There are over 400 species of Chironomid buzzers
(non-biting) Midge or Buzzer in the UK. Some of the larger species may be 13mm long, but most are between 1 & 5mm. Colours vary from black, grey, brown, yellow, orange, red & green (sometimes a mix of more than one colour, for example red & black). They are present in virtually every freshwater river & lake in the country, even those that are quite badly polluted & they are particularly abundant in waters with a silted bed. The larvae feed on organic detritus, algae, fungi & bacteria. The large numbers of bloodworms found in many lakebeds have been linked to the abundance of methane-eating bacteria (which feed on methane released from the breakdown of organic matter in the lake sediments). Below sewage outfalls in rivers are prime sites for high populations of Chironomid larvae & I know of one grayling hot spot on a Derbyshire river that is just below the town’s outfall.
It always amazes me how few fly fishers fish with tiny Midge imitations, particularly in winter when Midges are generally the only flies to hatch. There is not a single day in the year that some Midges do not hatch on our lakes & rivers. Of course every still water fly fisher knows that one of the major food items of still water trout is the Chironomid Midge or Buzzer, but they generally use flies that are huge compared to the natural insect that they are supposed to be imitating. Most river fly fishers seem however to be unaware of the importance of Midges in the diet of their quarry. Furthermore, even fewer folks consider fishing with tiny dry Midge patterns in the winter, yet I’ve had some amazing dry fly sessions on cold, miserable winter days.
I was reminded how good winter dry fly fishing can be a few days before writing this blog. It was a raw, damp, late November day with a maximum air temperature of 6 degrees C. A couple of weeks earlier friends & I had experienced amazing grayling fishing during leaf-fall, fishing with size 24 to 30 CdC dry flies. However, on this late November day I said to my two companions that I thought our chances of any dry fly fishing was virtually nil & that we’d be nymphing. Arriving at 10.30am we saw a grey, cold, uninviting looking river, but it wasn’t long before I noticed a single riser in a smooth, shallow glide. As we cautiously waded into the river we saw a few other grayling rising to ‘invisibles’. A close inspection showed there to be a few tiny adult Midges on the water. We needed no further invitation. We each attached size 26 to 30 CdC Midge Imitations (IOBO Humpy, Shuttlecock & Minimalistic Micro Midge) to light tippet & so started one of the best dry fly fishing sessions we’ve had for a long while. The fish were not easy to tempt, often demanding repeated presentations of the fly till that perfect, drag-free drift was achieved, but we steadily caught fish all day long. I also found that I had increased success with a size 30 fly compared with a size 26 or 24. There are times that fly size canbe critical to consistent success! Stuart Crofts, who lives further up the river, tells me that there is virtually not a single day in winter that grayling cannot be seen rising to Midges on his river.
The same is true of my local small still water, Wansford Lake near Driffield. In fact the best Midge hatches occur during the winter & the best of these in the 2017/18 winter were around dawn & dusk on the coldest, frostiest days, particularly on the dull days when we had snow flurries. At such times I had great fun fishing a size 26 to 30 CdC Minimalistic Micro Midges to the rising rainbows. With a bit of thought it is obvious that cold conditions should provide good surface activity when midges are hatching as the river or lake water is a usually a relatively warm 4 or more degrees C whilst the air may well be below freezing: being cold-blooded the adult midges need warmth in order to have enough energy to fly off, but without sun & with very low air temperatures these adults become ‘locked’ on the water surface, easy prey for the fish. Several times I’ve found an area of the lake where the wind has concentrated accumulations of these tiny adults & there have been ‘wolf packs’ of fish mopping them up.
Of course there are days when the grayling or rainbows are focusing on the Midge pupae whilst they are resting just below the surface film, pre-emergence. This often occurs on slightly warmer days when the adults are not lingering on the water surface. At such times a tiny Shuttlecock emerger or Suspender Buzzer (with a foam head), fished in the surface film is my choice of fly.
