When it comes to stillwaters, few bugs matter as much in a trout’s diet as the midge. A true staple for trout, the midge will hatch all year on open water and up north, from ice-out, ’til ice-on on most of our stillwater fisheries. There are four stages in the midge’s life cycle, these stages include the egg, larva, pupa and adult, with the last three of these four stages being quite important to trout and to stillwater fly anglers. The second of these three stages -the larval stage- frequently gets overlooked.
Midges come in many colors and sizes. The adult midge looks very similar to a mosquito but lucky for us lacks the mosquito’s proboscis. The most obvious stage of a midge’s life cycle -the adult- can be seen on top of the water both when it sheds its pupa shuck and again when it returns to lay its eggs. Although trout prefer the larval and pupa stages of the midge, trout may key in on this stage while the adult is ridding itself of its extol pupa skeleton, or while it waits for its wings to dry before flying off. When the adult midge returns to lay its eggs, the midge will skim across the surface of the water depositing its eggs leaving a come eat me wake behind it, which seams to attract trout well enough.
The pupa stage of the midge -the chironomid- receives a lot of attention from both stillwater fly anglers and the stream guys. Although the chironomid (from the name chironomidae meaning non-biting midge) is in actual fact a midge in any stag of it’s life cycle, most fly anglers refer to the chironomid as the pupa stag of the midge. Fly fishermen concentrate more on this stage of the midge because the chironomid can be found at any depth of a stillwater fishery as it rises from the lake bottom very slowly until it reaches the surface where it transforms into the adult. Because of this, chironomids give trout an easy meal throughout the entire column of water meaning anglers can fish a pupa pattern at nearly any depth of the fishery with a good chance at finding trout. It’s during the heat of summer when trout move to deeper, more comfortable water and the pupa activity slows down or when trout start keying in on active larger food items that the chironomid may not get the consistent results one is after.
The larval stage of the midge, known as -the bloodworm- is not a true worm due to it’s exoskeleton and small clawed legs. The chironomid larva will spend its time living at the bottom of a lake in the mud or sediment feeding on decaying matter known as detritus. In stillwaters, you will find midge larva in a few different colors like green and tan but red larva are typical. The blood of a midge, like humans, is iron based and because most stillwater bloodworms live in anoxic environments, need a protein called hemoglobin. This hemoglobin is carried by red blood cells and stores oxygen which maintain the viability of it’s cells keeping it alive and giving the larva a blood red appearance when little oxygen is available.
Bloodworms often get overlooked by many anglers but quite the opposite when it comes to feeding trout. Trout will often key in on the abundance of larva available and due to its familiarity, will readily feed upon larva even when other aquatic life is plentiful. Because you can find Bloodworms on or near the bottom of the lake, anglers will do well to keep their bloodworm patterns one or two feet off any bottom structure they may be fishing. The size of fly you choose to represent a midge larva should be up to three sizes larger then the adult midges seen hatching on the surface as the midge’s body length decrease in size from larva, to pupa, then to adult.
Fishing a bloodworm is much the same as fishing the pupa. For best results, you’ll need a strike indicator (Quick Release indicators work well), floating line and a long leader. The length of your leader will depend on the depth you are fishing but unlike the chironomid, the bloodworm will not stray far from the bottom so a foot or two off the bottom will be the required depth. To find this depth, take a bell weight or hemostats and place it on your bloodworm pattern. Now lower your fly down until it reaches the bottom. Using your thumb and index finger, mark the spot where your leader is even with the surface of the water and secure the strike indicator one foot below this mark. Now retrieve your fly and remove the bell weight. Your indicator will now float your fly one foot off the bottom. In early mornings when the water is at a cooler temperature, trout will be found closer to the shoreline and fishing your bloodworm in shallow water should produce fish. In the heat of the day however, trout may go deeper in search of colder, more comfortable water. Work your way out to deeper water trying different depths from 12 to 22 feet of water or more but always keeping your fly in that one to two foot section off the bottom. Your retrieve should imitate the natural so little to no movement usually produces the best results. Slow short strips or a slow hand twist with long pauses are usually the key to success. There are times however that attention may be what’s required to get a hook-up so a couple of quick short strips with long pauses may produce the results you’re looking for. Depths of twenty feet or more make for a very long leader and if you’ve ever tried casting a leader this long, you know it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do. When fishing depths of 20 plus feet, a fast sink line may be more to your liking.
At these depths, you can fish directly below your boat without fear of spooking the trout. When fishing with a sinking line, find the depth you want to fish at using your bell weight. Drop your weighted fly down to the bottom with your rod tip just an inch off the surface of the water. When your fly hits the bottom, reel up one foot of line. Now remove the bell weight and drop your fly back down. Keep the rod tip one inch from the waters surface and strip line with quick three inch strips then let the fly fall back down. When the tip drops or you feel a tug, set the hook. Great attention must be taken with these methods, as takes can be very soft. At times, just a slight movement of the rod tip or a feeling like you’ve hooked weeds is all an angler may see or feel and with such little warning one must set the hook or possibly lose out on an opportunity.
Bloodworms are a true staple for trout at any time of year even when the lakes are frozen over. Paying no attention to the bloodworm is like overlooking scuds, leeches or the favored chironomid pupa itself. On those slow warm days when nothing seems to be working, toss a midge larva pattern out into some deep water about a foot of the bottom and find out for yourself what you’ve been overlooking. It may just save a fish-less day.