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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Midges on the Lower Yuba

Harrops CDC Midge Emerger

FOR MANY ANGLERS, the mere mention of midges coming off makes them think why bother. The thought of trying to match those tiny flies, with 5x or 6x tippets, makes them say, I think I'll stay home by the fireplace. Right now on the Lower Yuba, its probably the midges and micro mayflies that are sustaining the trout and its what they're most likely feeding on.  Let's talk a bit about fishing with midge patterns on our local river.

What are Midges?

What the heck is is a midge anyway? Some of us anglers refer to any small bug or fly as a midge. The term is more accurately used to refer to several families of insects in the order Diptera, the two-winged flies. For us anglers, the midges that are most important to us and the trout we're after, are the chironomids, members of the family Chironomidae. As the name midge implies, most midges are quite small, best imitated with hook sizes 18 and smaller. That's tiny! Again we tell ourselves why bother.

Why might Midges be Important to us as Fly Fishers?

Because of their small size, midges must be present in large numbers to make them a viable food source for our Lower Yuba fish. They are present in our system in the slower runs and flats. On our Lower Yuba, now in mid to late December, the salmon run is over, there aren't the eggs tumbling down stream and the fish are fat and getting lazy. Eventually they need to eat again but what is available? One answer is Midges!.

In our specific case on the Lower Yuba River, the midges come into play tactically during the winter when other bug activity is on the decline or just plain old not happening. Trout can feed efficiently on these small food forms in cold winter conditions and when not much else is available. Midges can be targeted in the tailouts, runs, large pools or in backeddy currents. Midges will become less important later in the season as hatches of larger insects start up. On the Lower Yuba that would be the Blue Wing Olives and the Pale Morning Duns and eventually the Skwala Stonefly and March Browns. Until then it's midges and small mayflies on the plate.

Midge Patterns

On the Lower Yuba most anglers that are presenting midge patterns should focus on surface emerger and cripple patterns. Surface emergers are designed to imitate the adult midge just as it pulls free of the pupal shuck. Although it might sound obvious, the most important part of a surface emerger’s design is the correct amount of flotation to hold it in the surface film.

One of my most respected authors and fly fishers is Rene Harrop. I stop by his shop, the Trouthunter, every time I drive to or from Montana. René Harrop uses CDC in several of his midge emerger patterns. His patterns are very highly recommended by fishermen in Idaho and Montana. He gets a very different effect by varying amounts of this material and applying it in different ways. His CDC Midge Emerger uses a tiny tuft of CDC for flotation. This fly sits very low, and although it can be difficult to see and requires some attention to keep it floating in the film. The Harrop Biot Midge Emerger has a folded wing pad plus sparse outriggers of CDC, allowing it to float a bit higher. The Harrop Transitional Midge combines an ingenious looped wing of CDC with a grizzly hackle tip shuck. These patterns are similar, but each presents a slightly different view of an emerging midge to the fish. His patterns are available online through the Yellowstone Angler. Our local shop The Reel Angler may be able to get some of Harrop's patterns through Solitude Flies. Stop by and ask him.

Harrops Biot Midge Emerger

A key element of a surface emerger is to imitate the pupal shuck itself. As the hatching midge pulls free of the pupal shuck, the whole insect appears to elongate, and there is a slight hesitation just before the midge and shuck separate. This is the stage that the fish prey on most heavily, and imitating the trailing shuck is critical. Various materials can be used, a small grizzly hackle tip (as on the Harrop Transitional Midge) or olive/brown sparkle yarn or Zelon.

Tactics for Fishing Midges

There are two important periods to fish midge pupae;

(1) When the pupae are making there way to the top
(2) When they are suspended in the surface film

Early in the emergence it is best to present pupae patterns close to the bottom and allow them to rise with the current. One of the best ways to do this is a variation of the Leisenring Lift. To do this position yourself and about a forty-five degree angle above and to the side of feeding trout or a suspected feeding lane when searching. Cast far enough in front of the trout to allow the fly or flies to sink. Mend the line to allow the fly to drift drag free into the feeding lane. Lift the rod tip up slightly to allow the current to pull against the line and lift the pupa up and to the side as swings past the fish. This method can be used to approach sited fish rising or when searching.

As the hatch progresses and once the pupae rise to the surface they need to break their way through the surface film. The pupae can drift hanging against the bottom of the surface for minutes to more than an hour. It is during this period that the pupae are the most vulnerable to the trout. This is where the cripple imitations really come to play.

One problem you will encounter when fishing cripples is that they are almost impossible to see. One trick is to use a dry dropper setup. I have had success using a small parachute pattern with a visible post and then trailing a midge pupae no more than ten or twelve inches behind it. Another trick is to grease your tippet.

If you are fishing on a flat or very smooth glide try an emerger or a cripple with a pupa following behind it. Grease the tippet and the portion of the emerger or cripple that is supposed to be out of the water and then the tippet on the dropper to within an inch or so from the pupa pattern.

It is almost always best to present these dry/cripple/dropper rigs using downstream presentations. You want the flies to float downstream prior to your fly line.

How about under indicators?

What about sub surface deep nymphing presentations? Midge larvae are numerous enough to be a significant part of the drift of food in most tailwaters. Drifting a midge larva pattern is an excellent searching technique when there is no hatch, similar to fishing imitations of other common foods like small mayfly nymphs. Also, since chironomid pupae are mobile during pupation, the behavior and appearance of larvae and pupae are similar until emergence actually begins. For this reason, the dead drift techniques for both larva and pupa patterns are the same.

When fishing subsurface patterns it is best to fish them under indicator dead drifting. On the Lower Yuba the period that the midge becomes important is right after the salmon are done spawning and the egg bite is over. With that said I usually continue using a plastic "Troutbead" and follow it with a small mayfly nymph, size 16 or 18 and then trail a midge pupa in a size 18 or twenty. Looking for the elusive 20 on a 20. A twenty inch fish on an size 20 fly.

Harrops Transitional Midge Emerger

So when it gets tough out on the Lower Yuba in the winter season, think about trying some midge tactics. You can target the mid day when it is a bit warmer and just go play for a couple of hours. Who knows you may discover something new.

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Have any Questions or Comments? Let me know, Clay.