On other days it is the ascending pupae that are of interest to most of the fish & a tiny Wire Buzzer or Bead-head Buzzer suspended from a small dry fly, greased leader or greased semi-curly indicator is my choice of approach. In calm conditions I prefer a greased leader since many takes come ‘on the drop’ as the fly slowly sinks & with a greased leader it is easy to see any change in the rate at which the fly is sinking, a sure indication of a take!
Of course we mustn’t forget the larval stage, of which the most commonly imitated variety is the Bloodworm. The red colour is caused by haemoglobin which helps the larvae extract oxygen from the anaerobic silt within which they spend much of their time. However in well oxygenates waters, particularly rivers, the larvae of most species are not red, but olive, yellow, pale brown or green. I must confess that the only realistic larval imitation that I use is a red one tied on a size 20 short shank hook with a 1.5mm red or black tungsten bead head & body of red holographic tinsel, plus ‘tail’ of half thickness red flexifloss. This I fish ‘on the drop’ using a greased leader, suspended deep down under a small dry fly, or suspended from a greased semi-curly monofilament indicator.
As I’ve said before, in earlier blogs, good presentation is one of the biggest challenges when fishing with tiny flies. Bloodworms & Midge pupae swim incredibly slowly, often drifting inertly with any flow of the water (even so called still waters have currents caused by the wind & surface flows may be very different from subsurface flows). Whilst freshly stocked rainbows will tolerate the most unnatural of presentations, (such as a pulled Bloodworm, or one drifting in an arc), educated wild fish & long-term resident fish will usually studiously ignore any badly presented fly. Buzzers & Bloodworms fished ‘on the drop’ must sink vertically, not in an arc, so they must be cast with a dump cast & not on a tight, straight line. Fine tippet must be used not just so that it will fit through the tiny eyes of the size 20 to 30 hooks needed to accurately imitate most Chironomid species, but also so that they are supple enough to facilitate natural movement of the fly. Long tippets will ensure that there is some slack near to the fly to further facilitate natural presentations.
As for rods & lines; long, soft actioned rods teamed up with light lines are essential to protect light tippets whilst playing good-sized fish. I love my Sunray Volition 10’ 2 weight teamed up with a 1 weight Sunray Micro Thin Jeremy Lucas line or a Zero weight line. For super-delicate fishing, even for big fish, my choice is a Sunray ZERO rod with either a 0 weight line or Micro Nymph line. With both setups I use a 12’ to 14’ leader made up of a tapered section 7’ long (tapering from 0.43mm to 0.20mm diameter cut from the butt of an Essential Fly 12’ 6x tapered copolymer leader). At the end of the tapered section I have a small perfection loop to which I can attach a semi-curly mono bicoloured indicator (loop to loop) then 5 to 7’ of 0.10mm or 0.09mm tippet, or just the tippet.
It is virtually impossible to buy tiny Midge patterns so the only viable options are to tie your own or find someone who will tie them for you. It is also very difficult to buy strong Midge hooks in suitably small sizes in the UK. My two favourite tiny hooks are Tiemco 2488s (now only available down to size 26) & Gamakatsu CM12-BM (available from size 26 to 30); both are short shank, wide gape hooks & they are only readily available from the USA at high cost. The Gamakatsu hooks have the advantage of having extra big eyes. In the UK it is possible to buy Orvis Big Eye Dry Fly hooks & the identical Daiichi 1110 hooks which are the same shank length as size 24 Tiemco 2488s, but quite a narrow gape. Other hooks available in the UK that I have found to be reliable are Daiichi 1120 (heavy wire Grub hook down to size 22) & 1130 (fine wire Grub Hook down to size 24). Whatever the fly pattern it needs to be simple when tied on tiny hooks. My earlier blogs describes how to tie simple wire Buzzer Pupae & a CdC IOBO Humpy.
- Stomach contents from a rainbow trout caught in winter with all three main
life stages present
- Rainbow caught on a size 24 Buzzer Pupa
- Size 24 CdC IOBO Humpy (Tiemco 2488) & size 30 Minimalistic Micro Midge
(Gamakatsu C12-BM) (mm scale)
- Size 28 Wire & UV Resin Buzzer Pupa (0.09mm wire & Tiemco 2488 hook)