Posts Tagged ‘Net Winged Midge’

Net Winged Midges

October 11, 2014

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Net Winged Midges

I have to admit that most of the time I love tying flies: there are those evenings, of course, after a long day on the water when the clients have eaten into the stock, and I am forced to burn the midnight oil in wet clothes when the allure wanes a tad, but for the most part that isn’t the case.

I have at different times taught fly tying, written books on fly tying and as with many of us given demonstrations of fly tying. There are a few YouTube videos out there with my name on them and I am not averse to seeing what others are up to on the fly tying front on the same forum. I like innovation, delicacy, and clever use of materials in fly tying, I love the intricacy of woven bodies, and even the slick shine of flies coated in UV resin. I have been known to fashion the odd ultra-realistic hopper leg or the occasional cute bass mouse when the mood takes me but all in all I like simple flies. Simple flies are frequently as effective and often more effective than their more artistic counterparts and as a fishing guide the efficacy of the pattern is more important to me than the artistic impression.

When you get right down to it, effectiveness on the water, durability and speed of tying become more important when fishing provides one with an income and there is little point in whipping out patterns which take hours. The knowledge that your lovingly fashioned creation is but a wayward cast away from an ignominious end in the bankside herbage tends to have you consider the time spent on its creation. But equally one cannot escape the fact that if you are to convince your clients that you are worth your salt, it is pretty important that your flies do entice more than a few fish to eat them.

Now it so happens that of late, the past week or so at least, the trout on our local streams have been unusually selective, or at least tricky and they have studiously ignored more than a few of my most lovingly wrapped dry flies. Ignored is probably the more polite term, I am not sure if trout are capable of utter distain but I could have made a reasonable argument for such over the past couple of days.

You see much of the time these crystal clear, slightly acidic and nutrient poor streams tend not to produce massive hatches and the eager trout, with an appetite and a bit of attitude is likely to consume most reasonably well presented flies so long as they are not too large. But of late there have been masses of Net Winged Midges all over the place. These, to an angler, annoying little bugs , which look rather like miniature flying bicycles, all legs and not much substance, tend to fly millimetres above the surface and the fish, particularly the smaller ones , will clear the water to intercept them. That represents a serious problem of presentation as one simply cannot match the behavior and these hatches can prove to be some of the most frustrating that you will ever encounter. However of late the numbers have been so significant that there are numerous dead and drowned midges stuck in the film and the trout, accomplished predators not given over to wasting energy seem to have keyed into the bugs stuck in the film. The rises have all been nebbing breakages of the surface film with hardly a ripple to indicate the fish’s presence.

NetWingedMidgeAdult Net Winged Midge, pretty much all legs

I suppose that on freestone streams much of what is consumed by the trout is in fact dead, drowned and or dying and the fish happily recognise a messed up tangle of tiny fibres as food, rather putting the kibosh on notions of close copy imitation. It seems that the more straggly, the more insubstantial, the more tangled the imitation the better, but the illusion of life, or perhaps in this case recent demise holds allure that the fish find hard to resist.

Unusually then over the past week or so the neatly tied, although simple, dry flies that I usually rely on have proven ineffective, but after some fiddling about, and trust me when I tell you that fiddling about on a trout stream is a very valuable skill to master, we came up with a killer solution.

SoftHackles and FrenchiesSome CDC Soft Hackle midge patterns and three “Frenchie Nymphs”

The fly of the moment is a CDC Soft Hackle, fashioned of little more than a pinch of dun coloured CDC and some fine (Gordon Griffiths Midge) black thread. The pattern is simplicity itself, although perhaps to the uninitiated it wouldn’t tend to provide too much confidence. As a client recently commented: “You would never be able to sell these flies in a shop”, and they are right, the darned things look far too small for a trout to take notice and far too poorly manufactured to have many anglers willingly swap hard earned cash for a dozen. Particularly when you could put twelve of them on a 50 cent coin and still have space. Insubstantial would be a gross exaggeration of their profile, this is near as dammit a bare hook with legs, but in the water it is the closest copy of those drowned midges that you could ever hope to find and attempts to make ones pattern more “meaningful” tend to reduce the effectiveness.

