What happens when in barely three hours
time a 6-inch rainfall carwashes the
watershed of a 195-acre lake? Ugly, is
what happens. And just two days after
this statistically rare late August deluge,
I decided to go fishing for bluegills in
this lake. My mother didn't drop me on
my head when I was a baby, but a few years
ago she told me of a nasty fall she took
down some stairs when I was still inside her.
Lingering brain damage aside, this was one
of those trips everybody takes sooner or
later. A trip where your heart isn't in
it because you suspect that your favorite
spots have been knocked out of action by a
bad storm? Nobody really minds staying home
and watching TV when faced by such circumstances.
The problem comes halfway through that bag of
potato chips, when the thought creeps in that
conditions out at the lake might not be as bad
as you imagine. Once this idea takes hold, it
hits you that if you go fishing you might enjoy
a bit of good luck while the normal people who
ordinarily are at the lake fishing are all
sitting at home watching TV due to their even
gloomier lake assumption.
In my case, a second idea was prodding me.
During the work week before this big rain
storm hit Lawrence, I'd been whipped into
a fishing frenzy by a modest length FAOL
Bulletin Board thread whose topic was midges.
Midges, the polite term for "those damn pesky
little gnats." And not just flies that
imitate winged adult midges; no, the discussion
thread even mentioned flies that imitate midge
larvae and pupae.
Ignorant of the role midges play in the panfish
diet, two weeks earlier I would have dismissed
this thread as French pastry penned by bored
trout fishing gearheads. But the week the
thread appeared, so did a Rick Zieger Panfish
article that told how he'd used a winged adult
midge on one rod and a midge larvae on a backup
rod and caught quite a few bluegills out of a
farm pond. That got my attention.
Rick's story combined with the Bulletin Board
thread got me thinking how cool it would be
to slowly pull a midge train past the noses
of hungry bluegills - the "engine" being a
winged midge, the "caboose" a larvae. (I
can't connect the pupae stage "third car"
fly because Kansas fishing laws allow no
more than two hooks per casting line.)
So I drove out to the lake, feeling doubtful
but nevertheless psyched for tandem fishing
a winged adult midge with a larvae trailer.
I was equipped for this task thanks to Rick,
who a week earlier had given me some winged
midges, pupae and larvae flies.
Unfortunately, lake conditions were ten times
worse than I'd imagined. The two biggest coves
I like to fish in were carpeted with the most
intimidating layer of floating debris you ever
saw, compliments of that 6-inch rain. It
looked like every blade of dead grass in
Douglas County, every dead leaf, every twig,
broken branch and stick from miles around had
been washed into the lake. The surface acreage
coated by this flotsam made both coves look
like ocean bays that had been slicked by an
oil tanker run aground.
I almost turned back for home but decided to
sit in my pickup a few minutes and observe
this shattered environment for signs of
activity. Surely no gamefish was in the
mood to bite today, much less even be here.
But lo and behold, fish were active. Indeed,
near the thickest concentrations of debris
an occasional vicious surface swirl indicated
a large panfish or bass attacking a prey item.
What were these fish eating? And how in the
world was I supposed to work a fly through that
dense layer of debris without snagging every
This is where it can help you to fish alone:
no sympathetic ear was handy for me to waste
time whining into. Finally I just decided
to hell with it: I'm here, so I'll paddle out
and look for little pockets or lanes of open
water to cast to, and whatever happens it
I launched my canoe where two feeder creeks
come in. Residual storm runoff was still
flowing down these creeks, but a light
counterbreeze was pushing flotsam from
the cove upcurrent into the areas I wanted
to fish. A most discouraging sight...until
I paddled into the debris field and discovered
that its mass consisted primarily of a thin
film of pepper-sized vegetation bits. A
heavier fly would sink through this stuff
and might catch the attention of any bluegills
One of Rick's black rubber-legged marabou
nymphs was still on the leader from my Iowa
visit the weekend before, so I started off
with it. Right away I caught a nice bluegill,
about 6 inches long but very thin. I let it
go. Curious, why the odd bluegill gets this
way: big frame but almost no meat. Maybe like
whitetail bucks in rut, some male 'gills suffer
extreme weight loss during the summer from
spawning so much.
