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Winter Midge Fishing

Category: Fly Fishing Tactics | Author: Paul Procter

The term “midges” seems to be generic and widely used when it comes to discussing those tiny chironomids (buzzers) that emerge during cold winter months.


Winter Fly Fishing

The term “midges” seems to be generic and widely used when it comes to discussing those tiny chironomids (buzzers) that emerge during cold winter months. And whilst trout readily accept them, anglers on the other hand seem to ignore their importance. Naturally, small buzzer pupae undergo the same perilous journey as their larger kin. Yet, their smaller size makes them much more vulnerable and because of this they’re often present in substantial numbers. This alone warrants a closer look on our behalf.

A recent visit to Wych Elm Trout Fishery on a clear, crisp winter day resulted in midge action, calling for the use of diminutive patterns. With the hatch expected from lunchtime onwards there was no rush. However, if it’s been a still night, with no wave action to wash adult midges subsurface, chances are there’ll be residue from earlier hatches with causalities from yesterday’s activity still littering the surface. These may have even been pushed to one corner or into bay and its here that trout congregate to sip them down just after first light.

If conditions remain calm then rising trout are best tackled with a single dry midge tethered to a tapered leader of some 14ft, starting with a size 18 or 20 fly. Today there’s a light, changeable breeze, helping emerging midges to break through the film that much quicker and instantly fly to cover. Spotting such tiny dots can be difficult on ruffled water. It’s easy then to assume little if anything is actually happening. However, look hard enough and the evidence is there. Any slight discrepancy or break in the wave pattern singles trout feeding close to the surface. And, if you’re lucky enough a flashing flank of a turning trout might be seen. Inspecting the windward (downwind) shore may also reveal discarded shucks from recently emerged midge. There’s likely to be a few pathetic adults there too, unlucky casualties that didn’t quite make it.

Today, with little showing at the surface on my arrival, a couple of small pupae patterns are a shrewd call. There are two choices available here. Firstly, to present your nymphs in a more usual fashion, on say a 12-14ft leader. Or, as we’re not intending to search deep down, suspend them beneath a dry fly. Referred to as the “duo”, my initial choice will be this New Zealand style of attaching nymphs. Beneath a Klinkhamer I’ll knot on a 4ft tippet with one fly position 2ft away and the other on the point at the full 4ft. Although the dry fly potentially attracts fish, it also serves as a sensitive indicator when trout intercept the subsurface imitations, a great way to exploit the upper layers. If strong winds hamper casting, dropping to a single nymph beneath the Klinkhamer helps avoid tangles. Equally, it can be worth reverting to more recognised nymphing tactics, using a large nymph on the point as an anchor with two smaller patterns attached to droppers.

As ever, look for a cross-wind which affords the nymphs a more natural drift. Initially, adopt a low profile by kneeling to avoid spooky trout feeding close in. Wave action will now “bow” the line and rather than retrieve this, just take up any slack to keep in touch with the flies. Takes to smaller flies tend to be sensitive affairs. Remain vigilant and react quickly to any line movement or slightest twitch of the dry fly. Sweeping the rod sideways, in an upwind direction, rather than striking vertically helps connect with the fish that bit sooner. The upward lift usually involves taking up slack line before tension is gained, allowing trout enough time to “spit” the fly.

Latching onto my large dry fly the first fish is more than welcome and proves that at least some trout might be prepared to look up. Despite this early fish, sport is slow and it’s nearly an hour before further activity. The next trout engulfed my point fly with another succumbing to the middle dropper before a third fish is lost in play. On two occasions the Klinkhamer merely twitched, illustrating how sensitive takes can be. In calm conditions, trout have far longer to inspect our offerings, I imagine they sidle up to the fly before literally inhaling it, rather than the smash and grab takes we experience when retrieving flies at speed. One ploy worth trying is to occasionally pull a foot or two of fly line back during the retrieve. Although creating wake from your dry fly, your nymphs are drawn to the surface in a most attractive manner which can summons a response, somewhat like an induced take!

Shortly after 3pm the chilly breeze decided to drop away resulting in more activity at the surface as a handful of trout sip down tiny flies. This is where the New Zealand style shows its versatility. Leaving the large, conspicuous dry fly attached, quickly snip off any nymph(s) and tie on a small dry. Not only does the larger dry fly help you locate your speck like midge, it takes the brunt of any casting energy allowing a tiny imitation to flutter down, surrounded by ample slack line which in turn improves presentation. Any rise form close to the big dry should be addressed with a confident lift. You’ll be amazed at the number of times the rod kicks into life. When it comes to imitating smaller insects, for me the key issue is size as opposed to colour. Many times I’ve dropped down from a size 16 fly to a 20 to see my catch rate soar. Though oddly, it doesn’t seem to prevent me from trying flies in an exhaustive colour range!

Today my initial approach is a parasol midge. Sitting a fraction beneath the surface this fly appeals to resident trout, those that have apparently seen it all! Obviously, it comes into its own when fish prey heavily on the critical emerging stage of midges. And possessing a highly visible floating tuft it is easily seen from a distance, especially in poor light conditions. With a dipping sun, as the shadows grow longer even more trout begin to show, warranting a change to a hare’s ear dry fly which should tempt trout mopping up stillborn midges and returning egg laying adults. Feeling safe in the gathering darkness, trout are now willing to explore the margins once more. Short accurate casts are best now and targeting these trout can be as exciting as mayfly sport experienced in spring. The difference being these winter trout are keen to maintain condition and often greedily accept a carefully presented dry.

Many fishermen are reluctant to explore the potential of midge fishing, their fears hinge on two things. Firstly, that fish rarely see or bother with tiny food forms. Please, don’t underestimate the trout’s vision their existence depends on it. Believe me fish are more than capable of detecting and plucking microscopic food particulars from both the water’s surface and beneath it. Secondly, the anxiety surrounding hooking capabilities and even the hook hold are common feelings when it comes to flies smaller than size 18. Logically though nothing is further from the truth, embracing this, Europeans are extremely successful with small hooks. Physically, smaller hooks are less prone to leverage. Besides, these tiny irons tend to embed themselves right to the bend, subjecting them to little in the way of pressure. The added bonus of being buried to the knuckle (as it were) renders them very secure. As for the initial hooking properties it is true that smaller hook sizes possess little in the way of a gape. Choosing straight eyed models or those with a negligible eye angle can make all the difference. One final trick is to off-set the hook point in relation to the shank by about 15 or so degrees. Try popping this modified hook between forefinger and thumb then pulling it out. The hook point bites instantly!

Finally, a word on tackle, I’m happiest with light line outfits. Delicate enough yet possessing authority for handling stubborn trout, a 5-weight outfit is probably more desirable when it comes to presenting midge patterns. That said, I’ve often fished a 6-weight with confidence though stepping up to a 7-weight rod is probably over doing it and a tad on the heavy side.

Wych Elm Factfile: Owned by Ken and Jean Gill-Wych Elm Trout Fishery is open all year round. The attractive 2½ acre lake is spring fed, rendering the water gin clear, except after prolonged rain. Wych Elm contains quality rainbows, golden, blues, brook and brown trout. For further details contact Ken Gill: +441524 781449.

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