They are in the phylum Arthropoda, the class of Insecta, of the
order Diptera, and in the family Chironomidae. All that to say that
snow flies are non-biting flies, commonly called midges, but perhaps
we should back up a little bit and explain the 'snow fly' thing.
By Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona
Many years ago in a kingdom far away I moved from a mythical
place called Michigan to a very real paradise, or so I thought, the
State of Montana. Montana really is a state, a state of mind that
exists mostly in the psyche of fly fishers, snow boarders, and other
escapists. I arrived in the middle of winter, a real, bone-chilling winter
with snow _____ deep on a tall Native American. Being much
younger then, I was undaunted by this reality, and since I had moved
to Montana primarily to fish for trout I thought that is what I should do.
Upon inquiring at a well-known local fly shop I was informed that I
would need some 'snow flies.' Thinking that the locals were planning
on having a good laugh on a Midwestern flatlander I asked to be shown
some 'examples' of these so-called snow flies. The clerk pointed to
several boxes of flies prominently labeled 'snow flies.' They were
small black dry flies that resembled the midge fly patterns that I
had used on the Au Sable in Michigan. Ah, an epiphany, snow flies
Against what seems to be insurmountable odds midges
hatch throughout the year, even during the coldest part
of the winter. On many trout streams midges compose
the bulk of the insect biomass and are consumed by trout
in every month of the year. On my first winter sojourn to
fish the Yellowstone River I discovered that despite the
fact that the water was ice cold midges were hatching,
and in certain areas fish were rising to eat them.
During the winter months on the Yellowstone River near
my Montana home I have witnessed heavy hatches of
snow flies on days when the air temperature was hovering
just above freezing and ice would form in the guides of your
rod after every cast. During such cold periods most of the
rising fish are Rocky Mountain Whitefish, which tend to
feed at colder temperatures than trout.
Despite cold winter weather conditions a period of sunny
weather will bring the water temperature up slightly and
trout will begin to feed on snow flies. Winter fishing is a
true gentleman's sport. No need to rise early since nothing
will be happening until sometime after noon. No need to plan
for a long exhausting day on the stream since the action will
normally only last a couple hours. You only need a few
patterns to match the hatch so you can take a lot of those
extra fly boxes out of your vest. It's probably best not to
wear those lightweight waders that feel so good when the
temperatures are approaching the 90's so it might be a good
idea to break out those 5 mm neoprene boot foot jobs.
My favorite place to fish with midges [snow flies] during the
winter months is in the foam that forms in eddies along the
banks. These small foam covered whirlpools trap the
hatching midges and deliver them to the waiting trout like
a lazy susan. I prefer to us a two-fly cast; a black adult
midge with a midge pupa trailer. As the foam lines change
with the currents the rising fish will shift with them to feed
on the trapped flies. I use a slack line cast and drop my
es as close as possible to where the most fish are rising.
Normally I cannot see my flies in the foam but I can usually
see my leader, and I occasionally use a small yarn indicator
attached to my leader at the knot where the tippet is attached
to the leader point.
The very finest winter midge fishing is found on the spring
creeks south of my home. During the winter months the
extensive weed beds that are characteristic of the creeks
during the warmer months are gone, and the trout are
extremely shy. On warm cloudy days, especially in late
winter, midges hatch in profuse numbers and trout noses
poke through the surface to partake of the bountiful feast.
It's not heaven but it's as close as a fly fisher is likely to
experience this side of the pearly gates.
Midge Fishing Notes
Midge fishing is some of the most demanding angling that most
fly-fishers will experience especially on heavily fished waters.
There are few angling experiences that are more frustrating
than watching several large trout feeding with abandon and
completely ignoring every fly that you attempt to feed them.
To be consistently successful when using midges the angler
must be a competent technician of tackle and technique.
Most midges that hatch on flowing water are relatively small
ranging in size from a size 16 to 28 or even smaller. I admit
that my success decreases markedly when using midge
imitations smaller than 24, and fortunately most of the
fishable midge hatches that I encounter tend to be
composed of insects in the 18-22 size range.
The small patterns that are necessary to match the size of
most midges' calls for fine tippets; however, except on rare
occasions, I rarely use anything smaller than 6x. Modern
tippet material allows the angler to use larger tippet sizes
without affecting presentation. I generally use 5x tippets
for all my midge fishing except when I am forced to use
midges smaller than 22's.
When fishing to trout that are rising to hatching midges
anglers can increase their hooking success by using two
flies. If the angler believes the trout are feeding on the
emerging pupa a proven technique is to use a larger dry
fly that the angler can see and trail a midge pupa off the
hook. The larger dry fly acts like an indicator allowing
the angler to see when a trout takes their pupa imitation.
I generally use an adult midge imitation and trail a pupa
off the hook. By careful wading I can usually can get close
enough to the rising fish to make a relatively short cast that
allows me to either see my imitation or my leader point.
While I generally avoid using them the angler can use a
strike indicator attached to leader.
Since midges are very common on most trout waters
midge larva imitations are great searching flies when
there is no surface activity. Midge larva colors range
from blood red to various shades of olive and most
of them can be successfully imitated by very simple
patterns. Fished dead drifted close to the bottom
below riffles and below heavy weed beds can be very
productive. In clear spring creeks I especially enjoy
'sight fishing' with midge larva patterns.
Midge fishing is demanding fishing, but anglers that master
the skills necessary will enjoy some of the finest sport that
trout angling offers. ~ The Chronicler
From A Journal Archives