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Salomone: Midges are Tic Tacs for trout

Why fly anglers should carry midges at various stages of development in their boxes

Michael Salomone

They’re small. They are here all the time. And they must taste good, because trout will eat the littlest bug in the river all year. Trout snack on midges again and again, like Tic Tacs.

Midges are the most important insect in the river. Midges develop all year long. In the wintertime, midges emerge on the bright sunny days that are prevalent in Colorado. Cold water temperatures hold midges in the earliest stage of development, the larva stage, longer.

Developed by a Lees Ferry guide, the world-famous zebra midge catches trout 12 months a year. An imitation of midges in the larva stage, the zebra midge is an example of a prevalent food source trout are comfortable eating all the time. Trout that feed on subsurface midge larva may eat anywhere in the water column, but the highest activity will always occur near the bottom.



Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

Popular colors for midge larvae are red, black and olive green. Some innovative fly tyers have constructed midge larva with a combination of colors. The contrast gives the impression of movement as the midge larva squirm actively.

Midge pupa are the next stage in midge development and the most vulnerable stage. Pupa rise through the weather column in an attempt to reach the surface and emerge as an adult insect. When pupa are rising, trout take advantage of the easy meal. Emerging midge pupa hatch en masse, producing high numbers of adults. Trout feeding on midge emergers leave a swirling rise form but no visible nose, head or back extends above the water surface.



Drew Musser fishing during in the early snow.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

When midges reach the pupa stage the elongated, segmented body of a larva turns into a thicker, more pronounced thorax and head. The development of wings and legs under the thin exoskeleton create a distended silhouette with a bulbous head.

Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

The palomino midge is an exaggerated imitation of this plump stage in midge development. The Smokejumper and Top Secret flies are two more great midge pupa patterns. Important colors for midge pupa would be black, olive and red. A bubble develops during the maturation of the midge pupa that lifts the aquatic nymph towards the surface. It is this bubble that breaks open the midge exoskeleton, carries the emerger to the surface and is imitated by a glass bead or a small amount of crystal flash.

The emerger/pupa stage is the shortest stage in midge development. Midges will spend a few days as adults. The adult midges will cluster in the air, but these are mainly males searching for females. Midges will gather heavily behind boulders, in pockets and on soft water. The fuzzy clusters hovercraft and slide over the surface like Olympic ice skaters. It is the midge cluster that the Griffith’s Gnat imitates so well. Trout keyed into the midge hatch will feed on larvae, the pupa and finally gorge on the adults that spend too much time on the surface.

Darron Musser with a cherry cheeked rainbow trout.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

There you have it, the main reasons why all fly anglers carry midges in various stages of development in their boxes. Midge larva are always present in the watershed. Midge pupa are easy targets for sleek, swift swimming trout and dry flies gather in groups and give trout a worthwhile bite of protein. When it comes down to the little bugs, trout just eat midge after midge after midge all year, like popping Tic Tacs, one right after the other.

Drew Musser with rainbow trout from the Stagecoach Resevoir.
Micael Salomone/Courtesy photo

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