Sunday, December 30, 2012

Midge Hatches

Midges have supplied me with more fine fishing days than I can count; from tail-water fisheries to free-stone streams to reservoirs, lakes, ponds, and even sloughs. I have imitated them to fool trout, steelhead, whitefish, bass, crappie, bluegill, squaw fish, carp, and chubs.  They are imitated so easily and fish so well its hard not to like them.  A frustrating and somewhat limiting factor to tying and fishing their imitations is their size.  A #24 hook is overly dressed with just thread on it; add much else and the hook gap disappears, and the patterns effectiveness dies.  But the challenge of tying a pattern that small is unique.  Successfully tying and fishing these patterns is a joy.

Lakes midges are typically much larger in size so you feel like you're throwing a T-bone steak rather than an expensive appetizer that teases the taste buds rather than satisfying a grown man's hunger.  But when size isn't an issue often the numbers of naturals on the water can be.  Figuring out in which direction the cruising trout is headed and guessing where it wants to eat next is a challenge.  When a hundred or more trout are all feeding at once and a good percentage of them are within casting distance with 1000's of naturals on the water it becoming pure pandemonium!

Last spring we were on a tail-water fishery chasing steelhead.  The dam on this river marks the furthest most point the anadromous fish can ascend and they gather there in great numbers, on good years.  My brother Adam was home over spring break and with him came the heavy rains of April.  The rivers were blown out and heavy with sediments and the fishing opportunity looked bleak.  I decided our best bet was to fish for steelhead below the dam where some control of flows and sediment load was possible.  Adam hadn't fished for steelhead for almost 20 years and I wanted to get him a fish.

The water was relatively clear that morning but by lunch time it was pretty dark and the water level was rising; they had pulled the plug and were dumping water in preparation for run-off. Early that morningAdam hooked and landed a beautiful 25" buck on a bobber and jig set up.  It was only the second steelhead of his life so we were all pretty excited despite the slow fishing and quickly changing water conditions.

As the day wore on I watched bass, trout, and even steelhead rise and boil on the surface of the river.  Adult midges were everywhere but it was hard to tell if a hatch on was due to poor water clarity; it was hard to see anything in or on the water, especially empty shucks from recently hatched midges.  We tried some minnow patterns thinking the predatory bass and steelhead were possibly slashing at the smolt the kids were catching, but with no success.  Finally I decided to give a midge pattern a try below my bobber and jig.  The river was huge and the amount of weight needed to reach fishing depths was ridiculous.  I kept playing with my bobber stop adjusting it higher and higher trying to find bottom.  The roiling currents on the edge of the eddy kept my jig and flies suspended and I wasn't finding anything but a slight amount of frustration.

I finally had a good drift, the bobber slowing sunk out of sight in the turbid waters and I set the hook for the sake of it, not because I thought there was a fish on the other end of the line.  I was pleasantly surprised with a heavy pull and a good head shake.  I got Jakey over there, my nephew, and he battled the 26" buck into the shallows where we finally tailed it.  Hooked solid in the corner of its mouth was my red midge pattern.  Amazingly that fish, in 42,000 cfs of turbid water, picked out a #14 midge pattern and inhaled it.

Tyler and I headed down river exploring some other holes a little while later.  I kept that same set up on and picked up a few more trout, one an especially nice specimen of 19".  It was a great end to a nice day, catching fish on a midge pattern in a river so big and blown out you'd think only dynamite would bring any luck.

This video is short.   Its filmed on a local put and take lake in late fall.  The first fish Ty hooks and loses is actually hooked on a full sinking line and a #6 woolly bugger; probably olive.  It is usually the ticket on this little lake and we have exploited its success many times.  This particular day was a little windy and a small chop was on all but the lee side of the lake; the SW corner.  We weren't picking up many fish and things seemed to be "off".  We were fishing the eastern shore, our favorite haunt, when  I looked across and noticed the lake was like glass and there were fish rising in the far corner.  Incidentally the last hour before dark the whole lake was glass-like but the majority of the rises was concentrated in the same, shallow corner of the lake.

We trolled his fly to where the rings of rising trout was most concentrated.  We put aside the dredge gear, switched over to a floating line, dug deep in an abandoned fly box and found a few patterns we could alter with a pair of nippers to match the #10 midges hatching by the 1000's.  All the fish thereafter are caught on "midge patterns".  After Ty wore out and lost a few of our makeshift patterns I asked for a turn and hooked a trout on the dry and dropper on the same cast.  It was fun watching the tug-of-war as the trout fought each other as well as Ty's glass rod.   Unfortunately the 3 pound tippet was a little light and the fish hooked on the dropper escaped to be hooked another day.

We fished up there a few more times in the following week or two but just trolled lures with my youngest kids.  We caught some nice fish, a lot of fish, and every time, in the same corner, there were a hundred trout rising if there was one.  I never did return with a fly rod and some actual midge patterns, though I threatened to.  I'd taken a few notes the night this video was filmed on color, size, etc., so I was ready to put an epic number of fish in the boat, but this fall was a busy one; a great friend died, elk season happened, the honey-doo list was calling and I just never made time for it.  I guess next fall, around the middle of October, you know where you can find me.....................bring a 3-weight rod with a long, light leader, a flashlight, and plan to stay till we can't see our flies on the water, even when fishing facing east.

A great day with my dad and the youngest 3 of my 6!  The trout really worked the midges this day but we caught our trout deep, on lures.