Top Midge Patterns for Fly Fishing: Tips and Techniques

The midge pattern is a fly that all anglers should have in their fly box. It’s one pattern that trout feed on all year round and is an important part of a trout’s diet, especially during winter.

An experienced angler will have a whole box dedicated to midge patterns but which are the best and when you should fish them? That’s what we are here to find out as we discuss midge patterns fly fishing.

Midge Fly Pattern Life Cycle & Flies To Match

Before any anglers can begin to select the right midge patterns for their fly fishing situation they have to understand the life cycles of midges and which flies imitate them. Midges have four stages of life: egg, larva, pupa, and adult midges. The three to imitate while fishing is the larva, pupa, and adult stages.

Midge Larvae

midge larvae

Midge larvae look like tiny little worms with a segmented body and range from size 18-22 (hook size that is). A midge larva can ve various colors including black, olive, and red. Midge larva tend to live near the bottom of a river as they feed in and around the mud/slit/rocks.

Midge Larvae Flies

Many anglers’ favorite midge patterns that represent fish larvae include a root beer midge, blood midges, and the zebra midge.

All of these midge patterns come in various sizes between 18-22 and in different colors so be sure to get a good fly selection of all of them and in different weights too including a tungsten bead head so you can get them down to the bottom.

The zebra midge is one of the most effective patterns for this stage of midge development and you’ll find the zebra midge in various colors from olive to red and black so buy a big variety.

How To Fish A Midge Larva Fly

When you’re fishing say a zebra midge or any other larva midge pattern you are going to be nymphing. You can add them to a single fly rig or to a double nymph/dry dropper rig just make sure there is enough weight in your rig to get the flies close to the bottom.

When should I use them?

This pattern can be fished all day long as there will always be some midges at this stage on the bottom that trout are feeding on. Plus they can be mistaken for other aquatic insects the trout are eating too.

Midge Pupae

Midge Pupa

During the midge pupa stage, the pupae being emerging meaning they start rising through the water column on their way to the water’s surface. Emerging pupae will begin to swell up as their wings and legs begin to form in their body and the midge pupa float to the surface by creating a small bubble that lifts them.

Midge Pupa Flies

Pupa flies have more material than larva flies as they need some extra dubbing to represent the swelling thorax and some flash or hair near the head to mimic the buddle.

Some of the best midge emerger patterns to have in your box include the top secret midge, disco midge, and crystal midge. The disco midge and crystal midges tend to come in olive, red, and black so be sure to pick up a few color variations.

The top-secret midge emerger pattern was created by Charlie Craven and is absolutely deadly on spring creeks and on tailwaters like the South Platte. This emerger pattern has tricked many a selective trout and finicky fish that otherwise wouldn’t eat a fly as it looks like an emerger zebra midge.

How To Fish A Midge Pupa Fly

When you’re fishing something like a crystal midge, you want the fly to be either just below or in the surface film of the water.

This means your pupa emerges should be fished as the point fly on a two fly rig with a larva fly as the dropper or under a dry fly. This will keep the fly higher up in the water column making it look like it’s an emerging midge.

When should I use these midge patterns?

A midge will begin to emerge when it’s cooler. In the summertime, this means in the morning or evening while in winter they can emerge all day long. Add these winter midge patterns to a double rig with the weighted pattern as the bottom fly and fish it all day long.

Midge Adult

Midge Adult

The final stage of a midges life is becoming a winged adult and you know when a midge hatch is on as they start biting you on the river. The midge adults sit on the surface of the water after they hatch to dry their wings before they fly. This is often when they get eaten by hungry trout and typically fish just sip them off the surface.

Midge Adult Flies

Midge adult fly patterns are dry flies which you probably would have guessed. The pattern will either represent a single adult or a group of tiny midges (Griffith’s gnat) as it would be impossible to tie a fly pattern for as they would be a size 28.

Tiny parachute adams or trailing shuck pattern with flashabou wings are perfect for imitating a single adult. When the midges are too small to imitate with a single fly you should turn to the Griffith’s gnats in your fly box.

