Midges hatch throughout the year, depending on the species. Most of them are multi-brooded, meaning they hatch
more than once a year. Trout eat them year-round.
It's just a fact that imitations of midges are not as easy to fish as most other insects. They are very small, require light
tippet and in general, are slow to fish. When the trout are eating most all midges and there's not much else for them to
choose from, doing so greatly increases your odds of success. So far this season, I don't feel this situation has existed.
When the water temperatures drop down into the high thirties and low forties and remains there consistently, midges
will become much more important. So far, except for a few nightly lows, the water temperature hasn't remained
low enough to justify this. In fact, it hasn't even remained low enough on a consistent basis for good hatches of beatis
Blue-winged Olives hatches to occur. For the next few days, the weather will be nice and warm with the high
temperatures reaching around 70 in the foothills. I'm going ahead and listing midges at this time only so that I can write
about them before they do become important.
At some point during the next month or two, the water temperature will average low enough for midges to become much
more important. The trout's metabolism will be low enough that the amount of food they require will be easily acquired
from midges. The trout will become less active and midges will become more important because the trout can remain in
one relative position in slow moving water and eat plenty of them. When you get an imitation of the midge larvae down
on the bottom in the right places, the trout will consistently eat them, but doing that isn't usually a fast process. Fishing
deeper water with tiny flies for fish you can't see isn't a fast process. It takes some time searching to find the trout and it
takes some skill to consistently catch trout on the larvae when you do.
When the midges are hatching, the trout will concentrate on eating the pupae. That's easy for them to do. That too,
requires some skill in terms of knowing when, where and how to imitate the emerging midge pupae
At times, depending on the weather and other factors, it's possible to catch trout sipping adults or newly hatched
midges from the surface. This doesn't happen very often but when it does, you can catch trout on the surface feeding
on midges. This too, isn't exactly an easy process. Fishing a tiny dry fly you can't see well or may not be able to see at
all, isn't easy either. This all requires practice, knowing the right methods and tactics, and knowing when and where to
Catching trout consistently on imitations of these tiny insects isn't as easy as it is for many other aquatic insects for
several reasons. One easily noticed is the very small size of the naturals your trying to imitate and the other is the tiny
size of the flies you must actually use. To put it bluntly, these little things are not easy to see or tie on. Hopefully, we
have solved that problem for many that struggle with it, especially tying them on when on or in the stream. We now
have pre-rigged midges, with the larva and pupa imitations rigged in tandem. You get a couple feet of tippet
tied to the pupa extended 18 inches to the larva or bottom fly. They come with either monofilament and fluorocarbon
One problem with learning how to imitate them is the many, many different species of them that behave differently and
the different types of water they exist in. Basically, if there's water anywhere on earth, there probably midges in it. In
warm water, there's huge numbers. In cold water, there's huge numbers. In a mud puddle it seems there's huge
numbers of them.
You will find that most anglers carry very few, usually just one or two, midge (Chironomidae) patterns in their fly boxes,
yet midges are available and eaten by trout throughout the year in all the trout streams and lakes in the United States.
The main reason for this lack of attention for the midge is simply that many anglers just do not believe in the fly’s
effectiveness. After all, why would a large trout want to eat such a tiny morsel of food? Why would any angler want to
fish with such a small fly when a larger one is easier to see, and would seem to be much more attractive to fish,
especially the larger ones. By the way, the little midges are very effective on all trout streams and lakes and yes, they
in fact,will catch large trout.
It is thought that midges represent about one-half of the insects in streams and lakes. Although streams and lakes with
soft bottoms and weed beds usually have more than other types of water, if the water supports trout it has midges. This
includes fast flowing freestone mountain streams. It does not matter whether the bottom is muddy, rocky, or sandy.
Midge species of one type or another can survive as long as algae exist for them to feed on. Lakes, pond and sloughs
are usually loaded with midge activity. Another important consideration is that midges normally hatch periodically just
about year round and are available as food for trout in the larvae, pupae or adult stages throughout the year.
