Midging Year Round
For skiers, Powder Days bring thoughts of a fine, deep, snow-covered ski run with not a single track to mar its surface. For fly fishermen, Powder Days are those brisk, cloud- covered days when the snow is drifting down like small feathers to cover the rocks and brush in a blanket of white.
These winter conditions can often result in the most memorable fishing days of the entire year. Cloud cover means the fish may not be as wary of predators as they would during a bright sunny day, and cloud cover often results in slightly warmer air temperatures due to the insulation the clouds provide. Relatively warmer temperatures often trigger a midge hatch, even during the coldest winter months.
The Midge (aquatic Diptera, which means two wing) hatches year round, and this makes it one of the main food sources of food for Rocky Mountain trout. The Midges found in the cold mountain streams and tailwaters are often tiny in size, ranging from #20-26.
Although colors vary from stream to stream, they are usually red, cream, black, gray, or brown. So you’ll want to use a seine net to catch a few from the section of river you’re fishing in to confirm what color is predominate at the time you’re there. Then you can “match the hatch” with a fly of the right color and size, comparable to what you’ve observed. Often you can put several colored midge flies on at the same time, fishing them about 12-18 inches apart.
The life cycle of the Midge is divided into four stages, the first being the Egg Stage which is basically not duplicable with an artificial fly. The second phase is the Larva Stage and at that time the Midge is on the bottom of the stream or very low in the water column. The third phase is the Pupa Stage, when the Midge rises to the water surface and emerges from its shuck or protective shell.
This stage is when the Midge is most vulnerable to the feeding trout, when it is suspended just below the surface and attempting to shed itself of its Larva shell. The last phase is the Adult Stage, and occurs on warmer days when the sun is out, or cloud layer insulation causes the temperatures to rise. When the Adult Midge is on the water’s surface, trout will delicately sip them, and this can offer fun but very technical fly fishing opportunities.
If you are going to fish during colder weather conditions you’ll need to study Midge life cycles, and make the observations that will let you determine what cycle is present while you are fishing. Remember, the Midge stages can change within a couple hours, so be ready to change your fly and fishing strategies along with the hatch.
Cold Water Challenges
Obviously, the winter months are when water temperatures reach the lowest point of the entire year. During these times the fish become more lethargic, and slow down all activities to conserve energy. Since the fish are less active you’ll need to make your fly presentation even more accurate, because the fish are not going to chase after food as readily as they might in warmer water conditions.
Winter water is often clearer, due to the reduced vegetation caused by the colder water, and the absence of silt from runoff because water levels are consistently low. The clarity of the water means you’ll be fishing with light (6X-7X) fluorocarbon leader and tippet for delicate presentation and reduced visibility to the fish.
The clearer water can also be an aid to anglers that are stalking fish, because it can make them easier to see. Even though the fish may be driven into deeper runs or holes to hide from overhead predators, you can often spot them, sometimes stacked in a hole that provides adequate protection and a good food supply. Once they are spotted, you’ll fish to them with Midges in sizes #20-#28, with leader and tippet in 6X-7X, and the smallest strike indicator that will work with the weights needed to get to the proper depth.
Position yourself slightly downstream from the fish’s holding area, and make a delicate presentation so the fish doesn’t detect you, or see your rod or fly line. While Midging, a drag free presentation is imperative, so practice your mending tactics until you are presenting the fly in a manner that appears natural to the fish.
Where are the crowds?
Winter fishing will often let you fish a section of river by yourself that might be crowded during summer months. This will allow you to get to know the waters, and observe where the fish are holding, in a manner that would be impossible during the rest of the year.
Remember, be considerate of the fish and get it into the net and then released as soon as possible. You might need to hold the fish head first into swifter running water, to make sure it’s getting plenty of flow through its gills, prior to letting it go. That way you’ll be sure it’s fully revived and ready to make its way back to a safe holding spot.
So, don’t let the winter and spring months go by without fishing some of those favorite summer time spots, and remember, the Midge is your key to success. Perhaps even the key to catching bigger fish then you would all summer.
Reprinted with permission from High Country Angler