Salomone: Midge madness |

The author dives deeper into Homestake Creek.
Michael Salomone / Courtesy photo

On the Eagle River, both rainbow and brown trout are feeding voraciously in anticipation of the lean winter months ahead. Cold, ice-covered waters will soon fill our rivers, but until then, the smorgasbord of insects available to trout is plentiful. Landfishing is a long-awaited fishing experience that fly anglers enjoy every year. But a closer look at the water drives anglers into a state of midge madness.

Trout tend to feed on the surface, catching midges before they can escape to the safety of numbers near the river bank.
Michael Salomone / Courtesy photo

Crossing the surface of the water and skating for the nearest current-breaking obstacles, such as logs and stones, midges are idle. Fly fishermen are finding an incredible number of emergent insects, especially in the late afternoon. As the sun begins to sink toward the elevated horizon, trout take full advantage of the favorable conditions.

With a low sunlight angle, trout feed on the surface, picking off midges before the insects can escape to the safety of numbers near the river bank. An observant angler can spot trout and target specific fish that continue to indicate their location and feeding lanes. Flies are small mimics of the insect’s small adult stage, early larval stage, or actively emerging beetle.

Cool nights keep large numbers of midges in river water in the earliest stages of the insect’s life cycle—the larval and pupal stages. The cold water that autumn brings is a positive form of stability that the river needs after the climate-changing heat. The high water temperatures we endured and the dangerous turbidity of recent weeks have passed.

Trout are feeling the effects of the approaching fall. Golden leaves begin to roll in the current, giving anglers a false flash of color that is regularly mistaken for trout. The mass emergence of midges coincides with the feeding of trout. In one run, more than one trout, hole or ground porpoise on the surface eats midge after midge.

Underground activity borders on the absurd. If nymphing is your game, the Eagle River is in great shape for this tactic. Fishing in deep water along the bottom of the river, a nymph catches trout in its larval form. The bead-headed zebra midge is the best midge larval mimic.

A zebra midge tipped in olive, black, or red, finely tied to mimic the earliest stage, will keep your strike indicator under water all day long. Eddy currents and deep runs are the best areas of the river to present a zebra nymph.

Trout, beginning to chase its exit, move up the water column following the rising and spreading food source. Lots of rising insects that fill the water column with an easy meal can be the best fishing of the day. Aim for the edges of the river for the best action.

However, the most rewarding are the adults – the insects that gather in masses. Targeting rising trout, working the casting area and drifting is fly fishing at its best. Yes, tracking small dry flies in tight water can be a chore, but the results are rewarding. This is one of the last reliable dry fly activities for anglers to enjoy before the cold snaps. Where the water slows down after passing through a tight riffle, it creates a type of water for midges to emerge.

After crossing the surface, adults are collected. Groups of adults swirl on the surface of the river like magnets repelling each other. Little clouds glide through the still water and slow eddies with magical speed. Bouncing off each other from the crowd like bumper cars at an amusement park, only to circle around and rejoin the herd.

Flies are small to mimic the adult stage. There are flies that mimic a single adult midge, such as size 20 parachute men, as well as flies designed to be midge clusters of many adults that stick together as they drift downstream, such as Griffith midges.

Anglers with an overstocked fly box (or who are good at spinning line around hooks on fly elbows) may encounter some unique color combinations. Colors like olive, gray and black are natural, dominant tones. But quirky body colors like red, pink, or my personal favorite, orange, do several things at once. Bright, unnatural colors attract the attention of trout by looking like something similar, although different. Bright body colors also make the fly easier to track.

Bright colors attract trout and provide easy tracking.
Michael Salomone / Courtesy photo

The time of year is perfect for an Eagle River hike. The river has returned to favorable fishing conditions and feeding trout are easy to find. Join in a little Eagle River madness for shooting stars.

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