Fishing Cold Water in the Great Smoky Mountains - Midges - Part
It is usually very difficult to actually see or determine if a midge hatch is underway.
The light has to be just right for you to see them. I cannot see much of anything
within three feet of me but I have good vision at a distance. Even so, I still have a
difficult time determining if a midge hatch is occurring. When everything is right from
a lighting standpoint, you may see a midge hatch going on right where you had
been looking at the water under different lighting conditions without seeing anything
hatching. Sometimes there is just not enough light to determine what is going on
There are other reasons for the difficulty in this. One is the ultra small size of the
midges. Anglers commonly tie midges down to a hook size 32. A size 32 hook is so
small there is hardly room for the gap in the hook. You would think that is small
enough but the facts are midges exist in even smaller sizes. There are over a
thousand (1000) species of them that are found in streams that trout can exist in.
Entomologist have found over a hundred species of Chironomid midges on many of
the trout streams that have been examined. Some slower moving, fertile trout
streams have even more species.
We have observed midges from the streams in the Smokies many times, some
times deliberately and sometimes because it was almost impossible to collect
nymphs and larvae in a kick net without getting midge larvae in it. We normally
place the mayfly and stonefly nymphs and caddisfly larvae, one at a time, into a
white dish to separate and identify them. When we do we always find some midge
larvae and pupae in the dish. They are so tiny it is almost impossible not to get any
of them into the dish.
As I have said in a previous article, almost all of the midge larvae and pupae are
shades of light green, cream or red. The pupae usually have dark wing pad areas
but other than that, they all look about the same. Some are segmented, but as I
previously said, it is very subdued shades of those same colors. The point that I am
getting too is that I don't think it is necessary to have a lot of different colors of
midge patterns and I am certain it is a disadvantage to have those with bead heads,
especially if they are bright or flashy. I think it is a disadvantage to have any that
are bright like some tied with wire, tinsel, etc. So my suggestion is to use something
plain and in shades of light green, cream or red. You only occasionally will find the
red ones in the Smokies. They are usually not present. They exist more where
there is soft soil on the bottom and around the banks and you will find very little of
that in the streams in the Smokies.
Since there is little difference in the pupae and larvae, I don't think it is critical which
imitation you try first or maybe even which one you use. My guess is that it has
more to do with where you place the fly, meaning up in the water column like the
pupae would be found, or on the bottom like the larvae would be found when they
change to a pupae. Midge pupae have a difficult time getting through the surface
skim in the calm to slow moving water they hatch in. They suspend just below the
surface skim where they are easily picked off by trout and other fish.
If you do happen to see them hatching, fish the pupae imitations. If you don't, I
would still suggest that you try a pupa imitation but only after you had failed with a
larva imitation fished on the bottom.
Fish the larvae imitation the same way you fish a nymph. In fact, you can use the
same methods I outlined in my recent articles on that subject. Use split shot above
the fly about eight inches or more and get the fly on the bottom.
When you fish imitations of the pupae you have several options, but I suggest
fishing it from the bottom all the way to the surface. One method is to fish without
anything but the fly tied on. Grease the leader and tippet and watch your leader
and line for takes.
Another method is to add a small strike indicator above the fly and fish it on the
dead drift. I don't particularly care for this method but many anglers use it
Yet another method is to fish it the same way you would a caddisfly pupa pattern or
down and across, allowing it to rise back to the surface at the end of the drift.
Another way is to fish it behind a larger dry fly. This works great if the trout are
feeding on the pupae high in the water column or just under the surface.
Most of the time, I fish them without anything attached - weight or indicator. I allow
the fly to sink, helping it do so by mending the line. Most of the strikes occur as the
current brings the fly back to the surface.
Of course I have omitted discussing the dry fly or adult midge imitation. I am certain
the trout eat them, but I would want to observe the trout rising to them before I
wasted any time fishing an adult imitation. I would guess that we have caught about
sixty percent of the trout we have caught in the Smokies on pupae imitations. I
would guess maybe thirty percent came on larvae imitations. Probably less than ten
percent were caught on adult imitations. That may have more to do with which fly
we fished than what they would have eaten, so I wouldn't place a lot of importance
of that. What I am certain of is that trout in the streams of Great Smoky Mountains
National Park eat midges - the real ones and imitations of them. I am also certain
that you can catch trout on imitations of them if you simply put forth the effort.
Copyright 2008 James Marsh