Midges, The One that got Away
The past long weekend (New Years) brought cold weather in the teens and the temperatures stayed below freezing throughout the weekend. Snow fell every day and I was sure this iced up any open water or at least brought slush, so fishing was out of the question. My thoughts turned to tying up some midges before the TV remote battery went dead.
The term ‘midge’ to fly fishermen has different meanings depending on who you talk with. Even in fly tying books it is used loosely. The only common denominator is that ‘midge’ means small flies. Some will consider a midge only be tied in #22 size hooks and smaller, while others will say the #16’s thru 20’s are midges also. Whether it is a dry fly or a fly tied for under the surface fishing, if it is tied tiny it would be considered a midge. I now don’t tie anything smaller than a size #20. Tying tiny flies are frustrating enough with my stubby finger tips and eye sight that if I wanted to fish something tinier I’ll just purchase the tiny things.
My midge tying is therefore in the #18 and #20 range. Usually dry flies but I’ll tie some subsurface stuff also.
In tying midges I have to be in the right mood and get my mind prepared for it. It’s not something I can just go to the tying bench, whip up a few quick midges and than take them out and fish with them, at least not for me. I got to get myself in the right mood and patience for settling down to tie them. I’m talking about fine thread, ultra fine dubbing, very fragile small hackling that can break at any moment while wrapping it around the hook. Then tying all this on a tiny #20 hook with 2x reading glasses isn‘t done quickly. I tried using one of those magnifying lighted glass lamps a few years ago but I couldn’t get used to it. But with my gradually failing eye sight I may have to resort back to trying it again.
I’m not much of a midge fly guy, that is dry midges, but there were occasions in the past years where tiny dry midges came in handy for wary trout. Especially during the warmer months in the mouths of feeder streams where I even caught big trout on such tiny flies. Besides that I’ve been invited to fish down in south central PA., in February, and I was told midges are a must.
I look out the window and I see falling snow and knowing the temp’s are in the teens I shiver at the thought of fishing in February, brrr…..
I start off tying a black midge dry pattern on a #20 Mustad up eye hook. I like the up eye hooks on tiny midges. It’s easier for me to tie the tippet to an up eye than a down eye. I use fine black thread and a good grade black hackle. Back around Thanksgiving I received a plastic sectional case with a variety of ‘Nice & Easy’ hair color samples. I’m not talking about the dye itself but the actual imitation hair follicles in the shades of the dye used. The box stores sell these sample cases at years end and the person who gave me the case said that they heard that people who tie flies buy these. I figured the hair follicles should be stronger than thread and might show a good segmented body when wrapped around a thread base.
I put a Jimmy Buffet CD in the player to get me in the mood and clamp a size #20 hook in my Renzetti travel vise. It usually takes me a few attempts to get the fly looking the way I want but on the first attempt it looked pretty darn good. I used two strands of #121A hair color follicles and they wound on the thread body with no problems. I didn’t crowd the eye and the black hackle looked to be the right size. The black tail fibers were a touch on the long side which is the way I like them on my tiny midges. Holding the fly in my palm I prepared for the ’flight and land’ test. I tossed the fly in the air and it drops on the white, card grade, paper. This is just a test I use to be sure the fly lands correctly, upright, and not upside down or on its side. The midge lands correctly and it also lands correctly on the second attempt. On the third attempt the midge bounces off the paper and I thought it landed on my blue jeans. ’Than’ I thought it fell on the gray/black cushioned tying chair. I had to resort to getting on my knees and trying to find the midge on the gray piled carpet. While searching, among the scraps of tying material on the carpet, I found two #16 curved nymph hooks and one #16 standard nymph hook. I searched the fox pelt and carpet underneath my fly tying desk without any luck. My first midge tie had disappeared almost as if it grew wings and flew away!!!
The next six I was more careful with and they turned out well enough that I was satisfied. I did find two strands of the ‘Nice & Easy’ worked better than three strands. It seemed the third strand wanted to separate from the other two and leave gaps, so two it will be from now on. The hair follicles also gave a nice shiny segmented body, so I was really satisfied with the results.
My next tie was to be a dun midge. After threading the #8 gray thread, through the bobbin, I got out the blue dun beaver fur dubbing. I try to use natural materials as much as possible, but that’s just me. I got out both the light blue dun and natural blue dun rooster capes. I will tie two sets of five midges in each shade of dun hackle. I’ve found that the streams I fish have both shades of color. The 10 duns I tied came out fine with only having one that I crowded the eye. I had to burn off loose hackle fibers that blocked the eye with a hot dubbing needle tip. Somewhere between the dun tying I slipped in a Skynyrd CD. I was in the zone concentrating on tying without any worldly matters.
blue dun hackle
light blue dun hackle
Next was to be Adam midges. I’ll tie 6 standard dry fly midges and 6 parachute style. I don’t care to use Adam’s as much as I try to use a natural May fly pattern. The Adam is an attractor pattern that resembles many May flies on the water. It’s probably the #1 dry fly pattern I would suggest to any newbie in any trout waters in the respectable size. The hackle and tails, on bigger patterns, call for a mixture of grizzly and ginger hackle. Due to the smallness of midges, two hackles would put an excessive amount of bulk in the thorax section, therefore I use one Cree hackle feather. Cree isn’t that easy to come by but I have both a Cree rooster neck and saddle that I use sparingly. Cree is a combination of ginger and grizzly on each feather. On my standard midges I use Cree fibers for the tail but on my parachute Adams I use a few moose body hairs. The body I dub with Adam gray beaver fur and use black thread for tying. I use down eye hooks on the parachute dries and use polypropylene float yarn for the post.. The adam midges turned out fine.
The last fly of the day will be BWO’s. (Blue Wing Olives) These are practically on every creek in PA. They always come in handy in the mornings and whenever tiny olive color midges are about. I insert the Celtic Woman CD in the player and really mellow out to the sweet voices of the girls.
I thread a spool of #8 BWO thread through the bobbin and take out a dark blue dun rooster cape, another shade that isn’t always that easy to find. I don’t usually put wings on my tiny midges but I decided to add wings to four of the imitations. For the wings I use gray polypropylene floating yarn. I use only enough fibers to show a nice silhouette within the dark hackle. I split the fibers into two wings with the tying thread. Natural paired mallard wing section feathers aren’t easy to tie on such a small fly and are too much of a fuss. A friend of mine gave me a box of his father’s fly tying stuff when his father passed away. When I opened the box of fly tying material I found a clear plastic sectional box filled with different colored spools of polycryolin yarn. The only thing I can tell you about it is the box has Sunrise printed on it and ‘made in India’. I’m not sure if I could ever find these again but the spooled yarn is easy to work with. The colors come in handy and the tan shade is perfect for my male Hendrickson patterns. Black for the thin small dry black stonefly patterns and the olive shade and green shade go well with my BWO patterns. Even the gray doesn’t look bad on some of the dun patterns I tie and for the thin bodies of small caddis flies the thin yarn is pretty much perfect.
the finished product
After tying for the day I look outside and more snow is falling upon the already white landscape. The big yellow plow truck scrapes and salts the road as the tire chains clink and ting upon the pavement and finally the noise disappears up the road. It doesn’t look like I’ll be fishing for sometime. I’ll have to pass the evenings getting in the mood to tie up some more flies for awhile!
I still wonder where that first midge went, that got away?