By Spencer Durrant
Aside from caddis, midge flies might be the most important for anglers to have in their box. Midges hatch in just about every river where trout live, and I have yet to find a trout that won’t eat them.
If I had to pick a half-dozen flies to use for the rest of my life, at least two of them would be midges of some kind. I use them year-round, when I’m both guiding and fishing by myself. I don’t think I can overstate just how vital these bugs are to your success as an angler.
There’s just one problem – how do you sift through the glut of midge flies to find the ones that actually work?
You can hit the water with different midges every time, trying a few new patterns every day. Or, you can keep reading this post, where I’ll share my favorite midge flies that work on rivers across the country.
I’ve split up my selection of midge flies into categories – nymphs and dries.
The zebra midge might just be the most ubiquitous midge fly in existence. This thing flat-out works on any and all trout waters, on fish big and small. On days when it seems like the fish don’t want anything, they’ll often take a zebra midge.
This fly is incredibly versatile, too. Its larger iterations – chironomids – are go-to flies on stillwater, and I watched a buddy of mine catch a 15-pound Lahontan cutthroat on a chironomid just last year.
When you need to dress up the zebra midge for a night on the town, the WD40 is your fly. This midge has a bit more going on, which makes it a great choice for heavily-pressured tailwaters that get a ton of pressure. Throwing something that looks a bit different than all the other flies is a great strategy to fool pressured fish.
While you wouldn’t think this fly counts as a midge, it falls in that family of patterns. The Rainbow Warrior is more of an attractor pattern, but it still works well for fish keyed in on midges. The flash and thick hackle collar give it tons of movement, making it stand out in the water column.
The Disco Midge doesn’t get the love it should, and I don’t know why. This midge pattern utilizes the wonderful properties of peacock herl to make a fly that fish just can’t resist. The only downside is that peacock herl isn’t all that durable, so you end up going through a few flies over the course of a day of fishing. Still, this is a fly you need in your box when it’s time to shake things up a bit.
Top Secret Midge
The Top Secret Midge was developed by famed guide Pat Dorsey, who uses it in tiny sizes for the heavily-pressured fish on the South Platte River near Denver. The Top Secret Midge is a go-to pattern for use on tailwaters, for no other reason than it flat-out works. If you plan to spend time on the more famous tailwaters in the country, you need a few Top Secret midges to help get you through the day.
Of all midge dry fly patterns, the Griffiths Gnat might be my most dependable. This fly imitates a cluster of midges on the surface, which makes it that much more enticing to fish. Trout are more likely to rise for a bunch of small flies than a single one. The Griffiths Gnat is pretty easy to see, as far as small dry flies go. It works in everything from early-season blue-winged olive hatches, to late-summer spinner falls. I never leave the house without a few of these in my box.
I first encountered this fly on Utah’s Provo River. I’m not sure if that’s where the fly originated, but it certainly could be. Provo River fish adore this midge. The Mother Shucker is just peacock herl and foam, and it’s supposed to imitate a buffalo midge getting out of its shuck – hence the name. With the bit of foam hanging off the back, the Mother Shucker is another midge dry fly that’s pretty easy to see.
This is a classic fly pattern that’s fallen out of the rotation a bit lately, which is part of why I think it works so well. It’s something many trout these days haven’t seen. The fly is simple, with a peacock herl body and white and brown hackle. It floats high, and fish seem to really love it.
This fly works as both a dry and nymph, or often, an emerger. But no list of great midge flies would be complete with the RS2. While I know many anglers who use this to imitate emerging mayflies, I’ve found it works well during midge hatches, too. It’s small, but the fish really do seem to key in on it, especially when it’s fished slightly below the surface behind a larger fly.
This is another pattern that’s not quite a dry fly, but it fits better here than with the nymphs. Just like the RS2, the Barr’s Emerger is meant to imitate emerging mayflies. However, it catches fish when big midges – like buffalo midges – are hatching. I’ve also found this works well in low water situations, when fish are wary of anything big splashing down on the water’s surface.
My Go-To Midge Flies
These midge flies are my go-to patterns when I need to imitate small bugs. With these ten patterns, you’ll almost always have something in your box that’ll fool a trout when nothing else seems to work. Don’t be afraid to fish these bugs year-round, at the beginning or end of hatches, or any other time that strikes your fancy. Midges are a staple food source, and you’ll almost always find fish ready and willing to eat them.