01/11/12

Insects and other foods the trout may be eating:
1.    Midges
2.    Little Winter Stoneflies
3.    Sculpin, Minnows (Streamers)

Midges - Part One
During the late 1990's, when Angie and I first started fly fishing for trout, we came up to the
Smokies to fish for a few days during the Winter.  I don't remember the month for certain, but it
was still cold weather and everything was still a drab brown color. My brother Dennis and a friend
had just returned from a drift boat trip where they had caught a lot of trout. He told me the only
thing the trout would take were midges.

When I asked Denny what midges were, he replied that they were very tiny flies. It took me a few
minutes, but later I realized he was referring to the flies themselves, not an insect. We were just
learning to tell a caddisfly from a stonefly from a mayfly at that point in time. As I recall, he didn't
seem to know, or at least he didn't seem to be able to explain to me, that midges were actual little
insects. I ended the conversation thinking that maybe Angie and I should fish the tiny flies in the
Smokies. In fact, I just borrowed the very fly box he had used on the drift boat trip. I think the
midges he had were given to him by the guide he had used, or at least suggested for him to
purchase.

At the time, we didn't know where we were going to fish the Clinch River or the Smokies. I'm not
positive, but I believe he had fished the Holston River tailwater. We decided on Abrams Creek in
the Smokies and fished it the next day. I don't have time to look the trip up in our video logs, but I
remember enough about the trip to know we only caught a very few trout (like two or three) and
although I can remember trying the midge flies for the very first time at least for a short time, we
didn't catch any trout on them. It was sometime after that, maybe even months after that, before I
realized midges were actual insects. I also found out later, I was not the only one that though
midges were just any small fly. Many anglers and even some fly shop sales people used the term
midge for any very small fly.

"Midge" is a common name for insects in the Chironomidae family. They are also known as
chironomids. They are non-biting insects as opposed to those that are similar but that do bite.
They are closely related to the Ceratopogonidae, Simuliidae, and Thaumaleidae insects all of
which are similar in appearance to mosquitoes. The exact number of species in this family isn't
known but it is estimated to be over 10,000.

Chironomidae insects are so plentiful, it would be difficult to find water anywhere that didn't have
the little insects.  I'm referring to water ranging from clear trout streams to mud puddles to sewers.
This includes every pond and lake as well as moving streams or rivers.

Midge imitations are not popular flies that are used in the Smokies. If you closely examined every
angler's fly boxes that fished Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the next three months, I
doubt you would find over a small percentage of them that had midge imitations.Those that did
most likely would be anglers that also fished tailwaters and just happen top use the same fly
boxes. If you tried to find an angler actually fishing an imitation of a midge in the Smokies, you
may be looking for a very long time. It's difficult to find many anglers fishing the Smokies during
the Winter and those that do, usually don't use midges.  

The main reason for this lack of attention for the midge in the streams of the Smokies is simply
that most anglers just don't believe in the fly’s effectiveness. They wonder why a large trout would
want to eat such a tiny morsel of food when they could eat a large stonefly nymph, for example.
They wonder why anyone would 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 the fish, especially the larger brown trout.

Midges are small, usually very small. Imitations of them are so small that most of us have a very
difficult time tying them on our tippet. It's such a problem that it led to the development of a
“midge threader”, a very handy device, I might add. Make no mistake about it, the little midges
are very effective on all trout streams and lakes and yes, they will catch large trout.

It's 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 the freestone
streams of the Smokies, where there's water, you will find midges. If water supports trout, it has
midges. This includes fast flowing freestone mountain streams. It doesn't matter whether the
bottom is muddy, rocky, or sandy, midge species of one type or another can survive as long as
any amount of algae exist for them to feed on.  

Another important consideration for local tailwaters, lakes and freestone streams is that midges
normally hatch periodically, just about year-round, and are available as food for trout in the
larvae, pupae or adult stages.

Midges are two winged flies that 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 live in. To be continued
Copyright 2012 James Marsh