Recommend Midge Fly Patterns:
Techniques for Fishing Midges:Don't get hung up on trying to identify the species of midge you are facing—instead, focus on their lifecycle. Once you know which stage they're in, match your flies to that stage. For example, if it's a larvae hatch, start with a nymph rig with two flies—one imitating the larva, and one as an attractor. The larva is typically deeper in the water column than the pupae. Fish this rig accordingly; set your depth at about 1 ½ times deeper than the depth of water you're fishing.
When you start fishing, see if you can figure out what the fish are eating by observing the flies that catch them. If you aren't getting any action on the pupa fly, switch to two larvae imitations. Move your indicator higher as the pupae will be concentrated higher in the water column. This most likely means that the midge hatch has started. It also might mean that the trout will transition from opportunistic feeders to selective feeders. Be sure to try to match the hatch and set your depth correctly.
Tips for Fishing Midges:
Use Light Tippet – Midges are small, so you have to use thin tippet. A thicker tippet is too stiff for delicate midge flies and makes them float unnaturally. This doesn’t mean the tippet needs to be hair-thin, but going down to 6x or 7x makes a big difference.
Try Using Two Dries – Midges are very small, and are often black, making them difficult to see. To improve visibility, tie on a midge pattern that is much larger or has a parachute or other feature that makes it more visible; then tie on the smaller midge pattern 12-18 inches behind the first. If you see a fish rise nearby, set the hook in that area.
Look For Midges in the Water – Choosing a midge nymph is not very complicated. They are so minimal that there isn't a ton of variety among types, but different water qualities lead to different midge characteristics. For example, low-oxygen streams often hold bright red midge larvae, sometimes called blood worms. By doing a quick search through your local waterway for the color and size of midges you can easily pick out what nymph is right for you.
Focus on Slack Water – One of the best places to find trout feeding on adult midges is in the slack water around rocks and banks. Trout cruise through eddies, gorge themselves on adult midges, and then cruise through again. These areas can be tricky because your fly will look just like all of the other flies in the area. If you want to be sure your fly stands out, try using a slightly larger fly or adding a tiny bit of flash or color to it.
- Use a Smaller Indicator – Midges are small insects, and they're very light in weight. This means that our strike indicator has to be able to detect even the subtlest of takes. During these winter months, stash the bigger indicators in favor of something more discreet.
Midges are some of the most versatile and effective patterns in an angler’s box. Next time you’re out and aren’t sure what they’re biting on, consider trying a midge and you might be pleasantly surprised.
– Check out our story on Winter Fishing for more information on landing trout in cold weather.
– For more information on how to set up your Nymph rig click here.