Adult midges are small, two-winged flies that resemble mosquitoes. They begin life from an egg deposited by swarming
adults as they mate and skim over the surface of the water. Some species deposit their eggs underwater on structure
and plants. Some of the species are free-swimming larvae and others form tubes from the bottom materials that they
The bloodworm and glassworm species are free- swimming larvae. These larvae develop into the pupae stage of life
and emerge by assenting to the surface of the water where they hatch into the full, grown adults. This emerging
process usually takes anywhere from several seconds to a minute or two. Depending upon the species, the adults live
for an hour or two, up to a couple of months.
One commonly known fact about the midge is that it provides fishing action during the cold, winter months when
nothing else may be hatching. From late fall until early spring, in many locations they are the only thing hatching. This
is certainly one great reason to fish midge patterns but it may also tend to cause some anglers to think that
the only time midges are effective for trout is during the cold months of the year when nothing else works well. This is a
very false belief. Midges may be the best approach to use on any given day during the year, even days when major
mayfly or caddisfly hatches are occurring. In many streams and lakes where midges are a major part of the trout’s diet,
fish may take midges selectively over other much larger flies. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that if the weather is
nice and warm, you don’t need your midge box. That may be a big mistake. It is not easy to detect that trout are
feeding on midges even when they are doing it selectively at the exclusion of everything else. Angler may spot midges
on the water and simply not be able to see trout taking them. It is even more difficult to spot trout taking the emerging
midges and almost impossible to see them taking the larvae.
Trout feeding on adult midges tend to hold just beneath the surface where they can easily sip the midges. They make
very subtle rise forms and are usually fairly easily spooked since they are holding so shallow. Bad presentations can
easily spook them and well as your presence and motions made casting. Wakes made from wading will spook trout
holding very shallow also.
Midges seem to never hatch when you expect them. They can hatch anytime of the day from early in the morning to
late in the evening. Snow, wind and rain seem to have little effect on the hatch times. They can hatch on the hottest
day in July or coldest day of January. There are some clues that may, keep in mind we are saying may, help you select
the best fishing times. Like many other aquatic insects, midge emergence is greatest during periods of low
atmospheric pressure, or cloudy, overcast day. This is when the hatches seem to be the most concentrated and
the heaviest; however, you may find midges hatching on the brightest days of the year. It also seems that the calmer
the water, the heavier the hatch, but this may just be a factor in how well you can see them. Dark, overcast, days, also
aid you in getting closer to the fish feeding on midges and makes it easier for you to fool them with an
It takes a lot of midges to supply the necessary energy trout expend even in cold water during the winter season when
their metabolism is the lowest. That means trout usually feed on midges for a long period of time, even hours, in order
to get enough of them. Bad weather conditions, especially cold air temperatures, can slow down the emerging process
considerably. The freshly hatched midges will remain on the surface much longer drying and exercising their wings.
Fishing Dry Flies:
In slow moving water, such as you may find in pools, midges will often be drifting in the surface film in scum lines or
current seams with bubbles present. The emerging midge pupae are not visible and your only clues are the slight
bulges made by a sipping trout A good dead drift is always required to keep from spooking the fish under these
conditions. You should get as close to a rising fish, or the spot you expect trout to be sipping midge pupae, as
possible. It is necessary that your fly be presented right in front of a trout’s mouth because they are simply not going to
expend much energy moving about chasing down a single minute size midge pupa. Another reason your presentation
must be in the immediate area of feeding is that the trout are usually holding just under the surface and the area they
can spot drifting midges is very small. When trout are holding close to the surface of the water, they will not see your
fly drifting several feet away.