How To Fish A Midge Adult Fly

These dry midge patterns should be fished on a dead drift and on the surface with a light tippet of around 5-8x. They are tiny flies so it’s sometimes a good idea to tie 2 dry flies on, one large one with a parachute on the point and the smaller midge dry on the tail.

This way you can see where the flies are and if a trout rise next to them you should strike immediately.

When should I be fishing these patterns?

As with all dry fly fishing, it’s time to start fishing them when you see trout rising or you see the midges flying around. Add an emerging pattern as a dry dropper to one of the midge dries and you’ll be golden.

Hatches are usually in the morning or evening in the warmer months and can last all day during the winter. You can take a look at our recommendations for winter fly patterns that you can use for trout fishing.

Tips For Fly Fishing Midges

Tips For Fly Fishing Midges

Use Light tippet

Midges are tiny flies and if you use a tippet that is too thick then trout will notice their unnatural movement in the water. You should drop down to a 6x-7x tippet and tie your midge flies on to that. This will give them a more natural appearance and make a huge difference to your catch rate.

Target Slack Water With Dries

Adult midges tend to collect on the surface in large numbers in slack water near banks and in eddies and this is where trout gorge on them. When putting your dries in these areas, try using a large pattern or one with some flash of your fly might get lost amongst the masses and the trout might not even notice them.

Tailwaters & Spring Fed Waters Are Best In Winter

Some of the best midge fishing you might ever experience will probably be during the winter but you have to find the right rivers first. Any river that is spring-fed or tailwater from a dam or lake is going to have warm enough water for midges to be hatching and trout to be active.

You will often see midge hatches happening while it’s snowing on these waters and since the largest food source in the river will be midges, you might just have a day on the water to remember.



What does a midge fly imitate?

Midge flies may imitate small ants, bees, and other insects.

How do you fish midges under indicators?

To fish midges under indicators, you will need a long leader with an indicator attached to the end. Cast the leader out into the water and then add a midge fly onto the leader. Wait for a fish to take the fly and then set the hook. Use a slow, gentle retrieve while watching the indicator for any sign of a strike.

Do trout eat midges?

Yes, trout do eat midges. Midges are usually eaten by trout when they are in the larval or pupal stages. The adults may also be eaten, but they are not as desirable to trout.

How do you fish a midge pattern?

To fish a midge pattern, you will need a light leader with a midge pattern tied to the end. Cast the leader out into the water and wait for a fish to take the fly. Then set the hook. Use a slow, gentle retrieve while watching the line for any sign of a strike.

What size hooks for midges?

The size of the hooks for midges will depend on the size of the midge pattern. Generally, size 16-24 hooks are suitable for midge patterns.

How do you set up a midge rig?

Setting up a midge rig is simple and is the exact same way you’d set up a nymph, double nymph, dry dropper, or dry rig, depending on the flies you want to fish.

Using two flies is always a good idea as you will be fishing multiple depths with multiple patterns which always produces more trout than using just one single fly. To create this rig add your tippet to your leader with a double surgeons knot and leave a long take for the emerger midge, then add the weighted midge to the end of the tippet.

For a dry dropper rig, simply tie 2-3 feet of tippet to the hook of the dry pattern and then tie on the emerger – simple. You can also add a second dry using this exact same setup.

What is the best midge pattern?

If there are three midge patterns you should own they are: zebra midge, a top-secret midge, and Griffith’s gnat. Each of these is the best for each stage of development of a midge and by having these in various sizes and colors you’re going to be able to imitate every stage of the midge life cycle perfectly.

With the zebra pattern, you should also ensure you buy them in different weights too so you can get them near the bottom.

Photo of author

Jamie Melvin

Growing up fly fishing on trout streams in Kenya and the UK, Jamie has traveled the world in search of fly fishing nirvana. From his time managing bonefish lodges in the Bahamas and running fishing safaris in East Africa, all the way to guiding on the flats of Seychelles, there aren't many species or environments he hasn't experienced firsthand.

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