Walking the shore of Moorabool Reservoir a couple of days ago with grey clouds racing overhead and a few spots of cold rain, I wasn’t confident I’d spot many trout. But then I rounded a point into a sheltered bay with friends Peter and David, and across about an acre of calm water, swallows were working in their dozens. Midge! It took a few seconds carefully scanning the silvery surface below the swooping birds to spot a more subtle movement – a rise; then another.
As we drift into the depths of the southern winter, there’s one insect left that will still bring trout to the top in good numbers – midge, or more properly, chironomid. It always seems miraculous to be out on a bleak winter’s day with not much going for it, to find a steady stream of midge pouring off. That such a small, frail-looking insect (around here, anywhere from a few mm to 15mm long) would choose to hatch in weather I think twice about going out in without full winter battle dress, amazes me. Yet cold seems irrelevant to midge and I’ve watched good numbers come off when the lake edges are fringed with ice; even with snow falling.
About the only thing midge seem to dislike is rain. A few spits are okay or a fine drizzle, but I guess regular raindrops must seem to midge like boulders falling from the sky. Wind is harder to be prescriptive about. As with Moorabool this week, I usually find the best midge action in the calm water, with the edge of the ripple a particular hot spot. However I’ve seen occasional big hatches in strong wind and waves with the trout going mad for them, so I always keep an half an eye on the rougher water, just in case.
As for time of day, in midwinter, anytime after noon can produce a decent midge hatch and evening is prime time. In fact some of the best hatches don’t begin until after sunset and persist until the very last light is gone from the western sky (so position yourself with at least some view to the west). Cloudy is better than bright, though as with wind, midge can break this rule at times and surprise by hatching well in bright sun; certainly well enough to attract a rise anyway.
Speaking of rises, the term is often strictly a misnomer where midging trout are concerned. Frequently, these fish are preoccupied with the ascending pupa just beneath surface rather than the fully emerged adults. This results in lots of dorsal fins and wagging trout tails breaking the surface, but if you look closely, few snouts. The exception is when the micro-midge ball up – something that happens here in the central highlands much less than at Eucumbene, but enough to be alert for.
There’s probably at least a book’s worth of midge fishing techniques out there, but at Moorabool, with a regular but not frantic daytime rise, I went for a couple of pupa patterns a metre apart (a red superglue buzzer and a Milly Midge) retrieved with a slow figure-8. If I led a fish so the flies crossed its path, I usually had a take. A brighter, sunnier day, and I might have tried similar flies; except fished almost static beneath an indicator. I didn’t stay until evening – the most likely time for a heavy hatch – but if I had, I might have gone for a single pupa fished 50cm behind a good pulling dry like a Carrot. This can be exacting fishing (even frustrating if you let it) with an inch-perfect retrieve right in front of a midging trout necessary to have even a chance in the blizzard of real insects. And although less likely, I would have remained alert for the fingertip-sized blobs of balling midge in the twilight, and presented a Griffiths Gnat if I found trout rising for them.
Winter up here in Victoria’s central highlands can test your confidence at times, and certainly the quality of your warm clothes! But find a good midge hatch, and the fishing can be as much fun as at any time of the year.