Fishing Montana Midge Hatches
Midges play an important role in the lives of Montana trout. During the winter month’s midges are essentially the only insects on the move, and therefore are one of the only food sources readily available to the trout. The other insects are in the water of course, growing up, but since they are not near to hatching they are typically hold up under rocks and inaccessible. So, besides baitfish and other random nymphs, midges make up a large portion of the trout’s winter diet. So, since midges are the only things out there fishing midge hatch is easy right? Yes, and no.
Matching the Hatch
There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of midge species in Montana, so you will never perfectly “match the hatch” like you would; say a PMD hatch. The good news is midges are small, so most of the patterns are very similar to one another and you only need to carry a basic section of colors and sizes to fish any hatch successfully. In order of importance: black, red, olive and maybe some purple for an adventurous soul, will cover just about every situation, while sizes #18 & #20 flies are good for Montana fly fishing. Having these colors and sizes in pupas (nymphs), both weighted and unweighted, as well as a handful of single dries, plu a size range of midge clusters (Griffith’s Gnat is a very hard to beat cluster pattern) should round out any midge fly box for Bozeman fly fishing.
Midges are very important in the winter, but they actaully hatch just about everyday of the year. You can find midge hatches in sizzling summer days and drizzly fall afternoons, but during these times there are typically bigger food sources hatching that distract the trout. So, although you may not want to carry midge dries with you all the time it is a good idea to carry some pupa and try them as a prospecting fly, not just in the wintertime.
The Trout Aren’t Eating My Dry
Midges can hatch all day, and while it is true that trout can be reluctant to rise on bright sunny days, the sun is low enough in the winter that the trout don’t seem to care as much. In fact the best time of day to find fish rising to midges is 11am-2pm. This is because typically the midges are most active during the warmest part of the day. However, just because you find fish rising during a midge hatch doesn’t mean you should tie on a dry just yet. Take your time and watch the fish. You’re looking for their upper lip and sometimes the lower jaw to come out of the water. This means they are eating adults off the surface. However, if all you see is a head that’s sometimes followed by a dorsal or tail fin, this means they are eating pupa just under the surface. In this case, take an unweighted pupa pattern and tie it on as a dropped 12 inches or less behind your dry. Use fluorocarbon tippet, this will make sure there are no errant line coils floating on the surface that may spook fish. It’s also a good idea to run a foot of fluorocarbon to the dry for the same reason, just not too much or the sinking line will drag your dry under. Whether the fish eats the dry or the submerged pupa, remember that while using small hooks the “set” should be a gentle lift, as it is very easy to rip a small hook out or snap light tippet.
Fishing a midge hatch doesn’t have to be hard or frustrating. A little patience and the right tackle is key. Midges can offer some great dry fly fishing of, and usually allows you to target individual fish. There’s not much that can beat this “hunting” dry fly fishing that allow you to pick off the biggest fish in the pod. Make sure to check out our fishing reports or stop by our Bozeman fly shop for the latest inside scoop.