Diptera, A Fly For All Seasons
This article is from Fly Fisherman
Magazine. It was written by Art Lee and is one of the best articles
I have read on fishing midges.
At the bottom of the page you will find a midge
pattern which came from the article and
it has proven to be a producer.
What follows here is some practical information about fishing flies to
represent Diptera, those wee, two-winged insects found balling up by the
trillions year-round along trout streams from coast to coast. Excluded is the
entomology of Diptera, which is so complex that I gave up trying to fathom it
long ago, at the loss of not a single fish. In fact, Iíd been fishing Diptera
imitations, simply calling them midges, for a long, long time before I was even
aware they'd gotten the going -over from anglers determined to dabble in
science. Blissfully I fished them then and continue to do so now, knowing little
more about their body segments or wing veins than I did the day I discovered
that trout like to eat them.
For clarity, I will say that the tiny bugs of the Diptera family, including mosquitoes, craneflies, and a host of midges (gnats, no-seeums, black flies, snow
flies, and on and on) all have a common Latin derivation: di, meaning two, and
ptera, meaning winged. Unlike mayflies, caddis or stoneflies, Diptera have no
secondary sets of wings. But, then, the Diptera that interest me most as an
angler are so small that secondary wings are hard to spot anyway.
Many anglers donít like to fish midges. They view flies smaller than #18
with a disdain akin to that I have for the de-romanticizing of fly fishing with
too much science and its wicked step-sister, verifications. Nonetheless, fishing
experience at home and abroad has afforded me some insights into fishing midges,
worthy of all but perhaps the ultimate purist and the incurable romantic.
First: Diptera constitute a kind of common denominator among the worldís
trout fisheries. Iíve never struck a trout stream where I didnít find these
insects, usually in abundance. For example, while scouting for fins in the
Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco recently, I discovered a lovely spring creek
where plump browns were sipping emerging Diptera, just as browns sip Diptera on
the Letort of Pennsylvania, Nelsonís Spring Creek of Montana, and the Test,
Itchen and Avon of Great Britain. Similarly, clouds of Diptera shade feeding
trout on the Beaverkill, the Delaware, rivers, and on the Risle of Normandy, the
Elle of Brittany, both in France, and Laxa I Laxadalur, the magnificent river of
Northern Iceland where they represent the staple of the brown trout diet. Thus,
it is fair to suppose that when encountering an unfamiliar trout fishery the
angler shouldnít go entirely wrong when heís carrying Diptera imitations and
knows how to fish them.
Second: Diptera tend to abound along trout streams, at least the streams I
know best, for longer sustained periods each year than all other aquatic
insects. Fishing the Beaverkill near my home, for example, Iíve taken trout on
the surface or in the surface film using Diptera imitations during every month
of the year. And these small flies have proven notably effective in the late
fall, winter and early spring when the only viable alternative is to fish down,
dirty and slow. According to my stream notes, I hooked 32 trout on Match 19,
1982, for instance. 29 on a surface midge and but three while probing the bottom
with a small dark stone-fly nymph. Reliability, then, would seem to demand that
attention be paid to Diptera's potential.
Third: The largest trout of many waters including fish you'd expect to take
perhaps only on streamers rise readily during Diptera emergences. Time and
again, I've witnessed and sometimes caught trout on midges (#22 to #28) fished
on top, particularly along flat stretches, after failing to lure the fish to
conventional dries and emergers representing the prevailing hatches. The key to
understanding why a trout of apparent cannibal size might shun, say,
Hendricksons while feeding freely on minutiae probably derives from the sheer
numbers of Diptera frequently available to the fish at given times. True to its
opportunistic nature, a big trout can leave just beneath the surface for
protracted periods, expending no more energy than is required to tip its head up
and down while ingesting its fill of tiny insects. Paradoxical though it may
seem, therefore, my experience teaches that I stand a better chance of hooking
big trout when fishing midges than when using more typical dry flies, except
perhaps when the conventional dressings imitate the very largest of aquatic
insect species, such as the eastern green drake that shows for no longer than
three weeks each season.
A typical angler prejudice against fishing midges issues from a sense of
insecurity born of the inability to see his fly on the water. Why some anglers
confidently fish nymphs upstream while distrusting midges, I'm not certain, but
the root of this prejudice represents the perfect starting point from which to
discuss techniques that enhance Diptera fishing.
To the angler, the most important stage in the life-cycle of a typical
Diptera (i.e., the egg, larva, pupa, and adult) is the pupal stage. Even fished
on the surface, a pupal imitation that represents a helpless insect struggling
in the film to free itself from its shuck prior to flight, has proven
considerably more effective than a dry midge that floats high on the water.
However, the dries you do opt to fish from time to time will likely be so small
(my favorite is nothing more than clipped hackle wound on a short-shank #26 or
#28 hook) that the best pair of eyes seldom will see them on the surface, except
when fishing the shortest of lines. The kicker, then, isn't to be able to see
your fly at all, any more than it is to be able to see a nymph as it dead drifts
downstream toward you under water. Instead, the trick is to know precisely where
the fly is at all times, so that when a trout rises for it, you are prepared to
set the hook. Certainly it requires considerable practice to develop this skill,
but with time, most anglers can learn to monitor fly drift without actually
seeing their flies, to sense the speed and direction of drift by relating stream
velocity and bearing of current to the ability to put their flies exactly where
they want them. With no arrogance intended, I respectfully suggest that an
angler's time is much more productively given to mastering this skill than to
mastering complex data attendant to Diptera entomology.
