The Essential Midge – Fly Talk Special by Mick Hall

continuing with ‘Midge-Madness’ week, today’s special treat comes to us from Down-Under and world renowned fly tier Mick Hall.
i had the wonderful opportunity and honor to meet Mick in 2011 at a fly fair in Stockholm where he was one of the featured tiers. a truly kind and generous man, taking the time to demonstrate and go into the finer details, tips and tricks of three different fly patterns just for me, this was the highlight of the spring and those three flies are carefully hidden away in a special show box. (i’m waiting for them to reproduce… :mrgreen:)
chocked full of just about everything one might want to know on these little bugs, how to imitate them and put to good use, once you’re finished with the article be sure to visit Mick’s site kossiedun – a flytyer’s journey for an amazing wealth of bug, fish and fly goodies. enjoy !

mick hall & emma stockholm fair 2011 Mick with Emma Lindgren Stockholm 2011

Many years ago I did a double Fly Talk on the life of and fishing the midge; in fact for those who have collected the Fly Talk articles, check out issues 53, Dancing With The Midge & 54, Having a Ball. There was a lot to say about midge then as there is today; nothing has changed but the fact remains that those who are not up with midge fishing techniques, they are seriously missing out. Some will say midge fishing is just for lakes, well how wrong they are.
Male Chironomid (Size: 16 Lt Tan)

Midge are found everywhere from fast flowing mountain streams to lowland rivers and lakes and swamps. They say there are around 200 species of Chironomid in Australia; as usual the work of species identification is far from over and this number will change as time slowly goes by.

As an example, to show the importance of midge fishing opportunities in our river systems, back in the early 1980s E.S.G Schreiber from Monash University in Melbourne conducted a very successful and definitive study of drifting insect life in the Acheron River in Victoria.
Many different aquatic species drift with the current, especially during that period leading up to the “New Moon”. Mayfly are also famous for doing this. This survey taken over two years shows a very interesting pattern. The fact is that the final conclusion was that Chironomid (Midge) represented some 43.6% of the drift matter followed by mayfly and caddis. A previous study by Cadwallader and Eden in 1977 showed that midge only contributed around 1 to 5% of the drift matter. I got the idea that this study was a bit off the ball or as the kids say today, “Fail”, as I believe the mesh used on their test was too big. It should also be noted that most of this drift action during the Schreiber study occurred from dusk and on during the night when midge are most active. It is feasible that Cadwallader may have missed this very important aspect of the midge’s life habits.

To emphasise their importance as a major food source, it is stated that midge can emerge from some waters in huge numbers and up to as many as 100,000 animals has been estimated emanating from a square metre. Naturally this is not a common figure but some lakes would easily make the mark.

Male midge are easily identified; they have quite a large fluffy set of antennae whilst the female does not. It is easy to tell midge from mossies; firstly they do not bite and, whilst at rest, midge hold their forelegs above and forward of their bodies, mossies don’t. Mossies have a proboscis, or what looks like a spike for a nose, that the females use to bite you with.

Olive Brown female Midge size 14 Goulburn River

Female Chironomid (Size14 Dark Olive Pond Midge)

Male Chironomid Pale Olive (size 14) Goulburn River
Little black Male Midge (Size 30) Goulburn River

Male Little Black Male Chironomid (Size 30) pond or lake midge

The Large Ballarat Black Midge (Size 10) Lake Midge

As stated earlier midge are everywhere and are found in most waters but how do you know what species are in your area and what size fly to use and when? I wish I could answer that question but I can’t. The answer is up to you.

Get to know your favourite waters and take some time out to look at the bugs that are moving around you. Take written notes or at least mental notes such as size, colour and the date. If you have a camera that has a reasonable macro facility, all the better as it will do the above for you.

Colour can vary a lot in any one water; they can vary from pale olive green to black and every shade in between. A point to remember is that in a lot of instances the colour of the adult flying midge will be similar in colour to the emerging midge.

To see what is happening, check the leaves on overhanging bushes or trees and you will see them. They are very flighty and will take off at any unnatural movement of the leaves or branches. Just the same, the key colours to carry in your box are pale olive, olive, black and blood red.
The bottom line is learn about your water, study what those fish feed on and catching fish will become a very frequent event.

Fishing midge is different from the standard techniques but if you try you will succeed and over time the rewards will be very beneficial.

Bubble line water great for all types of fly-fishing be it dry, nymph or midge
Very little need to use heavy flies in this water

If you are into “Short line Nymphing”, you are well on your way, as that technique is ideal for midge fishing in streams and rivers.

