Maligned Midges

Tom Jarman takes the frustration out of targeting midging trout

When anglers use the term ‘midging’ fish, they are typically referring to fish that are consistently rising to midges. Chironomids, colloquially known as midges,
or ‘midge’, are a prevalent insect found in almost any waterway and
they provide a very reliable food source for trout.
In Australia, we draw a lot of inspiration from overseas fisheries. The UK
and America heavily influence the styles of flies and techniques we adopt. Stillwaters in the UK are famous for their midge fishing, known locally as ‘buzzer’ fishing. The size and reliability of hatches on lakes such as Grafham and Rutland are similar to the mayfly hatches we experience in Australia. Whilst there is so much we can learn from literature and media produced in the UK on their midge fisheries, it is crucial to recognise some key differences when comparing our own waters.
One important difference relates to the size of their midges, often in the #10–12 range, making it very practical to tie and fish a fly representing the size and proportions of the naturals in the water. Fishing buzzer (midge pupa) patterns is therefore very productive on UK stillwaters, and this is where our predisposition to fish midge-
specific patterns comes from.
In Australia, by contrast, our midges are mostly tiny. If you were to attempt to tie an imitation, it would be at least a size 18 or 20 if you’re lucky. These parameters create a frustrating proposition, with everything associated on this scale becoming demanding and technical. For this reason, fly anglers in Australia can often find success fishing less imitative patterns at fish perceived to be midging.
Whilst trout appear to lock onto midges when hatching, it is always surprising to see how they are willing to eat something else if it happens to be in front of them. For example, it is common to see a fish consistently rising to the smallest of insects (not always midges) and then moments later see it launch out of the water to eat a caddis fluttering above the surface. This observation reveals that whilst trout are focused on eating midges, they aren’t always exclusively eating them.
There are exceptions, such as on some of the big Snowy Mountains lakes where prolific hatches occur and the adult midges ball up on the surface, or the trout focus on pupae hanging in the film ready to emerge. At these times traditional buzzer patterns and large Griffith’s Gnats can provide locked-in trout with what they want, albeit a snowflake in a snowstorm proposition.
When I reflect on my time living and guiding in Tasmania, one of the best ways to target midging fish on larger waters, such as Great Lake and Lake Burbury, was to make your fly stand out from the rest. Fishing large flies such as Chernobyl Ants or Bruisers Bugs was incredibly effective. Watching a brown trout rhythmically sipping tiny midges off the surface every foot or so, only to lift its nose clear of the water and inhale a size #10 Chernobyl, reinforces that they are often willing to eat something different. It just has to be in front of the fish.
It would be fair to say that almost every angler who has spent time on lakes has had a frustrating experience trying to catch trout rising to midges in flat, calm conditions. Why is this the case, and what is it about midging fish that makes them so frustrating
at times?
When trout consistently sip small food items off the surface, they usually swim high in the water column, reducing their field of vision above. Additionally, when there is no wind to concentrate food, trout tend to move randomly all over the place. This unpredictable behaviour makes it very difficult to get a fly in front of a fish. Often we feel that the fish don’t want to eat our fly when the reality is that they probably haven’t seen it.
Some of Tasmania’s most iconic midge fisheries, such as Great Lake, Lake Burbury and Dee Lagoon are larger waterways where slicks or wind lanes form. These concentrate feeding fish and help us read the direction in which they are moving. If there is wind, they will typically be moving upwind, and if it is flat calm, there will often be a slick or foam patch that concentrates the fish, allowing the angler to more easily pre-empt their direction of movement.
The angler’s approach is so important because of the fishing conditions that go hand in hand with midge feeders. Patience and stealth are essential when fishing to rising trout in calm water. Many people find success fishing a nymph below a dry or indicator in these conditions. It is a subtle and unrushed approach that is effective
because of the time your fly is in the water. The odds are that a fish will eventually swim past and see your fly.
Before we consider presentations, we need to be in an optimum position to present to a midging trout. In still conditions it is hard to get close to the fish. When fishing from the bank I like to stay out of the water to avoid disturbance in the form of unnecessary ripples or waves. Sometimes a rising fish will be out of reach, so if you must enter the water, do so slowly to generate as little disturbance as possible.
Often, entering the water and sending waves out into a calm lake will put fish down, or push them further out into the lake and beyond casting range. If you are patient and stay put after the water settles, they may begin rising again and return within range.
Fishing from a boat, you will find an electric motor or a pair of oars is invaluable, allowing quiet manoeuvring into a good position to intercept the rising fish.
How I fish to midging trout depends significantly on the time of year and what sort of fishery I am on. In Australia, we can see prolific midge hatches on our lakes all year round. It is not uncommon to see a midge hatch and mayfly hatch on the same day, or even smelting trout through the day followed by a midge hatch when conditions calm off in the evening. The wide range of food available can play into the angler’s hands as the trout are more willing to eat a range of
food items.
In winter I start by fishing streamers or wet flies. I’m often already fishing such flies at this time of year anyway. The trout feed on larger food items such as baitfish in the cooler months, and are often opportunistic enough to not turn down a well-presented fly. It might seem counterintuitive to cast a Damsel or Woolly Bugger ahead of a subtly rising fish, and then draw the retrieve to see it bow-wave over and inhale your flies, but in my experience you can deceive substantial fish this way. It is also common to make such a cast without getting a reaction. Maybe the fish didn’t like your presentation, or more likely it didn’t even see your flies, so persistence is important.
In spring and autumn there are often mayfly hatches and other insect activity on our lakes. Many of the nymphs, traditional wet flies and dries that I use at these times are excellent patterns to present to midging trout. Claret Nymphs, Pheasant Tails, Hares Ears, Crunchers and Stick Caddis are ideal options to present and retrieve slowly in front of rising fish, or to suspend under a dry fly or indicator.
I also like fishing a team of two traditional wet flies. Slowly retrieving a Bibio, Kate McLaren, Zulu or Claret Dabbler in front of a midging fish can prove irresistible. A retrieved fly can sometimes be the key as it draws attention away from the naturals and on to your flies.
Over summer, trout are often rising, even when there are no midges present. If I encounter midging fish at this time of year I will present a dry, or even a team of dry flies. I prefer simple, functional dries, fishing them statically or slowly drawn across the surface. English Hoppers, Carrot flies and Bobs Bits are some of my favourites.
With so many starting points, I make life easy for myself and begin by fishing slightly larger, more aggressive fly options suited to the season. If the fish are not interested, I work backwards, downsizing my fly choice and fishing subtler styles of fly. I am always looking to catch the easier, more willing trout. There are so many fish in our waterways and no one can catch them all, so target the ones that want to be caught and leave the maddening ones for another day — it’s not worth the heartache.
It’s easy to get bogged down in fly or technique choices when it comes to midging trout. Remember, the key is getting the fly in front of the fish. It sounds simple, but it’s more challenging than people give credit. There is no point in sifting through flies or changing techniques unless you are sure that the fish have been seeing your fly and refusing it.

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