Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Winter Midging

January in Montana isn't generally associated with great dry fly fishing; in fact many anglers don't associate the time of year with fly fishing at all. If anything it's indicators and split-shot, eggs and worms, iced guides and cold fingers. And frankly, even if giant stoneflies hatched in January (and they don't), I'm not sure many anglers would bother to bundle up and rise to the occasion. It can be difficult to find an eager fishing partner when the forecast is calling for highs in the mid-30's, mostly cloudy skies, and a 50% chance of midge hatches.

A beautiful scene: rising trout, a bent rod and winter solitude.
Yet that is just what a friend found in me earlier this week. As we made the early morning drive to the 50-mile riffle I couldn't help but wonder if I'd made a bad decision... the wind was howling and snow squalls were sweeping through the valley. Considering the weather, it wasn't all that surprising to find the parking area deserted upon our arrival. I tossed an extra layer and a Thermos of coffee in my pack and off we went, post-holing through deep snow drifts to get to the river.

All eyes are on the prize.
The good nymph fishing early in the day didn't come as a surprise, rather it was the dry fly fishing later in the day that caught me off guard. By late morning the clouds had parted, the wind calmed, and midges began appearing in the softer water. It didn't take long before we began seeing fish feeding on the surface, in some locations there were dozens of trout rising consistently. In a foolish move I hadn't brought my dry fly box, but I'd tied up a few adult midge patterns the night before and stashed them in my nymph box, just in case. I re-rigged as quickly as possible, and began casting upstream to individual risers at the back of the pack. These fish weren't pushovers, my size 20 zelon creation wasn't getting it done. Fortunately my comrade had come better prepared for the possibility of a midge hatch and quickly came to my rescue with a homespun cdc pattern that proved to be effective.

A fine winter brown, taken on a Hi-Viz Griffith's Gnat.

Over the course of the afternoon we worked our way upriver, stopping to watch the soft pockets of water along the way for risers. In about a half dozen locations we found pods of fish rising to midges, some of the fish being quite large. By making a concerted effort to work each pool from tail to head, and by quickly playing hooked fish away from the pod, we were able to take multiple fish from each location. All in all, the hatch provided a few hours of fun and challenging dry fly fishing, and in January of all months!


  1. Dude! Will, that was a great post... Winter midging sets the percentages apart for sure..

  2. Thank, Josh. It was so good that I might have to try for a repeat this weekend.

  3. Very cool, I've always wanted to catch a trout on a midge dry during the winter months. One of these days. Thanks for the motivation!

  4. Kevin - For the past 3 winters I've been talking about doing this, and finally made it happen. These were my first trout on a midge dry fly during winter! Best of luck.

  5. "Fortunately my comrade had come better prepared for the possibility of a midge hatch and quickly came to my rescue..." You owe that guy a beer! Nice post, and great photo of that brownie.

    1. Yeah, the guy always seems to have the answers... not surprisingly, he guides during the summer months. And yes, I bought him a couple of beers when we got off the water.