Slow bubble line type water, fish one of two flies, with or without an indicator and watch your line of drift very closely. Give it 110% and expect a take with every cast. Believe me, intense concentration is the key to success. If fishing faster water, you need weighted flies to get down to where the fish are. If you are just starting off, look for the bubble line water, it is easier to handle.
In water like this you need weighted midge patterns

Fishing mountain streams you not only need to cast short but in fast water you also need to get down. I would recommend a couple of weighted flies, one with a small tungsten bead or gold bead on the tip and a blood red midge on a dropper. Naturally in fast water a couple of weighted flies are your best option. In fast water use a short leader and have your two flies no more than 20cm apart and if needed use a sliding indicator (see list of flies below with keys to fishing them).

Often you will just see a flash as a trout takes your fly and strike immediately. A key indication of late striking is when you continuously lose fish. As I stated earlier, you need that concentration, expect a take at any time and be ready to strike at the slightest inkling of a take. The faster you are the more fish you will catch.

When is the best time to try fishing a midge pattern? Well midge come off all year round, with late spring and through summer being the best. But importantly, it is that week leading up to a full moon that is when they prefer to hatch on mass.

Midge on most lakes can produce some of the most intense fishing that can be found on still water. The best fishing times are from daylight to on occasions mid morning and again at last light.
On still mornings you can often see trout feeding all over the lake and the key food source on most occasions is the mighty midge

As a bonus for an early morning start you could be lucky enough to witness a hatch of Caenis and do they bring the fish up. Note the Midge shuck in the centre of the picture.
Slick water or smooth patches can also be an early morning feeding area

Accurate casting is the secret, your fly must land just ahead of your fish. A Trout will rarely divert from its feeding lane to take a small fly.
Watch the rise for indication of which way it is going.

It’s seen it. Note the pressure wave as the fish is heading towards the fly.
Got him


A nice Brown caught and released

After the early morning calm a breeze will normally come up and wind lanes will start to form and that is when the fishing really gets interesting. Wind lanes come in two forms, those that form over the same area and those that just form because they want to. These lanes are like highways for feeding fish. As they form, so the floating food matter is compacted within these lanes. It is common to find a number of fish feeding at any one time. Some fish like Rainbows will group up and feed together, working their way down the lanes. Keep your eye on the edges of these wind lanes as trout often cruise along the outside, using the rough area as cover and move into the lane to feed whenever they so choose.

On clear sunny days the trout will generally feed along the lane with the sun to their backs. This is because they have no eyelids so as you know, it is difficult to look into the sun, especially for fish when feeding on the surface.

Your approach to fishing these lanes is tantamount to your success. If you can come up behind your fish, you have a definite advantage. If you have to cast to a fish coming towards you, you have the additional problem of it seeing you. Frequently a bunch of trout will feed along for just a few seconds then disappear, so you have to be quick and very accurate.
But that is why fishing wind lanes is so challenging and very rewarding; you really have to hunt those fish.

Note the distinctive borders on this wind lane

On a good morning the lake’s surface can be littered with the empty shucks of midge that have emerged during the night; amongst this litter are also a lot of adult flying midge. The midge pupa can hover under the surface for hours before breaking through the meniscus to emerge. Trout feeding on the pupa have a funny habit of gently porpoising as they feed and they wiggle their tail as they complete this manoeuvre.

Just watch for those slow and gentle rises and if that tail wags as they head back down, you can be sure that they are feeding on midge

At times those wind lanes can be a real smorgasbord, with all sorts of bugs from beetles to spinners and midge.


It has been stated that this wind lane feeding activity is mostly Rainbow Trout but I have found this not necessarily to be the case, especially with lakes such as Lake Fyans in Western Victoria, which receives equal stocking of both Brown and Rainbows.

What’s the bottom line get to know your water? As my mentor, the late Lindsay Haslem, would say, “Learn to see what you are looking at; the answer is always there, you are just too stupid to see it”.

The Flies
About the hooks used; I highly recommend that you tie your midge patterns using a grub hook, preferably with a straight eye, such as the Mustad Signature Series C49S in sizes 18 through to size 10. It should be noted that you should carry midge patterns in a number of sizes, as explained with the tyings featured below.

Tungsten Bead-head Dark Brown Midge tied by Mick Hall

Hook: Mustad C49S
Size: 14-12
Thread: Tan 10/0
Bead: Small Tungsten 0 bead
Body: Uni-Flex Dark Brown
Ribbing: Copper wire 5 turns
Notes: Use this pattern on streams in moderate to fast water. If really fast water, try two, one on the tip and the second on a dropper. If needed you can use an indicator so you can follow the drift line. Don’t knock it when your eyes start to fail, they can be your best friend.

Tying tip: Tie in the Uni-Flex at the eye of the hook and pull tight as you wind back along the shank; this will give you a neat under-body without any lumps or bumps. If using a rib, tie it in at the eye with the Uni-Flex and stretch both together as you wind down the shank and partially around the bend, as in the picture.