Paddling over to the second feeder creek, I made
a happy discovery: the surface above its "sweet
spot" had become debris-free thanks to the
counterbreeze. Just to see if anyone was home,
I laid a cast at the right fringe of this hole
and immediately a bluegill nailed the black
rubber-legged nymph. After dropping this keeper
into my cooler for a solid water snooze, I sent
my next cast straight into the heart of the sweet
spot. Halfway back, it got pinged by one of those
on/off hits that tells you a fish nipped the tail
of the fly instead of grabbing the whole thing.
With two fish caught and one in the ice chest,
this was all the excuse I needed. Clipping off
the black nymph, I tied on the Death Train - a
#20 winged adult midge with a near-microscopic
#24 larvae trailing a foot behind. You punks
like striking short, huh? Okay, let's see you
strike short on this!
Into the sweet spot went my tandem midges. No
hit. Back again, and again, but no hits. Slow
retrieves, medium retrieves, fast retrieves,
start and stop retrieves, no hits. Forty-five
minutes pass, and not a single hit.
I began running down the list of reasons why
the 'gills weren't attacking my midges. Some
insect repellent may have got transferred onto
the flies by my fingers. Maybe the fish weren't
eating midges now because natural midge activity
had ceased due to habitat disruption from the
flash flood. Maybe this was the wrong time of
day to use midges. Perhaps the water was still
too stained for the fish to spot such tiny flies.
Maybe I should have positioned the larvae fly up
front and used the winged adult as the trailer
so that in motion the tandem's passage displayed
the correct life cycle chronology.
I might have sat in my canoe mumbling to myself
until well past dark, had not the counterbreeze
suddenly stopped. The creek current now began
transporting stacked up flotsam back down the
channel into the lake cove. With my sweet spot
getting layered again with thick surface crud,
I had no choice but to retreat and search the
cove for open places to cast to. Even here it
was a dynamic environment, with dense patches
of flotsam steadily migrating into the open
water like growlers issuing from an iceberg
But the day was getting late now, and with the
lowering sun came the typical evening increase
in wildlife activity. Fish began swirling all
around me; no question they were still here,
and was I ever glad to see this. Feeling only
a slight sense of mission failure, I clipped
off my killer midge rig; it would have to kill
'em some other day. For now, something bigger
and heavier seemed the way to go.
I put on a #10 Hare's Ear nymph that Rick had
tied, and to its hook bend I knotted a foot-long
tippet section armed with a #18 black gnat. (I
figured a #18 gnat might qualify as a midge, and
I still wanted at least one midge in the water.
Strictly for scientific reasons, you understand.)
Then totally by accident after pulling free from
a snagged cast, I discovered the 'gills liked both
of these flies equally well if I pulled them
through the water just below the surface at
line stripping speed. In the next hour six
keeper 'gills fell prey, plus a 1 ½-lb. channel
cat whose abrupt short range strike almost
ripped the rod out of my hand.
Shortly after boating this channel cat, another
strong fish laid a jolting strike on my nymph/gnat
tandem. This fish got off before I could identify
it, and in my excited condition I kept casting
ten more minutes before I glanced down and
noticed that my black gnat wasn't there anymore.
Losing the gnat gave me an opportunity to test
fire another of Rick's flies. I don't know its
name but it has wings, a black/red/black thorax,
a clipped gray tail and it is slightly bigger
than the Hare's Ear nymph. I used it as the
trailer, and two keeper bluegills chose it
for their last meal.
So this flood-battered lake surrendered some
good fly-fishing action in spite of it all.
Three hours earlier it appeared certain this
would be one of those dreaded Longest Day trips.
I avoided that fate when the bluegills rejection
of my first tandem offering showed that I'd
gone...A Midge Too Far. ~ Joe email@example.com
From Lawrence, Kansas, Joe is a former municipal and
federal police officer. In addition to fishing, he hunts
upland birds and waterfowl, and for the last 15 years
has pursued the sport of solo canoeing. On the nearby
Kansas River he has now logged nearly 5,000 river miles
while doing some 400 wilderness style canoe camping
trips. A musician/singer/songwriter as well, Joe's
'day job' is with the U.S. General Services Adminstration.
Joe at one time was a freelance photojournalist who wrote the
Sunday Outdoors column for his city newspaper. Outdoor
sports, writing and music have never earned him any money,
but remain priceless activities essential to surviving the