A Zebra Midge Variation

Late fall has arrived and a short flurry of snow here today reminded me that winter is on its way. Unless your favorite fishing location closes for the winter though you don’t need to hang up the fly rod just yet. I have a pattern that has become a favorite of mine from late fall through the early spring months. It is simple, and it works as a great midge pupa imitation.

I fish it a variety of ways. Often I will fish it with a double nymph rig as the bottom fly fishing it deep with the aid of split shot. In the spring I like to use it as a dropper off an adult Skwala Stonefly pattern on rivers that have that hatch and fish it in the top foot of the water column. It will work all year I am sure but my focus during the summer seems to shift to the many other hatches that take place and my use of this midge pattern takes a back seat.

Midges though are a popular winter staple for trout as they do hatch in many locations all year. Even on a cold winter day, the mid day sun can warm things up enough to bring about a midge hatch that will bring even the most lethargic of cold blooded trout to the surface.

This pattern is basically a Zebra Midge with a few slight modifications. It’s simple to tie, and has for the last couple years been my top fish catching pattern on a variety of rivers.

Figure 1-I usually tie this pattern on hooks size #18 or smaller. This one is on a #18 TMC 2457.

Figure 2-Push a 2mm nickel bead onto the hook.

Figure 3-Lay a base of black thread then I tie in a short tail of a few grizzly hackle fibers. Midges do not have a tail like a mayfly but I tie this with a few fibers at the end as I like to think it gives a little wiggle to the end of the fly.

Figure 4 – Tie in a short section of fine silver wire and advance the thread to the head of the fly building a slight taper with the thread as you go.

Figure 5 – Make evenly spaced wraps with the wire up to the head and tie off with the thread.

Figure 6 – Tie in a small loop of Iridescent Krystal Flash. Then whip finish and drop some head cement on the head and a little on the body of the fly.

Figure 7 – The finished product.

An O Report

On Tuesday evening we arrived on the river at about 3:30 and pulled into a spot I figured would be good for this time of year as it has a lot of slower deep water where the browns would be feeding instead of spawning. I was not overly optimistic though about our chances as the wind was howling at 15-20 mph straight back up the river and the temps before wind chill where in the low 40’s. For some reason little mayflies do not like to hatch in these conditions so I did not expect to find fish feeding on the surface.

As luck would have it though, this stretch we were fishing happened to be a nice bend in the river that was just slightly sheltered from the wind. The wind was still blowing harder than I would have liked, but it was more manageable here. In this single length of river there was actually a decent hatch of midges and a smattering of Mahogany’s coming off and quite a few fish noses up peppering the surface. The midges were tiny, a pattern somewhere around size 26 would have probably done a fair imitation, and the Mahogany’s where sparse enough I was fairly certain that wasn’t what all the risers were after. I decided to go with a nymph rig with a bead head pheasant tail as my top fly to try to catch those fish looking for the Mahogany nymphs and a small Zebra Midge pattern for my bottom fly. Sure enough this was the ticket. It took one cast to hook into a nice 18 inch brown that took the Zebra Midge. It was just the beginning of one of my better days on this river.

The First fish of the day through a dirty camera phone lense

The Mahogany hatch did not last long as the wind was still a factor but while it was on I did catch two fish on the pheasant tail nymph. After about a half hour I did not see another mayfly and the rest of the fish I caught all took the midge pupa imitation.

The air temps where chilly and the wind didn’t help take the chill off, but with the fish eating constantly it helped take the edge off the weather. With 11 fish on the day I was determined to make it an even dozen and with the action as steady as it had been I figured I wouldn’t have to wait long. Sure enough, as the sun dipped quietly over the horizon, so dipped my indicator slowly under the rivers surface and another big trout took the tiny zebra midge. The chill was reaching bone deep and I knew this was going to be the capper on the day. I brought in a perfectly proportioned 20 inch brown much quicker than I would normally try and horse it in, and released it swiftly back into the frigid water. As we walked back to the truck my lower legs felt like lifeless blocks of ice but the smile on my face made up for that. It was another fine day on the water.