A long leader is usually required, Start with at least a ten feet long leader and preferable twelve. Six or seven X tippets
are usually required. Slow action rods are generally preferred over fast action because they allow the flex to protect the
light tippets needed when you set the hook and fight the fish. It is of course, very difficult to see the adult midges on the
water, real or fake. One way to help determine exactly where your fly is, is to cast far above where you suspect
the trout are and when you think your fly is approaching the area, pull the fly to create a slight v wake. This will let you
know where the fly is. Align it above the fish as best you can before it gets close enough for the trout to notice what is
going on. This way your fly will be in line to drift over the fish and you can just about time when it will be there. You may
have to make several cast to determine exactly what effect the current is having on the fly and to get the cast and
subsequent v drag in line to drift the fly right over the fish.
Cold Water Basics As It Relates To Midges
Usually, a day during the month of November, can be very warm or very cold. The weather swings back and forth. This
often continues on into December. By the end of December, the weather is usually colder than it is warm, but there's
some years on some trout streams, except for short periods of cold spells, it can remain warm on through the holidays.
It isn't necessary for the weather and water to be cold to catch trout on imitations of midges, but in very cold water, later
on in the year, it just about eliminates most everything else that you can expect to hatch ;with the possible
exception of a very few species of mayflies called BWOs and Winter Stoneflies.
In southern and south western trout streams, just the fact fly shops stop promoting the fishing in late February, anglers
are quick to get excited about the upcoming Spring season. They never realize that conditions are usually not any
better than they have been many during the late fall and early winter months. If you can catch a period of a few days
with warm front conditions during December, January, or February, you can enjoy catching plenty of trout and at times,
you can do that on a dry fly. Most of the time, that dry fly should be a BWO or an imitation of an adult Midge.
During this time, the stomachs of the trout most likely would have as many midge larvae in them as anything. This \may
not be true in terms of bulk quantity, but it probably would be in terms of numbers. Baetis nymphs, maybe a few cased
Little Black Caddis, and possibly some small winter stonefly nymphs would probably represent the other foods they
The biggest mistake anglers make fishing tiny nymphs, and/or midge larvae imitations in many streams, is they tend to
do it the same way they fish during the warmer months of the year. They also assume the trout are in the deepest
water in the stream down on the bottom and this is often the case, but not for the reasons they think. The water isn't
any warmer down on the bottom than it is anywhere else in the fast flowing freestone streams. It's possible, there's a
tiny difference in the deep pools from the surface to the bottom, but not such that it should be a consideration as where
Where the misconception comes into play is that the trout may very well be down on the bottom, but not for purposes of
being any warmer. To begin with, in layman terms, fish could care less from a comfort standpoint such as humans
experience. They are cold blooded and feel just as comfortable in very cold water as they do in water in the mid sixties,
for example. The reason they are often found on the bottom is that's where slow flowing water is usually found. Most of
the time they are located on the bottom of a deep run, they are in a hole where the rocks upstream of their position
blocks the current. The can be on the bottom of a very fast flowing deep run, but it will be in water that's moving very
The reason for the preference (actually a requirement) from a temperature standpoint, is because the trout's
metabolism is low. They need very little food to survive. They locate in water where there's little current to fight in order
to survive. If they didn't, they would have to take in more food for energy needed to remain in fast water than they
could acquire. Guess what? This same slow moving water is exactly where midges are found. They don't live and can't
survive in fast currents. To make this as plain and simple as I can, don't think in terms of the water being warmer down
deep because it isn't. Think of areas on the bottom, mostly holes and depressions, where the trout can hold in slow
moving water that's out of the faster currents.
By the way, these areas of slow moving water isn't alway in deep water. It can be in shallow water, especially if the
stream has slightly off-color water. The clearness of the water has more to do with the depth the fish hold than anything
else. This is especially true on bright, clear days. Most of the time during the winter the water is extremely clear. Cold
water holds less suspended particles than warmer water and the water gets very clear when it's cold and at the same
time, it hasn't rained in a long time. You can count on the trout being in deeper water under these conditions. It will
either be in the bottom of deeper runs or the pools. They will not only will be deeper than normal, if it's very cold, they
will definitely be located in slow moving water.