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Net Winged Midges in their hundreds on a Cape Stream

The only real issue in fishing these flies is that they are invisible, to the angler if not the trout, and a two fly rig of a more noticeable dry fly on a dropper and the midge on the point is the only real manner to fish them effectively and have hope of spotting the take. The trout will take them in the film and you can frequently see that, so long as you know where you are supposed to be looking.

Darryl Lampert also has a very effective dry fly pattern to imitate this hatch, also a CDC fly but tied as a dry with a bright indicator built in so that one can fish it as a dry on it’s own without recourse to the two fly rig we have been using with the Soft Hackle approach.

DarrylsMidgeDarryl Lampert’s CDC hi-vis midge: Courtesy of Tom Sutcliffe’s “The Spirit of Fly Fishing” page

http://www.tomsutcliffe.co.za/fly-fishing

To be frank, I love simple flies and simple, translucent, under-dressed, insubstantial and rather scruffy flies in particular, but even I have been astounded by the effectiveness of these patterns over the past few days. The fish simply would refuse virtually all else and then commit suicide to intercept a well presented soft hackle, it happened over and over again. I suppose that won’t last, some other naturals will take precedence in time and we will be back to the standard parachutes, Elk Hairs, Biot Caddis Flies and other favourites, but right now the fly of the moment is something you could teach your grandmother to tie after a ten minute lesson. Perhaps best of all, on those evenings when I am in wet clothes, contemplating a seriously depleted fly box, lashing furiously at the vice to fill the gaps before the morrow’s outing. The simplicity is a real boon, knowing that, despite the lack of skill or time required, I shall still have a dozen really effective patterns done and dusted in time to catch the late night news.

Some more information on Net Winged Midges:

These insubstantial little bugs are from the family Blephariceridae in the order Diptera and they have a number of most unusual attributes. Ref: http://www.ent.iastate.edu/dept/research/systematics/bleph/biology.html

Firstly their larvae don’t look anything like what most of us consider to be midge larvae, that classical inverted question mark picture beloved of Stillwater anglers. Nope, these odd little critters have larvae with six little suckers on their ventral surface. The larvae are filter feeders and the suckers help them stay put in the fast water they prefer to inhabit.

NetwingedMidgeLarvaeThe pupae are no less unusual either, the pupa emerge from the larvae and stick themselves to the rock substrate, often the larvae migrate to specific areas before this happens such that “colonies” of pupae will be found in certain areas and depressions in the rock. The pupae look like tiny dark black or brown tortoise shells, and to the casual observer don’t appear to be anything alive at all. On emergence the adults rupture the pupal case and rise to the surface in an air bubble. Their wings are fully formed before emergence allowing a speedy getaway on reaching the surface of the water.

NetWingedMidgePupae

The adults appear very similar to miniature Crane Flies, with long legs dangling and relatively short wings. Currently they are appearing in their thousands on the local streams here and the fish know all about them..

NetWingedMidgeAdultNet Winged Midge Adult

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The CDC Softhackle and many other simple and effective flies are described in detail in the author’s book “Guide Flies”

Available on line from www.inkwaziflyfishing.co.za in both eBook and Paperback format.

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Trout and the Flat Earth Society.

October 7, 2010

Now it strikes me that if I were a trout in a catch and release stream it wouldn’t take too long for it to dawn on me that most of the sh1t in my life came from “up there”. You know above that little silvery window that is the ceiling of my aquatic world.

Fish eagles, otters, kingfishers (at least when I was little) and of course anglers, plus like a small child afraid of the dark I wouldn’t have a particularly good feeling about stuff that I can’t see and my view is limited at the best of times.

So rather as humankind were a bit wary of the horizon in times past and fearful of dropping off the edge of the world so for a trout the outer world would be a little scary. I mean I don’t need to identify every bump in the dark to be fearful of it and, were I a trout, anything untoward, a glimpse of movement or a flash is enough to put me on edge and perhaps even take a runner and stick my head under a rock for a while until the perceived danger is passed. (The ichthyological  equivalent of locking yourself in the bathroom).

Trout don’t need to identify a threat to be wary of it.

I well remember fishing with my fishing mate (and drinking partner) Gordon McKay years back when he was casting and I was “spotting” for him. There he was all lined up on a trout that we could both see clearly in the crystal waters. The fish was feeding away happily, occasionally broaching the surface and unaware of either of us, just doing what a trout does when breakfast is on the table.

