Hoppers vs midges

I think I wrote recently that every trip has a lesson. Well, from this latest Snowy Mountains visit, a lesson might be, ‘Don’t put your head torch under your cap while trying to cast at a midging Eucumbene trout with the other hand.’ Thanks Rod Allen for ‘catching’ my lost cap the next evening. According to Rod, it was polaroided lying doggo beside a fencepost, and came ashore very easily!

The cap (in slightly poor condition) as photographed by Rod just after being landed.

Speaking of midge, the week just gone had lots of them. There was an intriguing contrast between these tiny invertebrates (and the flies needed to imitate them), and the size 8-10 grasshopper patterns required for when the trout fixated on this other end of the insect spectrum.

As Steve reported a week ago, Lake Eucumbene is – incredibly for the end of summer – only just below its 47.8% high water mark. It’s relative stability, having evenly covered flooded grass and weed for almost 3 months, has created prime habitat for a lot of trout food. This includes midges (chironomid). Even outside of classic dawn and dusk hatch times, a careful glance into the water is likely to reveal midge larva and pupa wriggling about. There are various colours (though orange, red and black feature prominently) and sizes (though mostly size 16-18).

Those who’ve seen Eucumbene midges at their very best still argue this season is just a little below that high standard. However, when you step out of the car an hour before sunset and there are so many trout rising you don’t know which direction to walk, I personally find it hard to complain.

A typical midgey evening – good enough for me!

To tactics, and I found a pair of buzzers fished 3ft apart (maybe a size 18 on the dropper and a size 16 on the point) worked well for evening midgers, and quite well for daytime searching and covering the odd random riser. The key was to force myself to go small. I tried some 14-12 buzzers I use a lot at home, but despite seeing a few naturals this size, the trout apparently wanted the more abundant little ones.

Big Euc trout still like a little buzzer.

Where it gets really interesting, is when you add in grasshoppers. While summer 2021/22 won’t go down as a noteworthy hopper year in the Snowys, somehow enough have survived the rain and lack of dry summer heat to create some genuine hopper fishing – even at high elevations. On Lake Eucumbene itself, the grass sprouting almost to the water’s edge means it’s easy for hoppers to end up on the lake. Evidently you don’t need northerly gales or a stampede. Just a steep slope, or the odd gust of wind, or the disturbance of a grazing sheep/ steer, is enough.

A good high country brown tries to throw the hopper.

The trout, both browns and rainbows, seem to have figured this out. Already in close for a feed of midge, they’re now on the lookout for the splat or twitch of an insect that must be worth dozens of chironomid.  One surprise with the hopper feeders is how they appear to be over-represented by larger fish. During one mid-afternoon session, Steve and I landed three genuine 4 pounders on hoppers (collectively the best fish of the trip), plus a 3 pounder and a 2 pounder. Yet over the week as a whole, most trout were between a pound and 2 pounds.

Grass right up to the water, plus hoppers = daytime edge trout action.

A worthwhile each-way bet was to fish a buzzer about 18 inches under a big buoyant hopper. Most trout took the dry, but enough ate the midge beneath to at least consider leaving it on all the time. Why a big backing-stripping fish would sometimes choose a fly that would fit on a little fingernail, instead of one half the size of a little finger, is beyond me. Then again, there’s plenty of things about trout which are beyond me.

But given the choice, this one chose a midge over a nice fat hopper. Go figure.

In any case, if you can find a milder, drier day at Eucumbene, don’t forget a few hopper patterns to back up your midge flies.