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Artistic view of a Male Pteronarcys californica (Pteronarcyidae) (Giant Salmonfly) Stonefly Adult from the Gallatin River in Montana
Pteronarcys californica

The giant Salmonflies of the Western mountains are legendary for their proclivity to elicit consistent dry-fly action and ferocious strikes.

27" brown trout, my largest ever. It was the sub-dominant fish in its pool. After this, I hooked the bigger one, but I couldn't land it.
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Falsifly's profile picture
Hayward, WI.

Posts: 660
Falsifly on Apr 2, 2009April 2nd, 2009, 12:56 pm EDT
My personal observations:
I spent quite a bit of time sitting on the river bank watching the midges collect at my boots and crawling up my waders, as swirling clusters, in varying numbers of individuals, constantly drifted by. The cluster size constantly changed as individuals or groups would disperse forming their own distinct cluster or different clusters would combine. It was not uncommon to see clusters form, almost instantly, from a single source and then be gone just as quickly. I found it interesting as the masses would, spin, swirl, and move about under their own power by the many beating wings. It was as if one or more females were constantly being approached by hordes of males vying for position. This is only subjective assumption of course; comparing the male midge to its human equivalent. Although clusters were evident across the rivers span it was along the quieter banks that they were most prevalent. During mating, which occurred daily at different times and with different intensity, and to which the supposition of atmospheric conditions used as a predication was useless to me, any back eddy formed by a stream side obstruction contained clusters. I watched intently as the midges scurried on my legs, many joining together at the apex of the abdomen assuming copulation. These joined couples would be crawled around, and over, by other individuals; some of whom would try to join in the act quite persistently by inserting its abdominal tip at the point of juncture. Never once, as disturbed as the original couple was by others, did I see them uncouple and submit to an intruder. Copulation, although not timed, seemed to last as long as a couple of minutes in which the couple took on a death like appearance. There was absolutely no movement from the couple even when disturbed. Even my prodding finger invoked no visible response. Then, when finished, they took flight. As I observed the couples I tried to differentiate between the sexes. The only distinction I could observe, in some but not all couples, was that there could be a sharp disparity in size and color, but as I stated this was not always the case; when it was, one of the individuals could be half the size of its mate and much darker in color. As far as other dissimilarities, other than just mentioned, my observation falls short, and in retrospect I kick myself because all the while a magnifying glass was in a vest pocket.

Feeding on the clusters:
Although rising fish were visible, witnessing them in the act of taking a cluster is difficult. I know that it is a given but I wanted to see it first hand. Most fish were raising sporadically mid stream but one fish seemed to have established a more rhythmical pattern. His position was at the tail of a narrow riffle formed between two small islands were it dumped into deeper water. It was feeding in no more than a foot of water and in an area no larger than a small kitchen table. I was able to approach from behind to within about twenty feet, at which point I stopped for fear of putting the fish down. It continued to feed but I could not make out the clusters on the water. For years I have carried a small pair of Simmons binoculars in 8x21 which fold up and can be stowed in a small vest pocket. I got the idea many years ago from the author of some book, of which I cannot remember, who suggested the use of a similar device to help identify bugs on the water. To be honest with you I have used it more to spy on other fishermen, especially if they are catching fish, to help identify the fly on the end of their tippet. Seriously, with the aid of the binoculars I was able to witness multiple takes on the clusters.

Now this is sheer speculation on my part for I have seen midges dapping the water surface much like the mayflies and caddis. But for the most part a vast predominance of midges are seen skimming the water surface under power of wing, as if skating. I wonder if this is a way of depositing eggs.