It so happened however that just as Gordon made his presentation a large dragonfly came bumbling up the stream, casting a shadow like a pterodactyl in the bright sunshine and flew directly up behind the fish such that it didn’t notice until the last moment. The passage of that shadow coincided exactly with Gordon’s dry fly presentation and as the fly was in the air the fish bolted for cover. Poor Gordon, who from his point of view couldn’t see this all unfold simply assumed that he had made some mistake but in all fairness that wasn’t the case at all. The fish bolted simply because of the shadow of a dragonfly that wasn’t in any real sense a threat.  Trout don’t like surprises and they particularly don’t like surprises that come from “up there”.

Smart trout:

 

Success on a drowned Midge Pattern.

 

Further were I a trout it would come to pass at some point that I might realize that most of the time eating stuff off the surface is a high risk occupation in an environment where most anglers prefer to fish dry fly.

It isn’t just a snobbish affliction, we all like the drift of the fly, the vision of a spotted shadow rising on the current to intercept our offering and the glorious heart stopping moment when the mouth flashes white and we try to time our strike, nerves jangling as we attempt to avoid being too hasty.  So if I were a trout I think that I would tend to find other sources of food if possible and what better and easier pickings could there be than drowned bugs just under the surface?

You see it doesn’t escape me that in the bubbling freestone rivers that I fish most of the time insects that are falling on or hatching from the stream have pretty limited windows of opportunity to escape before they are done in by the next waterfall. The waterfalls don’t need to be huge, if you are a size 20 midge a moderate boulder will create a stopper wave that in comparison to one’s size is like the rapids of the Colorado. For a small bug in a freestone stream drowning is only ever a short drift away.

One can look back at the angling literature and there are numerous indications that trout might very well enjoy the easy pickings that lie just under the surface. Soft hackles, emergers, stillborns, Klinkhammers and probably quite a few “low floating” dry flies are all good imitations of bugs that have been swamped.

Recently I have been revisiting this idea with a good deal of success, for years I have fished dry flies designed as much so that I can see them as that they imitate the fish’s food but there are problems associated with fishing like this. Not least that the fish are wary of the surface, that drag is all the more noticeable on a floating fly and that no matter what you do you can’t get the darn tippet to sink much of the time.

The idea is that by going just subsurface you eliminate many of those problems and with a lot of net winged midges on the water of late I had been thinking that perhaps fishing a fly just under the water I might give myself a better chance of deception.

The further advantage is that bugs that have just been given the wash cycle treatment are going to look a little disheveled at best and therefore with my limited fly tying skills it would be a lot easier to imitate them. I mean I just had to lash some stuff on a hook and stamp on it a few times to get the required effect. The only real objection being that I couldn’t see the darn things in the water.

So was born the “drowned midge”, it takes about a minute to tie one, the rougher the better (remember that the required look is sort of microscopic road kill). Fished on a fine tippet to allow the weight of the hook to sink the pattern a few inches and a dry fly to act as an indicator I was ready to experiment.

 

Loose dubbing, a brush with some velcro, a couple of hackle point wings and you are in business.

 

On two recent trips to the stream this tactic has proven to be  a real winner, sure a number of the fish eat the dry, perhaps even the majority but the ones that refuse it will frequently take the midge and more to the point will sometimes simply ignore the floating pattern entirely.

It also seemed to me that the takes on the subsurface pattern were more positive whereas takes on the dry seemed to indicate that the better fish were eating the thing with what locally might be referred to as “Lang Tande”, (that is “long teeth” for the uninitiated) and indicative of less than true commitment to swallowing the floating imitation.

The fly fishes so close to the surface that most of the time you will see the take anyway and you still have the dry as a back up. It is a wonderfully effective tactic and a real “go to” trick when the fish are coming short or offering up inspection and refusal rises, something that seems to be getting more common.

Perhaps you might like to try this next time you are on the stream, the fish seem a whole lot more confident in chomping down on some hapless bug that has been swamped and if they can be sneaky enough to avoid eating high floating dries I can certainly be sneaky enough to go subsurface after them.

The Drowned Net Winged Midge:

Hook: size 18 moderately heavy wire.

Abdomen: Black 70 Denier Thread dressed short.

Thorax: Soft black dubbing, rabbit or similar brushed out with velcro.

Wings: Dun Hackle points.

Front Thorax: A pinch more loose dubbing.

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