Midge Madness or the Tiny Terror

Midge#1 by Anthony Naples: done on iPod Touch with SketchBook Mobile

Midge #1 Sketch is based on a photo from the Winona Fly Factory Blog.

Well, I had been snowbound for almost a week.  The children didn’t have school all week – and they were getting a little stir-crazy (me too).  Normally with snow piled up outside, I’d have the vise out and be tying like mad.  Well – I was mostly otherwise occupied (see above about children not having school).

quarter midges

50 cents worth of midges: A few hours of tying (3 doz. midges)

However, I did find one afternoon to get a few flies tied.  Looking forward to some late winter and early spring fishing I find myself thinking about midges.  This probably conjures different images for different anglers.  For those of you out west, midges may make you think about the large tailwater rivers.  For those of us in Pennsylvania (think Central Pennsylvania streams) or in the midwest (think the Driftless Region), midges usually mean smallish, limestone spring creeks.  In either case, midges can be  a blessing and a curse.

A Blessing: It’s winter.  You’ve been fly fishing deprived for weeks, maybe even months.  You’ve gone through all your Gierach, you’ve read through all the latest magazine issues (maybe even ranted about all the articles about fly fishing for freshwater dorado in Bolivia – or is that just me?).  Finally a little break in the weather, corresponding with a break in your schedule, and you can finally get on the water.  For me, this usually means Spring Creek in central, PA, but for you maybe it’s the South Platte in Colorado or Waterloo Creek in Iowa.  You’ve got the heavy nymphs, maybe some buggers – but in the back of your mind you’re hoping for midges.  What joy these minutiae can bring.  It’s just such a wonderful thing to fish to actively feeding, and maybe even rising fish in the dead of winter.  A blessing and…

A Curse: Maybe you have it all figure out – me I’m still schooled sometimes.  You see the fish, actively feeding, you see the fish rising – you may not see the bugs, but you know they’re there.  Sometimes, it seems like no matter how small your fly is – the natural is half that size.  If you’re getting a little older – you may have trouble tying the thing on (I’ve given in and bought some cheater glasses this year).  If you manage to tie the fly on, and manage to get a hit, you can’t get a hook-up.  If you get a hook-up, you’re so excited (and out of practice) that you immediately break the tippet, or pull the fly out.  Maybe it’s just me – but midge fishing can be frustrating sometimes (but a good kind of frustrating).

The Patterns

There are more midge patterns than fly fisherman.  You could never tie them all (it might be fun trying though).  However, there are only a few that I fish time after time.  Maybe I could find “better” patterns – but after trying other flies and variations, I’ve settled on these as my favorites.  Of course, I always tie up some new patterns before heading out, it’s always fun to experiment.  These patterns are all pupa imitations  – I’ll need to work on another post to feature some dries.


Black Thread Midges: My Favorite


Black Thread Midge:

Hook: Standard dry fly hook, sizes 18-26.  You could use a curved scud-style hook, but I like to keep my hook selection to a minimum, so I just stick with standard dry fly hook.

Body: Black Thread.  I use Uni-Thread, 8/O.  This is a bonded thread.  Others prefer a flat thread that you can un-twist, to make a smoother body.  I like the texture of the Uni-Thread better, it is not so smooth and has a little “bite” to it.  It’s what I’m used to.  But use any black thread you like.

Rib: Small Diameter Silver Wire

The black thread midge is my go to pattern for midges.  Is it the best? Who knows, all that I know is that I use it and I catch fish on it.  I like the simplicity of the pattern.  I feel like the silver wire rib makes a nice contrast with the black thread.  In short I feel confident fishing it.  It may seem like a cliche but, you’ll catch more fish if you have confidence in the pattern you’re fishing.  You can vary the color of the thread and wire rib of this fly.  You’ll find a million variations on this basic pattern – but this is the one I’ve settled on for now.   I like to site fish it underneath to actively nymphing fish, or fish it in or near the film to risers.


Al’s Rat: Created by Pennsylvania Fly Tyer Al Miller

Al’s Rat:

Hook: Standard Dry fly hook.  Size 18 – 26 or so.

Body: Originally Brown mono-cord.  I used brown Coats & Clark sewing thread.  I like to twist the thread to form segmented body (like the Yong Special shown below).

Head: Sparsely dubbed Muskrat underfur.

The Al’s Rat was developed by Pennsylvania Fly Tyer Al Miller.  Read more about it on the Little Lehigh Fly Shop Website.  Being a Pennsylvania Fly Fisher I always have a special place in my fly box for PA patterns.  Again, this is a nice simple pattern, tied with two materials. Thread and muskrat fur.  I imagine you could change up the color scheme – but I usually tie it just as shown.


