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Imitating The Midges

By Bill Luscombe, 🕔Mon, Mar 21st, 2011


In this, the first in a series of articles on trout food and its imitation, I will cover the lifecycle and flies that imitate the midges. The midges are the most profuse of the aquatic insects that trout feed upon and can be an incredibly frustrating hatch to fish successfully. Midge fishing is not for the impatient. They are found in nearly all slow water or still water situations throughout the world. They do not inhabit flowing water.

The midges are found in the family Diptera, along with the mosquitoes and houseflies, and are often mistaken for mosquitoes. The adults have two sets of wings, but only one pair fully forms; the other pair remains small vestigial stubs. Midges undergo complete metamorphosis like a butterfly. They have a larval, pupa, and adult stage.

The midge lifecycle starts out in the muddy bottom of the lake or pond. Here the larvae dwell in a worm-like form about  ¾ of an inch in length. They range in colour, but for the most part are blood red or tan, thus their common name . . . bloodworm. Although the bloodworms don´t move any significant distance, they do wriggle around a lot. They are available to the trout all year ‘round but are most profuse during the spring and summer. The midge hatch is always the first to occur after ice off of any lake.

Any thin red fly pattern will work well when the fish are taking the bloodworms, but two patterns I have found effective are the red Carey Special and my own larva lace bloodworm. While tying instructions can be found almost anywhere for the popular Carey, here is how to tie my simple larva lace bloodworm:

Larva Lace Bloodworm:

Fly Tying Instructions:

  1. Attach the thread to the hook shank and tie in, at the butt, a very short tail of black marabou. Don´t make it too thick, as you want it to flow freely and impart motion to the fly.
  2. Then tie in a length of red larva lace and then a length of bright white floss.
  3. Wrap the floss to the head of the fly ensuring you cover the entire shank of the hook and tie off.
  4. Wrap the larva lace to the head of the fly ensuring you do not overlap the wraps.
  5. Tie off.
  6. Create a black head by wrapping the thread around the shank behind the eye until you achieve a small smooth head.
  7. Whip finish and cement.

To fish the bloodworm stage successfully you must get your fly to the bottom, or very close. In water less that 10 feet deep I like to use a dry line and a long sinking leader. Simply measure the water depth and then attach a leader the same length as the water is deep. Cast the fly out and allow it to sink. Once there you don´t retrieve it. You simply bring in your line just fast enough to keep the slack out of the floating portion. When you feel resistance or see the dry line hesitate or head the other way raise the rod tip and set the hook.

If the water is deeper than 10 feet then I switch to a sink-tip or full sinking line. The technique is basically the same as with the dry line except that you will have to move the fly faster to avoid letting your line sink and settle on the bottom. This is not nearly as effective as the dry line method, but it still catches fish.

The larva pupates into the pupa on the bottom and the pupa immediately starts its long, wriggly ascent to the surface. This pupa stage is called the chironomid and is the best known stage of the insect´s lifecycle. The trout key in on the chironomids almost exclusively at this time and can be extremely fussy as to the size, shape, colour, and motion of your imitation.

Once the pupa reaches the surface it tends to get stuck under the surface film and takes awhile to push through it. While they are doing this they hang in the film like little commas and the trout cruise along at a leisurely pace sipping chironomids at or just under the surface. This classic rise form shows no fish at all most of the time, just a subtle ringlet. Other times you may see the top of the shoulders, then the back and then the top of the tail as the fish porpoises slowly to take a surface-film chironomid.

There are a great many patterns in existence which imitate various colour patterns of the different species of chironomids. Two have proven more effective in more conditions across BC than any others and they are the black and silver, and the copper and brown.

Both patterns are tied identically; you simply substitute different coloured material to make the other. Below are the instructions on how to tie the chironomid:

Fly Tying Instructions:

  1. Tie in the thread and tie in a sparse, short tail of brown marabou.
  2. Tie in the wire and then the floss or Spanflex at the butt of the hook.
  3. Wrap the floss to a point midway between the hook point and the eye and secure. Do not cut it off.
  4. Wrap the wire in the opposite direction to the direction you wrapped the floss, to form a rib to the same point along the shank.
  5. Tie it off and cut.
  6. Tie in the pheasant tail fibres on top of the hook shank.
  7. Wrap the remaining length of thorax with the floss, building up a small bulge to form the thorax.
  8. Tie off and cut at the head.
  9. Tie in one strand of white ostrich herl at the head and wrap once to form the gills.
  10. Tie off and cut.
  11. Pull the pheasant tail fibres over the back and over the herl.
  12. Tie off to form the wing case or shellback.
  13. Cut.
  14. Whip finish and cement.

To tie up the black and silver version of this pattern, simply substitute black floss or Spanflex for the brown, silver wire for the copper and black marabou for the brown.

There are two ways to fish the chironomid. One is deep, using a full sinking line and the other is just under the surface using a dry line. To fish the pattern deep simply cast out your full sinking line and allow it to sink to the bottom. Once there you retrieve the fly very slowly to the surface using a slow hand twist or short strip retrieve. The fly should ascend no faster than one six-inch strip every five seconds, slower if you can stand it.

The other method is called the "greased line" method. Using a dry line, tie on your fly and grease the leader with fly floatant to within six inches of the fly. Cast out well in front of a feeding trout and allow the fly to sink and hang vertically from your tippet. The floatant will keep the rest of the leader on the surface. Retrieve it only fast enough to keep the slack out of the line and watch the leader as you would a strike indicator. If the leader straightens, sinks quickly, or heads the other way, set the hook.

Once the pupa manages to break through the surface film it emerges from the pupal shuck as an adult that looks very similar to a mosquito, but without the biting mouthparts. Trout rarely feed on the adults and although I carry some tiny black Tom Thumbs in my box as imitations, I have yet to have a fish take one for an adult midge.

Midging can be a very successful way to fish for trout, especially during the chironomid rise and ensuing hatch. Tie up some of these patterns and carry them with you, especially in the spring and early summer. The midge hatch is one of the four major hatches and you really should not be caught unprepared.

Bill Luscombe has been hunting and fishing for most of his 42 years. He has been flyfishing for 20 years. He instructs flyfishing, and has done so for the past 12 years. He also instructs the federal FSET firearms course and the BC CORE hunter training course. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and has been writing freelance since 1987. He has been published in BC Sport Fishing Magazine, Outdoor Edge, BC Outdoors, Western Sportsman, Island Fish Finder, and the BC Hunting Guide.

Bill Luscombe was born an army brat and raised in Ladner (Delta, BC) where he was raised hunting waterfowl and pheasants. He presently resides in North Cowichan on southern Vancouver Island where he has lived and worked full time as a professional forester since 1982.

He presently works in Nanaimo for the BC Forest Service and continue to write the fly-fishing column for BC Sport Fishing Magazine as well as contributing articles freelance to various outdoor magazines in western Canada. Bill Luscombe is also a BC Director of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association.

"Catching fish is not hard. You simply need to understand what makes them tick. If you think like a fish, you will catch fish. It´s as simple as that."- Bill Luscombe



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