The way I fish the hatch:
Maybe I should have started this post with the hatch, but I think it makes for a better ending. Unless one fishes where the midge can be a major source of fish food I can understand why the midge goes unnoticed. But for those who have experienced the opportunity to catch large trout on small flies the experience will not be forgotten. As with many other hatches it all begins at the bottom. While the larva and the pupa imitations can be successful at anytime, it is the emergence of the pupa when things become most exciting. Obviously the first clue is the adult standing motionless being carried down stream, the wing-buzzer unable to take flight, or the skater who lifts off and departs quickly. Don’t be fooled by the skater traveling long distances, as I have seen this activity in mass and have yet to profit. These insects are hard to see under all but optimal conditions, but easily detected with a trained eye. The most obvious midge hatches that I have witnessed have been on Colorado’s Roaring Fork. But the light has to be right to see it. It was in the form of a cloud lifting from the water, but if the angle of light was not just right it was invisible. I have found that particular attention to size and color has benefitted me sufficiently, and that a very small number of patterns in different colors and sizes are all that I find necessary. The book Midge Magic by Holbrook and Koch really got me started in tying my own patterns, but I didn’t find it necessary to go into that depth of detail with color. I started by capturing the pupa and adults with a Spirit River seine, which easily rolls up and can be carried in the back of my vest. The specimens are then placed in a small glass veil filled with Bug Balm, in which they can be transported to the vice. Once the pattern is satisfactory, presentation is the key. I use a 9’ 4wt four-piece G Series Scott and a Bauer LM1 reel with floating SA WF4, which is probably immaterial considering the other end is more important. I nail knot a 6in. section of red amnesia with a perfection loop to the fly line and loop to loop a 7 ½’ 5x tapered leader to that. I blood knot (yes a blood knot, no tools and I’m fast) about 12 inch of 5x tippet to the leader and improved-clinch in the first fly. I clinch another 12 of 6x to the hook bend and improved-clinch in the last fly. I always use two flies subsurface but they are never the same. Now to get this down I add shot according to conditions at the upper side of the blood knot to keep it from sliding down. No beads on my pupa. And lets make no mistake about it, getting it down is the key. Now for the “strike indicator”, or bobber fishing if you prefer. After trying them all I prefer the Pulsa stick-ons. Placement is determined by depth and an additional allowance. I place mine for the deepest depth most often encountered and leave it there even into the shallower water. Subsurface fishing is easily accomplished without an indicator, especially in still or slow water or straight lining pocket water at rod length, but if you are casting in fast water the indicator is indispensable for two reasons. One we all know, the other is proper mending. Once the dead drift is complete, always allow the rig to swing upward in the current, for this is often the trigger that induces the strike. All nymph fishermen know this and know how to profit from the technique, more of which I will explain shortly. As the emergence gains in the number of ascending pupa, so to, do the fish follow in the water column. And yes this is true even in fast water. They may position themselves in protected locations but they will follow in pursuit upward towards the surface. Reading and properly interpreting the rise form as to the stage of the insect being taken can be beneficial, but in most cases all you need to know is if they are feeding at or near the surface. If so, it is time to remove all the weight, and grease the leader and tippet up to the first fly. They are feeding just below or in the film so get the fly there. They may be taking dries at this point but the pupa is still my go to fly in any kind of chop. Fishing the dry midge is best done in quite water and requires a total rerig, and in my experience I have witnessed few fish keying only on the dries. I’m speaking now of individuals not clusters. Now for the swing mentioned earlier. Fishing dead drift just below, or in the film, can be very successful, but I have experienced times when the fish are visibly feeding but my dead drift efforts don’t produce as expected. When this is the case I suspend my up stream casts in favor of, across, quartering down, or down stream casts. I allow a short dead drift then animate with a very slight twitch of the rod tip and repeat until the drift completes in the final down stream swing. It is often very effective and the difference between a few and a few more. As a matter of fact I have experienced situations where it was the only way that worked.

In my many travels there is always one thing that amazes most of the fisherman new to the sport. Countless times I have been approached by others asking me what I’m catching my fish on, and when I show them, more often than not, they will say they can’t believe that the trout can see that. Believe me nothing could be further from the truth.

I know this is old hat to most of you and you have seen it hashed over and over again, but we hear so little of the midge that I thought some of the newer people might at least find it amusing.

When asked what I just caught that monster on I showed him. He put on his magnifiers and said, "I can't believe they can see that."
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
GONZO on Apr 2, 2009April 2nd, 2009, 2:23 pm EDT
Great observations and an excellent primer on tactics/technique, Falsifly! I've seen midges clustering around rocks on streams in the East, but I've never observed the clusters on the water except once on Western waters. I would expect to see something similar on Eastern tailwaters like the Delaware, but I've just never noticed it.

BTW, Don Holbrook told me that his most consistent pattern for all-around fishing continues to be his black-fly larva pattern (the original on pg. 35). When there's not a midge hatch, you might want to give it a try.
Wiflyfisher's profile picture

Posts: 622
Wiflyfisher on Apr 2, 2009April 2nd, 2009, 3:38 pm EDT
Excellent! Sure is more educational than the Hairy Honeybug thread I just read. :)
Cortland Manor, NY

Posts: 139
Mcjames on Apr 3, 2009April 3rd, 2009, 1:10 am EDT
This is very helpful... I got shut out last year at a stream close by my house, primarily a warm water fishery, but stocked each spring, when the fish were splashing all around me, feeding on midges. I didnt have any midge patterns. Thought I'd pick off a few "easy" stockers, boy was I wrong... humbling.
I am haunted by waters
Martinlf's profile picture
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3047
Martinlf on Apr 3, 2009April 3rd, 2009, 8:58 am EDT
I'll have to agree with John S. I've been watching guys who are good midge fishermen, and recently found one in a favorite hole succeeding mightily where everyone else around him was coming up short. Great tutorial Falsifly; I'm going to give your method a try!
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
Falsifly's profile picture
Hayward, WI.

Posts: 660
Falsifly on Apr 3, 2009April 3rd, 2009, 10:02 am EDT
I’m probably all wet on this one but here it goes:
I’ve been fishing the midge for quite a few years now and I have fished it on some heavily pressured water; granted its westward, but anyone who has fished the Frying Pan, the Roaring Fork, The Green River at the Flaming Gorge and especially the San Juan from the Texas Hole up knows what I mean. Believe me when I say this, and I am not bragging, for I have been humbled my fair share, but I have stood amongst others at very close quarters being the only one catching fish many times. I’ve pondered this often over the years and don’t want to give fish any more intelligence than is do, but I often think that they see so much of the usual stuff and have been burned so many times that they avoid it. The one thing that they see and the one thing that has not burned them before is the stuff most fishermen don’t use. The little stuff. Like I said, I’m probably way off base on this one but I do think about it.
When asked what I just caught that monster on I showed him. He put on his magnifiers and said, "I can't believe they can see that."

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