Midge larvae look similar to tiny worms or grubs. They are shaped long and skinny and have segmented bodies. There
are normally eight to ten segments. They tend to be cream colored or light green although there are exceptions to this.
For example, the free-swimming bloodworm stores oxygen in its blood and has a bright red color. The larvae of the free-
swimming glassworm is almost clear or transparent. The majority of them seem to be a cream or beige color.
The majority of midge larvae found in most streams including freestones, tailwaters and spring creeks built mud tubes
and stay put in them on the bottom. They don't leave these mud tubes until they develop into pupae and assent to the
surface to hatch into an adult.
The free-swimming species are the ones in the larvae stages that are important to anglers. The species that build mud
tubes are not. Some species construct small cases or tubes in which they live. These larval cases stand upright on the
The free-swimming larvae tend to hide and stay put under rocks, logs and other similar type cover. The can swim by
wiggling, which help propel them and by just floating along. They can also crawl.
Helpful Way To Fish Midge Larvae Imitations:
One thing you may want to try when fishing the midge larva is to fish it in conjunction with a mayfly nymph or caddis
larva. Usually the fish will ignore the nymph or caddis larva and take the midge larva. I'm not at all sure why but they
seem to take the small midge fly far more often than the nymph or caddis larva.
Rig the midge larva a few inches below the mayfly nymph or caddis larva. The added weight also helps get the midge
larva down near or on the bottom. You can also, and probably will need to, depending on the water, add weight above
the top fly
This one was shot with a macro lens in a white pan of samples of aquatic insects
It is many times the actual size of the larva. It's transparent and shows the darker
shaded insides of the larva. You can barely see the segments of the
transparent part of the larva in this image. I'm not at all certain it's a glassworm
but it looks like the ones I have seen pictures of. They are usually longer and
slimmer than most other midge larvae.
This is our Perfect Fly Cream Midge Larva imitation. You can trim the head down a little if you prefer. Keep in mind this
is a size 20 or 22 fly and the image is much larger than the actual size of the fly.
The pupa stage of life of the midge is the most important stage for anglers to imitate. It's during the time the pupae
ascent to the surface that they are most susceptible to feeding trout. Air sacks within the midge's wings provide the
buoyancy necessary for them assent. Especially in water lit by sunlight, the air provides a mirror like, silvery flash that
trout sometimes key on.
This accent may take some time and the larvae may even become stationary at times. The papa looks almost like the
larva with a thick thorax that contains the wings of the developing midge. The hardened case, or puparium which is a
capsule-like case, contains the wings and legs. When they begin to emerge, the wings become much more prominent.
Some species that dwell in streams crawl out of their pupa cases while they are still on the bottom and swim to the
surface as adults. Trout can easily feed on them during the time this is occurring; however, this is much less common
than surface emergence.
Especially in water that is calm where there is a heavy surface film, midges can have a very difficult time penetrating
the surface film and consequently, there may be a large number of midges that die trying. Often the feeding trout don’t
give them time to get through it. These pupae are easy takings for the trout, and along with the cripples that just don';t
emerge right for one reason or other, can cause them to concentrate only on this phase of the hatch.
You should pay attention to details when you are fishing a midge hatch. Like many other things to do with fishing, it's
often the little details that makes the big difference in success. Often, there is more than one species of midges,
sometimes several, hatching at the same time. This isn't so true of the freestone streams of the Smokies as it is spring
creeks and tailwaters but it does happen. I know that not because I have studied the various species, but rather from
catching various sizes of adults and emerging pupae. You should try to key in on the size, color and stage of a hatch to
be most successful.
