Winter Midging According to Engle (or, an Underground Thumbs Up)

Category:
Fly Fishing
bamboo fly rod
fishing
fishing small flies
Fishing tips
midges
Underground Entertainment
winter fly fishing
Added Date:
Wednesday, 25 Feb, 2009
Summary
Fly fishing writer Ed Engle remains an Underground favorite, largely because he's a real predator on the water, and his writing is largely free of the ego and artifice that clogs the efforts of so many fly fishing writers.
 
Content
Fly fishing writer Ed Engle remains an Underground favorite, largely because he's a real predator on the water, and his writing is largely free of the ego and artifice that clogs the efforts of so many fly fishing writers.

Fly fishing in WinterHis latest column in the Boulder Daily Camera is typically clean and clear, focused as it is on winter midge fishing, a pursuit that - in the style of predators everywhere - Engle's stripped down to the bare bones:

It may sound strange, but my strategy on these difficult-to-catch fish is dogged simplification. I use a "soft" 9-foot, 5-weight fly rod, a hand-tied 12-foot leader of my own design and a single size 22 or smaller fly pattern that imitates a midge pupa or, less often, some sort of low-riding dry fly or cripple pattern.

I would probably be more successful if I fished a tiny dry fly and trailed the midge pupa imitation behind it because I could use the dry fly as a strike indicator. But I've caught enough midging trout using two-fly techniques and it was a good day for me when I finally figured out that what I like most is catching a trout in the most direct way possible.

My most memorable fish have been the ones where there was as little between me and the trout as possible. That means no junk or gizmos attached to the leader other than a single small, unweighted fly that I've tied myself and the application of a no-nonsense aesthetically pleasing, but practical, cast.

The icing on the cake is when the trout takes my artificial fly in precisely the same way that it has taken the naturals.

I wish I'd written that.

In truth, this is precisely the kind of fly fishing I thought we'd get when the Upper Sacramento was opened to winter fly fishing.

Oddly - unless I'm completely missing the right time slots - we almost never get fish working midges in the winter, though it's something we often get in the summer. Go figure.

I'm not complaining about the Upper Sac's winter BWO hatches: challenging fish, clear water, small "technical" flies, long casts - these are a few of my favorite things (unless I'm doing poorly, when it kinda sucks).


As further proof that Einstein's theory of relativity applies to fly fishermen, it's clear that in the Underground Universe, one trout caught on a nearly invisible #22 emerger is more satisfying than one caught blind nymphing.

Read More 5 Top Rivers for Winter Fly Fishing in Oregon

My infrequent trips to Idaho's Big Wood River in winter have produced the kind of minimalist, tiny-fly fishing Engle's talking about, and yes, every time I approach the Upper Sacramento in winter, I wonder if this is the time I'll find them eating midges.

See you on the river (chasing midges), Tom Chandler.
 
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El Portal is located 11.5 miles west-southwest of Yosemite Village, at an elevation of 1939 feet. The population was 474 at the 2010 census. Yosemite Valley is a mere 20-minute drive ... morefrom El Portal along a relatively flat road, which makes El Portal convenient while providing less expensive lodging than the Park itself. Visitors looking for even cheaper lodging could drive further to Mariposa. Those looking to save could drive as far as Merced, but that is quite a haul for visiting Yosemite.

The town lies along State Route 140 by the Merced River located on the western edge of Yosemite National Park. Town buildings include a post office, community center, and a small school. There are two hotels, a small general store, and a gas station, but not much else. Its proximity to Yosemiite national park and the Merced river that make it special.

Fishing permits are available at the El Portal Market. Fishing limits Park Boundary to Foresta Bridge, 2-trout limit, min. fish 12 inches, open all year. Foresta Bridge to Bagby, 5-trout limit, open last Sat. in April through Nov. 15.
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The North Fork and South Fork of the Kern Wild and Scenic River is located within a four-hour drive of more than one-third of the population of southern California. With its range ... moreof elevation, topography and vegetation, it offers a broad spectrum of recreation opportunities for all seasons of the year. Principal outdoor recreation activities include fishing, hiking, camping and whitewater boating.

The North Fork flows through Sequoia National Park and the Sequoia National Forest, past post-pile formations, spiked-granite protrusions and sharp rock ledges. The North Fork Kern River canyon within the Golden Trout Wilderness may be the longest, linear glacially-sculpted valley in the world. It contains regionally unique features referred to as Kernbuts and Kerncols. These rounded to elongated (parallel to the axis of the canyon) granitic knobs (Kernbuts) and the depressions between them (Kerncols) were first identified and named in the Kern Canyon.

