Early spring midge hatches bring serious dry-fly opportunity to the Yellowstone region.
Late winter and spring midge fishing is a great start to the full-on fishing season. While you can fish throughout winter, spring offers the first great chances to cast to rising fish instead of simply casting over fish habitat. And whether you are dedicated streamer or nymph fisher, there’s just something undeniably awesome about the first dry-fly fish of the year.
Timing and Location
My home waters in the greater Yellowstone region—including Wyoming’s Snake River, the South Fork Snake and lower Henry’s Fork in Idaho, and the Gallatin, Madison and Yellowstone rivers in Montana—all have some great midge fishing.
Depending on the year and specific water conditions, these hatches start in February and extend through April. Talking to anglers in other areas leads me to believe that they also enjoy some wonderful early season midge fishing.
No matter where you fish with midges, the best fishing is usually in the afternoon. In Jackson, Wyoming and surrounding areas, skiing in the morning and fishing in the afternoon is common occurrence. You need something to do until the trout and midges awaken. Some years, skis or snowshoes may be needed to reach the water. The trout will still be found in winter habitat adjacent to deeper, moderate currents. Inside corners, back-eddies and slack water tailouts are prime midge fishing locations. The fish can mover very shallow, but are still found near deeper retreats. A good indicator of hatch activity is an abundance of midge adults on the snow. If they are found in quantity, there is a good chance they will be on the water, too.
Adapt To The Situation
Trout get into the early spring midge hatches big time. Midges are small but numerous, and they are easy for trout to capture in big numbers. In many waters, this is the first consistent, predictable food source of the year. Think of it as a constant flow of snack food. With the quantity of food, trout can get selective, and having a variety of patterns to match the stages of this hatch can be beneficial. I’ve seen many occasions when imitating a stage was more important than the exact size and color of the fly. Following are a couple of proven midge patterns with noted enhancements.
With midges, fish can key in on specific stages of the hatch, and it is common to see trout feeding selectively on emerging pupae. The telltale sign is seeing trout breaking the surface with nothing more than their backs, which means the are eating pupae just under the surface. Another good indicator is fish that are feeding heavily but refusing all your dry-fly offerings. Sometimes you need to stand back and watch for a while to figure this out. Think of it from the trout’s perspective: they have a lot of food to choose from and the easiest item is under the surface—they don’t have to risk breaking the surface for a meal. In many situations, a hangdown emerger like my Parachute Midge Emerger or a Quigley Cripple work extremely well. However, there are times when trout like it just a little bit deeper. Depth is critical in these circumstances and if you go too deep the trout won’t see the fly. Six inches down is a good starting point and covers most situations. The Tubing Submerger is the fly I use for this situation.
I picked up this body style years ago from an old Larva Lace promotional brochure written by Phil Camera. This is an interesting body where you slide the hollow tubing over the hook shank rather than wrapping it. Soon after playing with this body, I tied up some midge larvae to fish on the tailwaters of Utah’s Green River. They fished very well and I added the fly to my regular arsenal. I soon added a small black dubbing head to the fly. This fly can be fished deep, in traditional nymph style with split shot to get it down, but where it really shines is as a subsurface emerger. The denser plastic body and more water resistant dubbing head causes the fly to ride in a vertical position like a natural coming to the surface. It is almost the reverse effect of a beadhead pattern, with the tail hanging down. To further enhance the position, I added polypropylene gill filaments above the hook eye, which also adds realism. A touch of pearlescent flash at the butt catches the trout’s eye and matches the rear breathing tubes on real midge pupae.
To get the fly to the correct level, you can fish it below a dry fly, or the leader can be greased to within a few inches of the fly. I generally don’t use indicators, since they tend to be bulky and land on the water with force. A buoyant, visible fly that might be eaten by the trout is a good choice. I use my Midge X cluster pattern in this situation, but a slightly oversized parachute or another midge cluster also works. I prefer to tie the top indicator fly to a short dropper off a blood knot.
Hook and material selection makes the fly easier to tie. A fine wire hook with a small eye is easier to slide the tubing over. A Dai-Riki 310 straight eye fine wire hook is a good choice. Light wire emerger hooks, such as a Dai-Riki 125 or TMC 2488, are also good options. The tubing size should be matched to the hook. Larvae Lace standard size is good for size16, Hareline standard tubing for sizes 18 through 20, and for smaller flies use Hareline Midge Tubing. Other brands also work, but tubing sizes aren’t universal from brand to brand. Standard colors for the fly are clear, olive, tan, gray, black and red. Since the material is translucent, the hook color darkens the body color.
Hook: Dai-Riki 310 straight eye dry fly, sizes 16 through 22
Thread: Olive 8/0
Tag/Breathing Tube: A single strand of pearl Krystal Flash or Midge Flash folded over.
Body: Clear, hollow plastic tubing. Larvae Lace standard size is good size16; Hareline Standard Tubing for sizes 18 through
Rib: Tying thread over tubing body
Gill filaments: White polypropylene fibers
Head: A sparse amount of black dubbing
Push the tubing back down the hook until it is even with the tag and just over the thread base. There should be a little space between the front end of the tubing and the hook eye. This allows you space to tie in the gill filaments and head. Also, the tubing will stretch a little as your wrap your thread over it.