Midge larva patterns are generally effective early in the mornings and between hatches. They should be worked on or
near the bottom. The pupae can be a little different in color from the larvae and the adults quite different in color from
the pupae and larvae. We have found that over 90 percent of midges in cold water trout streams are near the same
color and shade as our three main selections of larvae, pupae and the adults - light green, red and cream. There are
differences in the segmentation and some look like multiple colors but those are usually close to the same color and
show up only because they are contrasted side by side.
Trout really focus on the pupae suspended in the surface film trying to hatch and that is the fly I prefer to use most of
the time if they are hatching. That's because the water is usually cold or below 48 degrees or so when I fish them. They
will certainly eat the adult midges on the surface but it happens mostly when the water temperature is above 50
Here is another one of my favorite rigs for fishing midge imitations. Use a nine-foot 5X tippet and add about twelve to
fourteen inches of 5X tippet using a surgeons knot. Tie on an attractor type nymph pattern to the end of the added
tippet. I use a hook size 18 and as large as a 16 with a bead head depending on the current. Using an improved clinch
knot, tie on an additional 18 inches of 5 X or 6X tippet to the bend of the hook in the attractor fly. Add the midge larva
imitation to the extended tippet. If added weight is needed, place it on the leader just above the first knot you tied to add
the extra tippet to keep in from sliding down the leader. If you are using a strike indicator, attach it approximately one
and one-half times the depth of the water from the bottom fly.
In especially clear water, you may want to use a 6X for the upper tippet and 7X for the extended portion. This rig can
also be cast without weight for trout feeding on emergers. Change the larva imitation to a pupa imitation. Remember,
when trout begin to feed on the emerging midge pupae, you will sometimes see the fins of the fish break the water.
They will normally leave a rise ring but they aren't easy to see at a distance.
Often it works well to fish the midge pupa in conjunction with a mayfly emerger or caddis pupa. It is common for the
trout to take the midge emerger and ignore the mayfly or caddis. This sometimes works when you see fish rising but do
not see any flies in the air.
This is our Perfect Fly Cream Midge Pupa imitation. The antron tail imitates the shuck that sheds from the larva. These
come in hook sizes 20 and 22. It also adds that slight flash I mentioned that comes from the air bubble.
When the pupae hatch into two winged adults, there's little time for the trout to catch them although they sometimes do.
The adults usually leave the water just as soon as they are free of their shuck. As mentioned in yesterday's article on
midges, most of them are eaten by trout when they are still in their pupa stage of life and therefore, you are better off
fishing pupae imitations than adult imitations during the actual hatch. Keep in mind you can fish the pupa imitation in
the surface skim. It doesn't have to be fished below the surface. In other words, you're not going to have very good
odds when you're fishing an imitation of the adult during the actual hatch.
After the midges hatch from the pupae, they buzz about in erratic motions, darting about in an unpredictable pattern.
The adults become important to anglers when they are mating and depositing their eggs. They mate in swarming
masses. It's common to see fish rising and midges skittering along the surface of the water at the same time in
just about any type of water that holds trout. Most adult species skim the surface of the water when they deposit their
eggs. They rarely lite on the water to deposit their eggs but they do usually end up falling and dying on the water after
they deposit their eggs.
Although this isn't the case very often in the streams of the Smokies and other freestone, pocket water streams, It's not
uncommon on some waters to see large clusters of midges along the bank. When this happens you will usually see
trout rising to them. These clusters of midges occur during the time the midges are mating and usually, in streams
where there's large concentrations of midges. The current and wind combine to collect them along the banks and in
current seams in clusters. This will usually concentrate the trout and cause a feeding frenzy. It's not uncommon to
see trout feeding on the surface even in very cold water when there's clusters of midges on the surface.
Fishing Imitations of the Adults:
It isn't easy to see the hook size 20 and 22 dry fly imitations of the adults on the water. This is especially true when
your fishing water that isn't flowing smoothly which is usually the case in the streams of the Smokies. It's also common
for trout to just sip the adult egg layers from the surface with little surface disturbance. If you have trouble seeing the
small dry flies, you may try fishing the adult midge fly in tandem with a larger dry fly. The larger fly acts like a strike
indicator except it won't necessarily go under when a trout takes the midge.