Improved Sparkle Dun

Hook: #18 TMC 2457
Thread: Olive
Wing: Deer Hair
Lower Tail: Dun Z-lon
Bottom Abdomen: Thread
Top Tail and Abdomen: A partridge Maribou feather
Thorax: Fine Dry Dubbing Medium Olive


A Tying Station

All my fly tying goods have been stored in the closet in boxes. Whenever I have wanted to tie flies it has been a bit of a pain to get out all my supplies spread them all over the study, get some tying done, then have to clean it all up and pack the boxes away in the closet again. So I decided it was time to get a more serious tying station. I thought about building a desk but quickly realized that a simple, small roll top desk would be perfect and there are used desks on Craigslist for a very reasonable price. So tonight I brought home my new tying desk.


NERD ALERT! (Part 2)

Let's run a little test here. Does my wife read the blog? Lets find out. Here's a short list of what I want for my birthday:

Bugs of the Underworld


As I delve deeper and deeper into fly fishing I am becoming more and more fascinated with the bugs fish eat, and we try so hard to imitate. A few years ago I would have called my current self a nerd, now I just think of myself as a huge nerd. But, this is really good stuff if you are into fly fishing for trout, and thus interested in the things that trout eat.

Here is a clip from the "Bugs of the Underworld" DVD from the chapter dealing with Midges.

At one point I saw a similar clip from their mayfly chapter and it was amazing. It is eye opening to see trout food from the perspective of a trout. It can not help but make you a better fisherman to have a better understanding of the food fish eat.

The second item on my wish list, the book "Bugwater" by Arlen Thomason is not set to be released until January 2010 but I am looking forward to it. They have some excerpts from the book on the Amazon page and it looks very interesting. I have also read many of the authors contributions on one of my favorite fly fishing websites, "Westfly," and I can't wait to get my hands on this book.

Here is an example of a post he made there regarding the October Caddis. You can tell he has put some time into his research.

October Caddis

It is getting the point to where the bugs fascinate me almost as much as the fish that eat them. So go ahead and call me a bug nerd. That's OK because I have a long way to go. I still haven't started referring to them by their Latin names.


NERD ALERT! (Part 1)

Here is a short synopsis of my journey in fly fishing. I have always fished but I was usually content throwing spinners (and although some of them where rusty I am not talking about a spent mayfly laying flush in the film, see Exhibit A) for trout and plugs for bass with a spinning rod.

Exhibit A, the Rusty Spinner

I always wanted to try fly fishing but didn't want to fork over the cash necessary for my conversion. Then 5 years ago I got a fly rod for my birthday and it has been downhill ever since.

It started innocently. I was content fishing easy waters where you didn't even have to think about what was hatching. Just tie on a big foam hopper and throw it around the river and catch fish. It was fun and believe me it still is. I enjoy this type of fishing to this day. Then I started using nymphs but had little idea why they worked, I just knew they did. Then it was streamers which seemed a little like a reversion to my spin fishing days. Fishing streamers still is one of my favorite methods though because of some of the epic takes.

Then about a year ago I slipped deeper into the black hole. I bought my first set up for tying my own flies. This led to some exhaustive research on the bugs fish eat and how to imitate them with feathers and fur. It was not until I started tying my own flies that I truly started to get a grasp of what fly fishing was about. There are so many aspects to it, it is not just tying on whatever is in your fly box and hoping that is what fish are eating. Fish will tip their hand more often than not, but it is always a cat and mouse game. You CAN get lucky but you elevate your chances of success by having a little knowledge on your side.

So I guess it is time to face the facts. I must accept what I have become. A fly flinger that turns over rocks and examines strands of algae searching for signs of bug life. It's been a rather rapid journey but 5 fly rods later and with a fly box full of over 200 mayfly emerger patterns alone I can admit it, I am a fly fishing nerd. Mind you not as big a nerd as some, but I will get there someday, you will see.


An Interesting Trout Tidbit

So have you ever wondered how far trout can wander? I really haven't thought too much about it until I read Thursday's edition of the Idaho Statesman's Outdoor section. In their weekly "Ask Zimo" segment he mentions a fish tagged in Brownlee Creek that migrated up Brownlee Reservoir before they lost contact with the radio tag. Eventually the fish turned up in the Weiser River near Cambridge. That's about 106 miles from my calculations and through a lot of Bass and Catfish water, not exactly good trout water.
I understand this is not an unheard of journey for a fish that has very close relatives (Steelhead)that routinely travel multiple river systems and thousands of miles to reach their spawning grounds. However it did give me a new perspective on the fish I catch and where they really live. Probably not in one specific hole.