Yong Special (size 18 and 24): Created by Andy Kim of New Mexico

Yong Special:

Hook: Standard Dry fly hook, size 18-26.  (Although a look at Andy Kim’s web page shows an improved Yong Special tied on what looks like a 3x-long curved shank nymph hook)

Body: Coats & Clark sewing thread. Summer Brown shown, also cream, olive. etc.  The thread is twisted to form a segmented body.

Head: Black Tying Thread.

Another nice simple pattern.  Although magnifying those size 24 flies shows how they are not as neat as I thought – oh well they’ll still catch fish.  Andy Kim is now selling his flies.  Check out Andy’s Website.

Diamond Midges: Pattern created by Pennsylvania fly fisher Don Holbrook

Diamond Midge:

Hook: Standard dry fly hook or any hook of your choice. Size 18 to 24.

Body: Underbody of flat silver tinsel, ribbed with a single strand of DMC Embroidery Floss.  The floss is made up of six strands – use one strand.  I tie them mostly in black, white, red, brown and shades of cream, tan and olive.

Head: DMC Embroidery floss.  Create head with multiple half-hitches of the embroidery floss rib.

This pattern comes from a book called Midge Magic by PA fly fishers Don Holbrook and Ed Koch.  This is a nice little book, it presents several new midge patterns and features some nice photos of naturals compared to the patterns.  The focus is definitely on the subsurface imitations.  Many of the patterns are tied with DMC Embroidery floss and Coats & Clark sewing thread.  So you’ll need to make a trip to the craft store or sewing store.  The nice thing about this pattern is that the DMC floss comes in dozens (maybe hundreds) of colors, so you can tie these flies in many subtle variations.

9 Comments on Midge Madness or the Tiny Terror

  1. Excellent Post! I love the sketch of the midge and the pattern information is very cool. Thanks for posting these, you may see something similar coming from my vise soon!

    Here’s hoping you get a chance to fish those flies sooner than later!

    • Looking forward to seeing some from you – I always like to see those armies of flies that you produce. As far as getting out – not looking good anytime soon. I’m about 2.5 hrs from decent winter fishing and more like 3 hrs from my favorite (Spring creek). And there’s those pesky mountain ridges in between – not high by any standard, but high enough produce bad winter driving conditions.

      Plus there’s all the snow already on the ground. Oh well, plenty of time to read, think and tie.

  2. Those are some great, fishy looking flies.

  3. You are so right on the “Mystery of the Midge” as I refer to it. I live and fish in the Laurel Highlands and find large hatches of midges on practically every stream I fish………As you mentioned the size of the midge on the water is always smaller than the midge on my leader. Keeping records of good midge days vs. bad midge days as far as catching trout is concerned, the bad midge days definitely outweigh the good midge days. Can’t seem to get it right. I think I’m going to approach this year with your top three patterns in mind and tie them in the five sizes you mentioned. We’ll see what happens.
    Thanks, great article.

    • Thanks for the comments Fred! “The Mystery of the Midge” indeed. One day, I catch the fish and I think I have it all figured out, then the next day…nothing on the same patterns.

      Sometimes it seems like the fish have their own Blogs and Forums to warn each other – “Don’t eat those red and silver things”.

      Good luck this year!

  4. Vince Villavicencio // March 30, 2010 at 1:38 PM // Reply

    Great Post! I really like the way the segmentation comes out on Al’s Rat and the Yong Special.
    I have a question about getting that segmentation. I’ve used the Summer Brown Coats & Clark sewing thread for my Yong Specials, but I definitely do not get the same look that you showed. My Yong Specials come out a lot more fuzzy and thicker.
    Which type of Coats & Clark sewing thread are you using (i.e. Dual Duty XP Fine, Dual Duty XP Heavy, Dual Duty XP General Purpose Dual Duty PLUS, 100% cotton, etc.)?
    How tight are you spinning (twisting) the thread (i.e. do you let it spin for 5 seconds, 15 seconds or more)?



    • Vince,
      Thanks for the comments. As far as the questions, I used C&C All Purpose Dual Duty Plus. According to the label it is 37% Cotton and 63% Polyester. I didn’t pick that thread out for any reason except that it was the color that I was looking for. If it works better than some others it is just a happy accident on my part. I don’t know how long I’m twisting the thread, but I am twisting it pretty tight. If I let up on the tension it furls on itself instantly. One thing that helps me is that I use a “push-button” hackle pliers to hold the thread instead of just my hands and I use a rotary vise. Both of these things help to keep the thread tight and under control better.
      Thanks again and good luck!

  5. Hey guys I’ve fished the San Juan with Andy’s Yong Special as well as other rivers. Trout just seem to love his flies. In fact I’ve caught more fish with Yong’s flies more so than all of my other flies combined. Andy has studied trout behavior for the last thirty years and his repertoire of flies represent the culmination of years of research, design and refinement. Vic

what say you?