The North Fork River corridor also includes regionally uncommon wetland habitat at Kern Lakes and the alkaline seep at the Forks of the Kern. The wetland habitat contains several uncommon aquatic and marsh species; the alkaline seep also supports several uncommon plants. The river's deep pool habitat supports a population of wild trout and also vividly colored hybrid trout.

The South Fork Kern River flows through a diverse landscape, including whitewater, waterfalls, large granite outcrops interspersed with open areas and open meadows with extensive vistas. The segment in the Dome Land Wilderness flows by numerous granitic domes and through a rugged and steep granitic gorge where whitewater rapids are common.

With a gradient of 30 feet per mile, the North Fork Kern is one of the steepest and wildest whitewater rivers in North America. The Forks Run is a nearly continuous series of Class IV and V rapids and waterfalls. The Upper Kern is a popular stretch of river for whitewater boating, camping and fishing. The Lower Kern runs 32 miles from Isabella Dam to the canyon mouth above Bakersfield, California.
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615
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Fishing Waters:
The Merced River originates in the Southeastern corner of Yosemite National Park. Its headwaters begin at 7900 feet at the Clarke Range. It flows over Nevada and Vernal Falls, and ... morelastly, Illilouette Creek before she flows through the main Yosemite Valley. Then the Merced, picks up water from Tenaya, Yosemite, Bridalveil, and Pigeon Creeks near the end of the valley, and meeting up the water from Cascade Creek before the river flows through the Merced River Canyon and then outside the park. Its South and North Forks join it a few miles outside the park.

The Lower Merced is another river that can be drifted, water flow permitting, or walk & waded January through May.
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Enjoy a day fishing the Truckee River near Sierraville, California. With our extensive experience fishing the Truckee River, we have the vast knowledge needed to help you catch fish ... moreand have fun doing it. We specialize in guided trips for fishermen of all types from first-time anglers, to experts.
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If you have ever driven over the Lower Sacramento River or even fished it, you know that due to its shear size and abundance of water, this makes it extremely intimidating. That's ... morewhy having a knowledgable Lower Sacramento River Fly Fishing Guide is so important. A great guide will not only put you on the fish, but will also show you the fishy spots accessable by land, the put ins and pull outs for boats, as well as the bug life, the flies to use and when you go on your own, how to put all that t ogether to be successful. The Lower Sacramento River is a big tailwater fishery and California's biggest trout river, and its rainbows are just as big and powerful as the river they live in. If you want big fish and year-round fishing, this is the river for you. With more food than your local all you can eat buffets (2,500 insects per square foot of river), the average fish grows to a healthy and hard-fighting 16-18", and pigs pushing two feet are not out of the question, so bring some big guns. The fishing season is year-round, and water temperatures remain fairly constant too, as the river comes out of the bottom of Shasta Lake.

This river consists of long, indescribable, spring creek like stretches that are broken up by islands, deep pools, long riffles, gravel bars and undulating shelf’s, many of which are more pronounced during lower flows.

If having one of the best trout fisheries in the state isn’t enough, the Lower Sac also hosts some great runs of Steelhead and Chinook salmon too. It also hosts a variety of other fish, such as, shad, squawfish, stripers, largemouth and smallmouth bass, these populations of fish become higher the farther you get away from Shasta Lake. The highest flows are during the summer months, when snow melt is at its greatest, so a drift boat is highly recommended.

You can walk and wade during the higher flows if you so desire, but staying near the bank will be your safest bet. The best time to walk and wade the Lower Sac is going to be during fall, winter and early spring, there is very little snow melt, and the rain that falls goes to filling up the lake, so the river is low and great for walk and wading. This is the time to get out there and really learn the river's bottom and fish those slots that only come out in lower flows, either way “PLEASE WADE WITH CAUTION”. But due to the river’s size and the amount of private property along its banks, those that prefer to wade have two options. One is to fish from public parks and access points along the 16 miles or river between Redding and Anderson, or, from your boat, getting out at the riffles and fishy slots to make some casts.

Public access is fairly easy though on the Lower Sac, there are 6 boat launches, and many public parks and access points along the river that flows almost parallel with interstate 5.