Through the years, I've
had minimal success trying to fish Diptera larvae or pupae imitations deep. This
does not imply that tout don't feed on these midges near the bottom, but rather
serves to illustrate that trout are reticent to move far up, down or to the left
or tight to take tiny insects. Thus, unless you've spotted a fish feeding in
deep water and are able to put a Diptera imitation on its nose, you are, in
effect, relegating fly presentation entirely to chance, like trying to sink a
long birdie putt while wearing a blindfold. No, midges are not the flies for
Happily, Diptera imitations are best fished to rising trout whose feeding
rhythms you've carefully monitored in advance. Wiring the feeding rhythm is
essential, because the typical abundance of the natural insects dictates that
you insure that your target fish spots your offering among the multitudes. To
accomplish this you must time your presentation so your fly passes over the
trout's feeding station at precisely the instant the fish is prepared to sip a
natural. Ideally, then, by means of meticulous timing, your fly must be the only
fly the target trout sees as the fish opens its mouth to take.
To show your fly correctly to the rising fish requires that you be positioned
to get an absolutely drag-free drift. Although your midge pattern may be no more
than a wisp of dubbed fur on a #28 hook, if it drags the trout usually will
reject it and the trout will likely spook. Your task is facilitated by planting
yourself across and somewhat downstream of your target trout, then
three-quartering the fly upstream, casting either a right or left curve into
your line and leader, depending on whether the stream flows from right to left
or left to right.
Long fine leader tippers are generally essential to Diptera fishing, because
(1) typical Diptera water is flat and clear,
(2) heavy tippets will just not
pass through the hook eyes of such tiny flies, and
(3) a fine tippet enhances
the impression of a free-floating insect to most trout.
Frequently, I opt for
eight feet of 7X or 8X tippet material, which ironically, makes presenting the
midge a more manageable challenge than trying to do so while using conventional tippet lengths of two
or three feet.
When presenting the midge, try dropping your casting hand to your waist
immediately in the wake of your powerstroke, while maintaining the rod tip pitch
high over the water. This casting technique will cause your leader tippet to
tumble and bunch up ahead of your target trout's feeding station. The current,
then, will catch your midge and carry it downstream toward the feeding fish as
the coils and S's in your tippet slowly straighten out behind the fly.
The trick, of course, is to ascertain your fly's probable line of drift
before initiating each presentation. This is made easier, incidentally, when you
discover that Diptera feeders seldom need be led by more than a foot. My rule is
to lead a trout not one inch more than I perceive as essential to get the job
Despite contrary claims, fishing Diptera imitations requires no special
equipment. In competent hands the same rod with which you'd fish a standard #14
dry and 5X tippet will handle light tippets and tiny flies nicely with a light
(but not tentative) touch. When choosing a rod specifically for midging.
however, consider perhaps a nine-footer for 5-weight line on big waters; and
eight to eight and-a-half-footer for 5-weight line on mid-size streams, or a
seven-and-a-half to eight-footer for 4 to 5 weight line on small waters or
extreme low water conditions.
Effective Diptera imitations run the gamut from #20 through #28 and in color
from black to cream. Among wets, I like a simple pattern tied with a stripped
peacock-quill body and a bit of fur dubbed as a collar. The dry I use most often
is an emerging pupal pattern developed by Mike Kimball of Ithaca, New York,
unquestionably among the world's most skilled midge fishermen.
Diptera fishing is generally associated with the sipping rise on flat water,
especially spring creeks, limestoners and chalk streams. However, most surface water streams also abound in Diptera species largely ignored by the majority of
anglers. When you see trout sipping on a flat stretch along your favorite
stream, odds are excellent they are working on Diptera.
lastly, there's the ultimate challenge: fishing Diptera in or on fast water.
Although not widely perceived, some prolific Diptera hatches occur on pocket
water, riffs and even the most turbulent of rapids. That dusting of miniscule
bugs you observed over the river last season probably one Diptera species or
another, and those trout you were so proud to have spotted sipping amid all that
turbulence were probably filling upon Diptera pupae.
Next time, why not test yourself. Put away the standard wets or dries, add a
long, fine tippet, cinch on a #28 pupa and find our how good you really are. The
fish may give you fits at first. But, ultimately, you're going to be glad you
allowed yourself to go a little bit "Dippy."
As simple as the pattern appears, hundreds perhaps thousands, of hours of
Mike Kimball's matchless skill and expertise went into the research and
development of his Diptera emerging pupa, shown in the accompanying photograph,
as dressed by Galen Mercer. This pattern has proven itself uniformly and
remarkably effective on rivers and streams across America, as well as abroad. It
is, by the way, the fly with which Mike created quite a stir when he was
observed solving the apparent enigma of those evening rises on Armstrong's
Spring Creek in Paradise Valley of Montana.
Here's how it's tied:
||#20 #28, Mustad 94833 (TDE, 3X fine).
||Black, brown or cream midge thread depending on the body shade chosen,
||Several fibers of teal flank feather, tied long and splayed to
represent the pupa's body shuck trailing behind it prior to falling away.
||Dubbed fur or poly in black, brown, rusty brown, olive, pale yellow
||A small section of white or light gray poly yarn, tied in so
there's an exaggerated hump at the rear of the case and a gradual slope toward
the eye of the book.