Mercury Midge as designed by Pat Dorsey USA, tied by Mick Hall

Hook: Mustard C49S
Size: 16 to 12
Bead: Hi Lite Silver glass beads from Spirit River size to suit (small, medium, or large).
Thread: Brown 10/0
Body: Black Uni-Flex
Ribbing: Copper wire 5 turns

Notes: Use this fly in mild or still water, grease your leader tip well to hold in or near the surface film. Also good on a dropper with a Tungsten bead head on the tip. If you have trouble obtaining these beads locally, try, you will be surprised.

Pat Dorsey’s book, Tying and Fishing Tail-water Flies, is a great read available from Stackpol Books USA, $39.95 plus postage.

Blood Worm Midge as tied by Mick Hall

Hook: Mustad C49S
Size: 18-10
Thread: White 10/0
Bead: Hi Lite Silver glass bead size to suit
Body: Uni-Flex red
Notes: Tungsten beads, glass beads or plain gold can be used or if you want this fly to sit just under the surface, use a little dubbing. I prefer “Dark Olive”, which is a blend of olive and black rabbit fur.

Use: Lake or River.

Red Brassy as tied by Mick Hall

Hook: Mustad C49S
Thread: White or red 10/0
Bead: Tungsten, gold, or Hi Lite Silver glass bead, size to suit
Body: Fine red wire or copper wire as an option

Notes: Again this is a very versatile pattern and is great for fast water if tied heavy.
Fluoro Midge as tied by Mick Hall

Hook: Mustad C49S
Thread: White 10/0
Body: Chartreuse Uni-Flex
Thorax: Dubbing dark olive

Notes: This pattern can be very effective when a little UV is favoured. The white thread adds to the translucency and you can also add a little olive to the back of this pattern with a marking pen. This pattern is very light in weight and hovers just under the surface. Ideal for lakes.

Emerging Olive Midge as tied by Mick Hall

Hook: Mustad C49S
Size: 18 to 12
Thread: White 10/0
Body: White Uni-Flex and stained with marking pen
Emerging wing buds: Pearl Crystal Flash 4 strands
Bead: Hi Lite Silver glass bead, size to suit

Notes: This pattern is one of my favourites and I normally tie it with a dubbed thorax as it is essential for lake work.


Light Olive Midge tied as Olive Midge above but use a lighter olive marking pen and the tying options are the same.

The Large Ballarat Black as tied by Mick Hall

Hook: Mustad
Thread: White 10/0
Body: Black Uni-Flex
Ribbing: White 3/0 tying thread 7 turns
Wing Buds: Pearl Crystal Flash four or five strands only
Thorax: Dark Olive dubbing.

Balling Midge as tied by Mick Hall

Hook: Mustad R50 dry fly hook
Hook size: 14-12
Thread: Black 10/0
Body Hackle: Whiting Farms Grizzle cock hackle wound from above the barb to the eye.

Notes: This pattern is used on evening when in some waters male midge actually ball up and become a favourite target for old speckles. This fly is a favourite at Lake Eucumbene in the Snowy Mountains during summer months.

Full Stop as tied by Mick Hall

Tied as the balling midge but on a size 18 or 20 Mustad R50 hook. In this instance the hackle has been trimmed to size and to enhance its floating ability.

I designed this pattern just on twenty years ago to match the little black balling midge up on the Yarra River in Victoria during the summer months. This activity is not uncommon on waters that have silt bottoms blended with a little gravel. Again, as Hassa would say, “Learn your water, learn to see what is happening.”

kossiedun – a flytyer’s journey

related articles


following up on ‘a moonlight serenade‘, our down-under friends have come up with an ingenious and natural method to mow the lawn at the Northern Suburbs Fly Fishing Club. (in fact it’s so ‘natural’ they didn’t even have to do anything, these huge rodents show up on their own and have to be chased away with repeated floggings of fly lines before the club members can use the facility)

what a nice way to warm up the muscles before a casting session ! :mrgreen:

wait till Quill Gordon hears about this, it might solve some other problems he’s been having. they do know how to fight and defend their territory after all…

a moonlight serenade

how’s this for a nice casting club set-up ?
the Northern Suburbs Fly Fishing Club, just north of Melbourne Australia has recently inaugurated a new lighting system to be able to cast, compete and basically have a blast with friends after sunset. here are some pics from the ‘Northern Lights’ event.
we’re all slightly jealous…

view towards the lake
view towards the club house
some splish-splashy action on the accuracy rings

and Giant Anzac Cookies as prizes ! (those alone are worth the trip ! :mrgreen: )

big thanks to Brian Aherne for the info and photos.