Midge Madness (Spring Creek)

Along with NPR’s early morning broadcast of an ancient hymn, I heard the first sweet phrases of a migrant robin near the yard. I stepped to the porch in my bare feet for a clearer sound of both music sources, and thought, at last…


A good day to fish Spring Creek, even if later in the day the air would be chilly and the sky deeply overcast. I had plenty of room to cast on this upstate water, and replayed a few lessons learned from a visit earlier this winter.

I quickly landed and released a wild brown measuring a full-net 15 inches, but failed to get a decent photo before the trout flashed away. Hours later, just before departing from this limestone creek, I hooked into a larger brown that took me downstream and easily sliced the fine tippet from a 10-foot leader. In between these fishes I enjoyed meeting up with eight other trout that took the bottom-drifting, orange or pink-hued flies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, I’m not complaining, but I’ve got to mention the midday hatch of midges. These tiny, non-biting Chironomidae are two-winged creatures of slow, weedy streams that can hatch at any time of year. Good news! A hatch of flies resembling small mosquitoes means… dry fly fishing, right? Well, sort of. Spring Creek has a way of talking to an angler who gets excited about such prospects. The big stream says, Hold on to your tippet, friend. If anyone commands the center of gravity here, it’s me– and not the visitor.

Trout were rising, and one of them readily seized a #20 Griffith’s Gnat, a small fly big enough to be mistaken for a couple of black gnats fused together, either by accident or buggy lust. The trout leapt from the water a couple of times and was gone. And that was as close as I came to taking the first trout of the season on a dry fly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All subsequent surface presentations were refused. A Black Midge #20 was too small and dark for me to follow on the water, and too damn large to be considered seriously by the midge-eaters. After my frozen fingers managed to rebuild a leader tippet, I found live midges crawling underneath the gloves I’d laid down on a log.

Comparing the live midges to my artificial, I found the live bugs to be roughly half the size of what I’d been casting and was willing to tie on the leader point. Seeing the problem of my cold, unwilling fingers, and a breeze that maddened both line and leader, I knew that dry flies weren’t about to connect with these rising fish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat’s not to say that I didn’t become obsessed with trying. A size 24 G. Gnat was the right size but the wrong color, apparently. I could see the darned thing on the surface but felt that, as with emergent patterns, I would almost need to place it into the trout’s mouth before getting a fish to strike. It wasn’t a lot of fun, and it slowly drove me bonkers.

Fish kept rising, and I finally said to hell with it, I’m going back to a Scud. Pink and orange were suitable colors for an artificial fly. I had good action while casting a three-weight line with a rod long enough to manage all the tricky current seams.

The birds weren’t singing anymore, but every once in a while the ducks would fly OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAoverhead and a muskrat would come out to play. When a great blue heron pulled up on the bank nearby and asked if it would be okay to fish, I grumbled a bit but gave permission. After all, the heron and the other creatures belonged to this place long before I had come around.

Aside from the midges, I had no room to complain.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

left-- too big; right-- pretty close

left– too big; right– pretty close

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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14 Responses to Midge Madness (Spring Creek)

  1. Mark W says:

    Fishing to midging trout can be a maddening experience at times and wonderfully fun at others. I too prefer the small Girffths Gnat and the more they get beat up the better they work making me wonder if a tiny soft hackle might do the trick. My visits streamside have not coincided with any midge hatches yet but I keep looking! thanks for the report

  2. You’re welcome, Mark. Indeed, midging is either maddening or wonderful; there doesn’t seem to be much room between the polar opposites. I tried the soft hackles, without luck this time. They’re hard for us to see, and you’ve almost got to put one in the mouths of trout since the fish aren’t willing to chase after them much. A tandem rig might’ve worked better, but tying small flies together in the cold isn’t easy.

  3. Ken G says:

    If we had trout here in Illinois, I might be coerced to find creeks that hold them and fish them in the dead of winter. As it is, the only cold water species moving about are carp. It’s just not the same.

    • Ken, If I lived in Illinois I’d miss my trout fishing and the hills that make it possible. I’d fish for smallmouths and for carp and muskies, and do some serious scheming. But I must say, your fishing and reports make that alternate existence interesting.

  4. Les Kish says:

    Nothing like tossing a midge at at rising trout, especially this time of year. Catch a few for me too Walt.

  5. Les, Usually at this time of year I’m itching to go steelheading, but I think the snow cover will prevent it for a little while. I may just have to midge it one more time, and catch a few in your honor.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like a productive late winter day and the promise of dries to come! Well done!

  7. Thanks Anonymous, I enjoyed it despite a few obvious challenges. Dry fly season may be starting soon when the Black Stones rest on the surface.

    • Not sure why I came up as anonymous, sorry.

      So, been turning rocks over the past couple of skunkings on my local water to find lots of stones crawling around…once these little guys hit dry land this will wake the trouts winter slumber?

      Thanks and appreciate your expertise!

      • Hey Mike, glad you got your name back, I was wondering who that was. I’d say the little black stoneflies will start hatching any day. After this nasty weather turns for the better, start looking for the hatch on quiet water as the sun begins to heat it up a little. Usually I do well with the bead-head nymph, but I remember a March day last year when the trout were definitely keyed on the adult struggling at the surface. The black stones often are among the first to get the trout looking up. Thanks for the inquiry, and let me know how it goes!

  8. Alan says:

    That is one fine winters day. Those small flies are productive but so very tough to fish.
    Impressive brown.

  9. Thanks Alan! I find that to fish with midges makes Trico fishing (later in the season) look easy.

  10. LQN says:

    Walt – I tied up a full box of midges last winter, the nymphs worked wonders but the tiny adult drys were painful to fish. Waiting on the stoneflies to hatch….maybe this weekend!

  11. Long, I’m also waiting on the stoneflies, but maybe this weekend I’ll have less hassle with the midge nymphs (in tandem?). Good luck, and let us know how it goes.

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