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Tyler Legg
Charlotte, NC, United States
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009
It's that time of year. Yes Christmas, but to us fly fisherman, Winter brings these two reliable aquatic insects: the Blue Wing Olives (Baetis) and midges (Diptera). In fact, these two aquatic insects may be the only consistent bugs hatching throughout the winter in NC. Sure, you may see small Black Stones or even early Quill Gordons sporadically hatching on the river if water temperatures are at 50 degrees of above for a week. If you have lived in North Carolina for a period of time you know that the weather is very unpredictable. We can get a full fledged snowstorm one day and then 3 days later make the transition to 50's and 60's for highs with sunny skies. Always be prepared...

---Blue Wing Olives---
BWO nymphs are swimmers, which means they can freely swim in the stream by use of their strong tails to propel themselves. Olive's tend to hatch when the water temperature is hovering at or above 40 F. They also tend to hatch when the weather is cloudy and rainy. These bugs are usually small. They can grow to about a #16 (which is large), but #20-24 "ish" are more abundant. Like all members of the Ephemeroptera family or mayfly family, the BWO's life cycle consists of 8 stages. First the eggs hatch into young nymphs that migrate to the underside of a submerged rock. The nymph then matures, while at the same time growing in size. The nymph makes a run to the surface of the stream after hatching from the egg. This time the insect emerges from it's nymphal shuck, and "stands" in the surface film to dry it's wings. This stage is it's Dun or subimago stage. The subimago stage is represented by a dry fly, which "stands" on the water. After this, the BWO will crawl onto streamside vegetation and completely shed it's nymphal shuck. Large groups of BWO's then mate and lay their eggs. At this stage they are called spinners, and are recognized by their transparent wings. The Spinner stage is followed by death, and the dying mayflies lay on the water, with their wings flat across the water's surface. The Emergence stage through the Spinner stage is completed in one day. Sometimes only hours.

Midges are extremely important to trout in the long, cold, lifeless winters of the environment they live in. People often mistaken these bugs with the common mosquito. Both are extremely similar in size shape and life cycle, but midges don't bite; their harmless. Midges will hatch regardless of the temperature, thus giving the trout a constant food source throughout the winter. The life cycle of a midge is a little different than mayflies, as these guys are similar to caddisflies. They have a larval stage, where they bury themselves in the riverbed, usually in a slow, calm section of the stream. After this stage, they transform into a pupae, and swim to the surface. This is the most vulnerable stage where a trout will happily pick them out before the insects make it to the surface. The bugs that make it to the top, will hatch into adults. Most midges are in the 20-28 size range. Although, a few species of midges can grow to a size 16 or 14. But, your common midge is going to be tiny. Griffith's Gnats, midge dries, and midge clusters are ideal flies for the adult stage, while disco midges and Zebra Midges are great for the larval and pupal stages.

I hope this has cleared up two of the most important aquatic insects that you will likely encounter, if you fly fish in the cold and snow.


Andrew Pooser said...

You mention midges are vulnerable as they rise from the bottom to the surface. Does this mean you fish midges differently than other nymphs that drift horizontally downstream? Just trying to learn the basic techniques. Thanks!


Tar Heel Fly Fishing said...


In some cases, yes. Both midges and mayflies swim to the surface to emerge into adults. When you see midges hatching, an effective technique is to let the fly drift towards the fish eventually pulling the fly slowly and vertically to the surface. This resembles an emerging midge. This is when they are most vunerable, as they are away from cover and are easy for a hungry trout to pick out.

Lance Milks said...

Hey Andrew,

The best method for imitaing rising midges is called the Leisenring lift. Its all timing. You place yourself upstream and to the side from the trout, cast about 2o-clock upstream from you and fallow the fly with the rod tip, and as the fly is about 2 to 4 feet infront of the trout stop the rod tip. The current then tensions the line and begins to lift your fly. This is most likely when the trout will hit it. Although I have had them hit it mid drift before.


Tar Heel Fly Fishing said...

The Leisenring has caught my fair share of fish. You can use it with midges or with nymphs/wets. The wet fly swing is another method worth trying...


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