Top 10 Midge Patterns for Tailwaters

Written by: Bryen Venema, Bighorn Angler

Orvis Charlotte Store Manager Mary Griffin caught this 22-inch South Holsten brown on a tiny midge imitation.
Photo by Trey Oliver

Whether you are fishing the Bighorn, the Missouri, or a tailwater elsewhere in the country, midges are among the most important hatches. These tiny patterns have proven themselves as effective go to patterns for many Bighorn anglers and guides. Don’t go out on a tailwater fishery without a healthy selection of midge patterns, both subsurface and dry. Here are my ten favorites:

[Click the name of each fly to be taken to a photo, recipe, or video.]

1. Tungteaser (sizes 18 & 20)
This is one of our favorite all-around fly patterns on the Bighorn. The Tungteaser is able to imitate multiple species such as midges, black caddisflies, and Baetis. This pattern is typically fished in tandem behind another nymph, but it also works exceptionally well as a dropper below a dry. What makes this pattern so efficient is that it can be used year round. The Tungteaser works particularly well for sight-nymphing, as the tungsten allows the fly to enter the strike zone faster.

2. CDC Transitional Midge (sizes 18 & 20)
The CDC Transitional Midge, created by Rene Harrop, is one of the most effective floatin-midge patterns of all time. The description of the pattern and what it intends to imitate are directly in the name: it’s a direct imitation of a midge pupa transitioning into the adult phase of the life cycle. When fish get picky and refuse to take anything else you throw at them, the Transitional Midge can be a game changer. Tough to see on the water when fished alone, it is best fished trailing behind a slightly larger, more visible pattern, such as a Parachute Adams or Twilight Parachute Midge.

3. Twilight Midge (sizes 18 & 20)
Like its predecessor the Griffith’s Gnat, the Twilight Midge is much friendlier to the eyes once it lands on the water. This has become a reliable pattern for many tailwater guides because it is not only effective, but it’s easy to see, as well. The high-vis parachute is what attracts so many anglers to this pattern. We often fish it as point fly with a Zebra Midge or Transitional Midge trailed behind. Editor’s note: This pattern seems to be no longer available.

4. Smokejumper (sizes 18 & 20)
This is another transitional midge pattern that imitates an emerging midge pupa. These emerging pupae get stuck in or just below the surface film and are highly vulnerable to trout. The CDC wing makes this pattern easy to see on the surface. Adding a trailing shuck to this pattern works well for imitating emerging blue-winged olives. This pattern is often fished alone, but can be used trailing behind a point fly.

5. Root Beer Midge (sizes 18 & 20)
An effective springtime pattern here on the Bighorn, the Root Beer Midge is a go-to pattern when midge pupae are ascending to the surface. The segmented body is similar to that of a natural, and the white Antron wing looks as close to the pupal wing buds as you can get. This is a great pattern fished in tandem with another nymph, but it also works well when trailed behind a dry. We do this when fish are feeding just under the surface film on emerging midge pupae. Present this pattern as you would a dry fly to visible, feeding trout, and use the pointer fly to help judge where the eat may be.

Tailwater trout, such as this Bighorn brown, often key on small midges.
Photo by Steve Galleta, Bighorn Angler

6. Red and Black Midge (sizes 18 & 20)
This is one of our favorite midge-larva patterns on sunny days. We feel the effectiveness of this pattern has to do with the varying color tones in the pattern and the translucency of the red tubing over the black thread. We typically fish this pattern in combination with a crustacean pattern, such as a sowbug or scud. When red midge larvae are present in high numbers after a stomach sample, this is a go-to pattern for many tailwater guides.

7. Zebra Midge (sizes 18 & 20)
Simple but yet effective, the Zebra Midge is the one larva pattern an angler should never be without. This is one of the most widely used patterns on tailwaters, considering that midges are present 12 months out of the year. It is best to carry these in a wide variety of colors including red, black, olive, and cream. You can tie them with various beads on the front to add appeal and/or weight. Simply add a tungsten bead, and they can be an effective dry-dropper pattern.

8. Skittering Midge (sizes 18 & 20)
This pattern often gets overlooked by anglers in the shop, but it is a frequent choice for many of the guides. It works well as both a cluster and spent imitation of the naturals. This pattern can be difficult to see, therefore we often trail it behind a more visible dry fly. The combination of white Zelon, and grizzly hackle imitates the clustered midges very effectively.

9. The Renegade (sizes 18 & 20)
The Renegade is a timeless pattern that still works incredibly well on many tailwater rivers during the midge hatch. Just like the Griffith’s Gnat, the key to its effectiveness seems to be in the iridescence of the peacock body. We find that it imitates dead midges and mating clusters well. Devised by Taylor Williams in Wyoming in the late 1920’s, this fly is still popular among tailwater-trout anglers today, and for good reason.

10. Parrott’s Chironoflash Pupa (sizes 18 & 20)
This is a simple midge that is easy to tie, very durable, and works well at imitating a midge pupa ascending to the surface. It fishes well when tied in both olive and black. The micro pearl flash helps imitate the gasses the pupa uses to rise to the surface. We often let this fly swing out at the end of our drift to illicit a strike. This pattern is often fished tandem with either a scud or sowbug, and with enough weight to keep it in the proper strike zone.

Bryen Venema is the fly-shop manager and a guide at the Bighorn Angler in Fort Smith, Montana.


32 thoughts on “Top 10 Midge Patterns for Tailwaters”

  1. Here’s a Suggestion. How about putting a pic and recipe for each fly rather than having to click on each one individually?

    1. I hope you guys realize that many if not most of the pattern links in this article have expired! It got frustrating clicking on one after the other that had no server found, went nowhere, or to a website but not to the pattern.

      Maybe before repeating old article postings, Orvis online editors should check and update or delete old links.

  2. Pingback: Video: How to Tie the CDC Transitional Midge | Orvis News
  3. Pingback: Tippets: Patterns for Tailwaters, Travel Time, Cooking Streamside | MidCurrent
  4. Some picks of a midge pattern. Going to the San Juan come June. There really picky maybe the rio around south fork but the midge thing as come a long way any pictures would really help there 22-24 are common

    1. Actually, size 26-28 black midge larvae and black crystal flash in size 26-28 are working incredibly well right now. Was there last week. Water as clear to 2 feet in depth and clearing daily. Issue, Navajo Lake is still filling so the river will be getting flushed again to preserve the dam. This really disrupts the fishing and clouds the water. Check with abe’s Fly shop on water quality before you go.

  5. The photo setup you were using for these types of posts was much better – plus half the links I went to didn’t work! Nice to give the web sites “hits” for sharing their content, but bad to frustrate your users.

  6. I attempted to click on the names and see the midges but they would not come up due to unsafe network connections. Is it possible to repost this with a photo of the flies?

  7. Today I received this article from Orvis team published February 22, 2017 … made 4 years ago …
    I valued worth articles no matter the moment they were done, but do you realize that the most links do not work anymore?
    I really love Orvis way of doing everything, and this is absolutelly out of your standard. Just to help, I am an Orvis fun. Rgrds

    1. Hi Claudio, sorry about the dead links. Unfortunately, with a daily blog featuring more than a decade of content, we can’t keep track of all the links that change over time. That said, I’ll update these links today.

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