Fishing Cold Water in the Great Smoky Mountains - Midges - Part

My first real experience fishing midge patterns was on the San Juan River in New
Mexico. When Angie and I first went into a local fly shop to purchase a New Mexico
fishing license, I was amazed at their fly selection. You couldn't find a mayfly,
stonefly or caddisfly pattern. There were hundreds of midge patterns and I would
guess the average hook size was a 22 or smaller. The long fly bins were covered
with plastic tweezers placed there so you could pick up the tiny midge flies and
place them in a container to purchase them.

I just decided I would catch trout the same way I had been catching them, on the
same flies I had been using and not be thrown off-course with a local fly shops
huge display of midges. After a full day of fishing, we concluded something was
wrong with what we were doing. I managed a couple of small trout on a size 20,
blue-winged olive nymph and that was it. Our second day there, we meet a nice
gentlemen who took the time to show us his midge rigs. I think he noticed we were
not using midges. He had hundreds of midge flies in two small boxes, all of which he
tied using various sizes of thread. He insisted we take about two dozen of them and
then he walked down to the river and demonstrated how he fished them. He caught
two trout showing us how to do it. I was amazed at the effectiveness of his

The next day we picked out a new section of the river to fish where I would have no
one looking at me like I was a stupid greenhorn. Within the first hour, using his flies
and method of fishing, I caught two brown trout, both over fourteen inches. Angie
tied the flies on for me simply because I couldn't see them well enough even with
my glasses. Later, I found out they were a hook size 24. We had to purchase 7X
tippet material. We didn't even own any at the time. Anything larger would not go
through the eye of the hooks on his flies.

Early in the afternoon, at the head of a long, slow moving pool, I begin to catch
more fish. The largest two went twenty-four and twenty-six inches respectively. I lost
two or three that were probably that large that same day. What I learned during the
next few days we fished the San Juan was that big fish will eat tiny midges. Now, I
must add, that if you pick up a double hand full of bottom from the San Juan River,
and examine it carefully, you will see hundreds of midge larvae. The trout lie on or
very near the bottom in slow to moderately moving water and apparently eat them
like we eat popcorn. That is about all they are for them to eat in the San Juan.
There are few hatches of anything else.

I have taken up a lot of time to tell a big fishing story but I wanted to make a point.
Big trout will eat tiny midge larvae, pupae or adult midges. After that experience, we
begin to fish midges just about every where we fished for trout. What we found was
that it doesn't matter if you are fishing the San Juan River, the Little River, or any
other stream, trout will eat them. It also doesn't matter what time of year you fish
them. What we also discovered was that landing a fish on 7x tippet and tiny midge
flies was really not that difficult.

Not long after we had returned from New Mexico, I watched Angie catch seven trout
on a midge pupa pattern from the first large pool about two-hundred yards
upstream of he bridge above Elkmont campground. Three or four of the trout
appeared to eat the fly in the exact same place in the pool. One of them was a nice,
fourteen inch brown trout. That is not a trophy by any means and that is not a huge
catch. However, on a late February day, far to cold for the Quill Gordons or Blue
Quills to hatch, she was happy to catch them. It had been fairly warm and Little
River had several anglers all, like us, anxious for the early season hatches to start.
We talked to several guys who didn't catch a fish. I didn't mention the ones Angie
caught because I didn't think anyone would believe me. Angie was didn't want to
embarrass them or maybe she was just too shy to mention what she had caught.
Those trout took a size 20, light green, midge pupae pattern fished behind a dry fly.
I did not see the first midge on the water. They may well have been some there, but
we did not see anything hatching. Since then, which was about six years ago, we
have caught many trout during the winter in the Smokies and lots of other locations
throughout the United States using midge flies. It is certainly not our favorite way to
fish by any means, but it is extremely effective.  I will continue with midges tomorrow.

Copyright 2008 James Marsh