On the streams of the Smokies, and other similar fast flowing pocket water streams, a nine foot, 6X leader is usually
plenty long and light enough. Tie on a hook size 16 dry fly such as a Blue-winged Olive dun, for example. Tie an 18
inch long section of 6X tippet to the bend of the BWO dry fly hook and the size 20 or 22 imitation of the adult midge on
the tag end. When a trout takes the adult midge fly, you will see the larger BWO dry fly stop drifting or move in a
direction it wouldn't otherwise move.
Our "Perfect Fly" Cream Adult Midge Imitation. This is one of our most popular and best selling flies. It comes in hook
sizes 20 and 22 and is of course, much, much smaller in actual size than the image.
Midge Fishing Summary
Since I have jumped around and written about midges and fishing imitations of midges for the last three days, I guess
you could call this a Midge Fishing Summary. After all, I don't write these articles well in advance and send them to an
editor to correct my errors and make sure I didn't leave anything out. If you've read much of anything I've written, you
should have been able to figure that out.
The first time I asked a fly fisher what a midge was, I was told it was any small fly. He referred to both the flies that
imitate midges and the small insects that are midges. I was also told the same thing by a guy working in a fly shop.
Somewhere along the way, I found out a midge was a word that should be used for one of several families of
insects in the order Dipthera. For those who snoozed in biology class, Dipthera is just a large group of families of
insects that have two wings. Soon, I discovered when an angler referred to just any small fly or insect as a midge, it was
just a way of dodging the question and admitting they actually didn't know what they were talking about. Sure, I realize
that it's common to call any very small fly, real or not, a midge, but it's also common to find people working in fly shops
that think trout survive and grow large eating feathers and hair. Frequently, their knowledge of the food trout eat
doesn't go much past the first grade level of bugs.
For many anglers, and this could mean even a majority of anglers, midge fishing is fishing almost invisible flies that
imitate almost invisible insects. It sends chills of frustration up some anglers spines.
Many may also think midge fishing means catching small fish. Many may also think it means being only able to catch a
couple of fish under very difficult circumstances. Both of these lines of thinking are false.
The midges that make up the most important part of a trout’s diet are the chironomids, which are members of the family
of insects Chironomidae. The blackflies that are common in many trout streams are also midges and yes, most midges
are small, but all small aquatic insects are not midges. They are found in all cold water streams where trout exist along
with most all other types of freshwater. They can occur in numbers that get close to reaching the national debt. Well, I
may be stretching the truth going that far. Surely there's not that many midges in the World. I do think I mentioned that
according to the folks that should know, dipteran insects represent about half of all the species of aquatic insects found
Don't look for Perfect Fly to come up with specific imitations of all the species of midges. There's several thousand
different species just in the United States. When you are trying to imitate midges, from an appearance standpoint, I
think we need to stick with the basics, or imitate the insects size, color and shape as close as possible. Far more
important is knowing how to imitate the insect's behavior and by that I mean knowing when, where and how to imitate
them in the three stages of life that the fish we eat them in - larvae, pupae and adult flies.
Some midge larvae, such as blackflies, pupate or seal themselves in a cocoon. The Chironomids are free living. They
are similar to free living caddisflies and don't build cases or pupate in a cocoon. They develop a thorax, wing pads and
gills while they move about. When these midges are ready to hatch (they really hatch from eggs) but in fly angler's
terminology, when they are fully mature insects inside a membrane surrounding the pupa, they form gases inside the
membrane and assent to the surface. Not all species hatch in the surface like this but the great majority that do
come out of the pupal shuck and emerge on the surface to fly away. Some emerge below the surface.
September, 2018 Issue
Copyright 2018 James Marsh
by James Marsh