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> > Ridiculously tiny midges on high lakes

TroutnutSeptember 4th, 2018, 9:36 am
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2737
As part of a recent trip to Montana (much more detailed report to come when I have time), I was fishing a very high lake (around 9500 ft) with golden trout high in the Beartooths. In the evening, a pod of probably 20-30 trout, some of them pretty large, were feeding up and down a small ~30-yard section of shore near one of the little inlets. Whenever the wind died down, they were rising very frequently, with mostly bubble-less riseforms that looked like they were sipping emergers slightly below the surface.

The only bugs I could see on the water or in the air were extremely tiny pale-yellow-bodied midges, around size 26 or so, in pretty good numbers. My dry fly did once hook the exuvium of a larger midge pupa around size 16. I didn't see any other sign of those, but I had to wonder how many there must be for me to accidentally hook one on a dry fly.

I think the fish were taking the tiny things, but that exuvium casts a little bit of doubt. I didn't come well-prepared for tiny midges at all, so I was throwing all manner of miscellaneous small flies at them, including dries, emergers, and nymphs, mostly imitating tiny mayflies or caddis, and I downsized to 6X and eventually 7X tippet just to take that variable out of the equation. (That backfired when I finally got a take from a heavier fish and snapped the 7X.) I ended up only catching one naive 9-incher during the start of the activity, and missing strikes or brief hookups from a couple others. But there were dozens of rejections or rises within a foot of my fly while ignoring it altogether. It was one of my most spectacular failures of hatch-matching; I don't know if I've ever shown more flies to more fish with fewer strikes.

I might have caught another one or two that evening if I'd continued to flog the water until dark, but my wife was getting cold, and there was a bear. She was not keen on going back to the tent to warm up by herself.

Golden trout continue to impress me with their elusiveness. I had more luck the next day on small fish, but this failure really sticks with me and leaves me wondering what I should have done differently. I've never read about ridiculously tiny flies being a requirement on high lakes, but that seemed to be the case here. Does anyone with more experience there have any insights?
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
WbranchSeptember 4th, 2018, 10:57 am
York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2733
and there was a bear

Well bears always end my fishing. As a matter of fact if someone told me there were dozens of rising 24" - 26" browns in such and such stream and they were avid feeders but there were frequent grizzly sightings I would never go there. I have a strong fear of being attacked by a large carnivore and being eaten alive. Hmm, no thanks.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
TroutnutSeptember 4th, 2018, 11:17 am
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2737
Well bears always end my fishing. As a matter of fact if someone told me there were dozens of rising 24" - 26" browns in such and such stream and they were avid feeders but there were frequent grizzly sightings I would never go there.

Sounds like New Zealand is the place for you... lots of 24-26" browns and no bears.

On this lake, it was just a black bear that walked by a couple hundred yards from us (and about half that distance from our tent) on its way through the valley. I yelled at it a lot to make sure it knew we were there, and it seemed to at least pick up its pace a little bit, but not by much. After it walked out of sight, we never saw it again.

I always hear people say "bears are more afraid of you than you are of them," but in my experience with both grizzly and black bears they're usually either totally indifferent toward me or mildly curious but not enough to approach. The only time I can remember really scaring a bear away was when I was bear hunting.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
Jmd123September 4th, 2018, 2:09 pm
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2611
Whenever I go to the Pine River, I announce my presence to the bears, having seen one run across the road back in 2012 (while I was in my car driving out, thankfully!). "Hey, Mister Bear, I'm just coming to fish the river for a little while. You don't wanna see me, and I don't wanna see you." Never seen another one back there - and it IS back in there, a good 4.5 miles south of F-31 surrounded by nothing but forests. Mike knows, he fishes the National Forest Campground in there. I also hear them grunting at each other at [REDACTED] Pond during blueberry season...

No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...
MartinlfSeptember 5th, 2018, 2:26 pm
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3233
I wish I had some experience and ideas to impart, but sadly I don't. However, I'm trying to look more on these sorts of experiences as a sometimes inevitable result of fishing, and I'm attempting to avoid being too hard on myself. Perhaps you weren't, but your word "failure" triggered memories of my own self criticism for days that did not go as well as I wanted. I remember spending a lot of time with one fish on the upper West Branch of the Delaware one day. A guy I'd been talking with off and on who was catching fish stopped back by and I asked him to give the fish a shot. He proceeded to throw everything in his box at the fish, and finally pronounced it uncatchable. That made me feel better, but had he not happened along I suspect I'd have felt like a complete, rather than just a partial, failure that day. At any rate, I'm aiming at a more Zen approach to tough fishing these days. Sometimes it works.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
TroutnutSeptember 5th, 2018, 5:45 pm
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2737
but your word "failure" triggered memories of my own self criticism for days that did not go as well as I wanted

I tend to think of failure as a learning experience without too much of a negative connotation, at least in fishing. Although I was downright angry with my failure to catch a fish in one classic meadow stream in Yellowstone on this trip. I just kept missing takes from good fish, one after another. The first one was the heaviest, and I set the hook too soon rather than waiting for it to turn its body and give the fly a better angle to the corner of its mouth. That's a muscle memory error that's really hard to beat after ten years in Alaska fishing for grayling that can be hooked right away. The several fish after that were missed as a result of my not noticing that the hook bent out when I missed the first one.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
MartinlfSeptember 5th, 2018, 5:55 pm
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3233
Yeah, I bent a hook on the biggest fish I had take a trico this summer, and I'm still reliving that one. :)
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
DocWetSeptember 6th, 2018, 9:43 am
Erie, PA

Posts: 15
On my visit to Crater lake Oregon, >1200 ft.deep, the guide stated the only insects contained there-in are midges.

Cheers, DocWet.
My favorite trout stream picture; below, shows what a first class trout river looks like. The lack of stream gradient means that this river is not subject to the roaring scouring floods so common here in PA. that wipe out everything in the river.

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