-Brian
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World class experiences in a world class location. We are passionate about guiding in Yosemite - fly fishing, hiking, majestic forests, and our surrounding waters! We explore and we ... morefly fish because the little voice that we hear, drives us into the most beautiful destination locations that the Sierra Nevada mountain range has to offer. Discover beautiful Yosemite National Park, it's hiking trails, it's fly fishing on the Merced, and the mighty Tuolumne rivers; or the seemingly endless Stanislaus river, and the stately Mokulmne river. We have a deep rooted love for Yosemite and it's surrounding areas, but this is only out done by sharing that passion for fly fishing and hiking with others, and watching our clients catch a sunset, a fish, a memory, and a passion for the outdoors!
12 comments
That's a different way to do it!
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Greg: I don't think it's a choice on the part of fish - I simply don't see much in the way of midges in the winter. Maybe they go to Florida for the cold weather.
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Just curious, but if you get midges in the summer, where do they go in the winter? I understand the midge/mud bottom theory, but I've fished several higher elevation freestone and tailwater streams loaded with midges (Big Wood included). I'm not trying to play stump the chump or anything like that, but I'm curious to know why fish would be on midges in the summer and not in the winter. I think Tom's ... more explanation is best. As he described, the BWOs hatch throughout the winter so fish may simply not be that interested. Either way, I should probably get back to work. The cubicle calls...
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Dave Neal hit it on the head. Most good midge water is mud bottom and weedy (like the HW). I have seen very little of that on the Upper Sac. Sandy sections yes, but that doesn't seem to work. David
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"My most memorable fish have been the ones where there was as little between me and the trout as possible" Wow! I just had an epiphany.
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Freestone streams like the Upper Sac don't necessarily produce the best habitat for chironomids. The ideal winter midge fishing river is a flat, slow, tailwater river with plenty of muddy bottom pools...a river like the Lower Owens in Bishop CA...which just happens to be going off right now with huge hatches of bwo's and midges-a-plenty!
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Greg: I've never seen even a mediocre midge hatch on the river in the winter, and an email from a biologist suggests the rapid elevation loss and substrate of the upper river really aren't suited to hosting massive midge populations. That seems like the long and short of it.
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Very true Tom -- that would make the most sense. Fish "should" gravitate to the bigger bugs on the water (however, I've seen the opposite happen). I'm going off on a tangent here, but one time on Silver Creek, there was an epic PMD hatch mixed in with a few pseudocleons and wouldn't you know it, the fish literally picked through the mats of size 16 PMD duns to eat the emerging size 26 pseudocleons. ... more Long story short, that was a very frustrating day. Good stuff.
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Greg: Another scenario is possible; due to the most-of-the-winter-long BWO hatches, the trout may just never really get on the midges (they won't need to), though I rarely see enough midges going at any one time to truly matter.
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From your description it sounds like the midges should be there. I guess it's just a matter of trial and error, exploration and figuring out what time frame works. I'm sure the blowouts have something to do with it, but then again midges are about as resilient as cockroaches. I fish in the winter quite a bit and it seems there's a really slim window to find them. Some days I get a half an hour of ... more good top water, and other days I may get lucky enough to have them all afternoon. Regardless, they keep bankers hours and are somewhat unpredictable. From my experience, fish seem to be more active if the weather is consistent (good or bad). When things spike and dip, it seems to put things off.
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The Upper Sac is steeper (and typically deeper) than the Big Wood (it flows down a rocky canyon), but in truth, it looks like a river that would host good winter midge hatches. It just doesn't seem to with any regularity, and perhaps that has something to do with the regular winter blowouts. Then again, maybe they come off early in the morning on days when I'm after the BWO hatches, which seem to ... more hold up for most of the winter.
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I'm not quite sure what the upper Sac looks like in the winter, but the Big Wood is "ideal" midge water - a lot of meandering oxbow bends pushing into protected undercut banks, slow moving water, riffle guts that dump into deep buckets, heavy foam along current seams, and a lot of downed and uprooted cottonwoods to provide plenty of cover. Fish seem to "pod up" on the river when all these things come ... more together. I've fished the Big Wood a couple times already this spring and haven't been disappointed. The midges really seem to come on in March - just as day time temps are warming up into the low 40's (nights in the mid to upper (20's). I don't know how to explain it, but it's either a winter midge river or it's not. The Big Wood definitely is. If you have water like this on the upper Sac they should be there.
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