My Top Ten Flies—Part IV Zebra Midge

I’ll never, ever forget the first time I used the Zebra Midge. Gary Hitterman of Casa Grande, Arizona is one of the finest fly tiers I have ever met. He’s constantly developing new productive patterns. When he heard I planned to fish the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry in northern Arizona, Gary tied up a few Zebra Midge patterns for me. Frank Nofer from the Philadelphia accompanied me on the float trip down river from the Marble Canyon Dam. Frank, Chad, our guide, and I all used a tandem with a size 12 dry fly and a size 16 Zebra Midge. For more than two hours one of the three of us had a fish on line. Many times two and sometimes even the three of us had fish on that small nondescript pattern.

I brought that pattern back East about four years ago. I first used the pattern on an opening day on a marginal stream in central Pennsylvania. I say marginal because the planted trout either leave the stream, die or look for one of the cooler tributaries by the time July arrives. That first morning of the season a few years back I had trouble finding an open fishing spot along the angler-littered shore. More than 20 anglers crowded one stocked pool. I was the only jerk using flies—all the others used spinners, live bait, power bait and salmon eggs. No one had much success for the first hour or two of the season which began at 8 A.M. Then I noticed a trout turn at the tail of the pool. Then I noted a second fish turn and feed on something. I glanced in the direction of the two feeding trout and I saw a few midges escape into the air. I immediately decided to tie on a Zebra Midge and I cast it in the direction of the two flashing fish. Can you imagine for a second this fishing scene: fishing on a cold April day with 20 other bait fishermen surrounding 50 to 100 trout and there I was casting a size 16 wet fly to those stocked fish? It didn’t take long to prove the merits of the Zebra Midge. Maybe the second or third drift through that tail section brought a strike and a 12-inch rainbow trout. I heard a couple murmurs from the garden hackle anglers circling that pool. But those whispers would grow louder shortly. I picked up a second fish, a 15-inch brown trout, in a few more casts.

By the time I landed a fifth trout the murmurs and whispers grew louder and louder and finally one bait fisherman finally bellowed: "Hey fella, there’s another stocked pool upstream a hundred yards." I did leave in a few minutes and hiked upstream to that next stocked pool. I began to get a bit nervous with all of those bait fishers. That same Zebra Midge caught several trout on that pool upstream before I quit that day.

What about other eastern waters? As I said earlier the Zebra Midge worked so well on the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry in Arizona, that I felt confident the same pattern would catch trout on streams in the East. Guess what? The Zebra Midge has worked well on just about every eastern stream where I’ve used it. On the Irondequoit Creek near Rochester, New York; on the Delaware River near Hancock, New York; on the Little Lehigh near Allentown, Pennsylvania--the Zebra Midge has produced strikes when other favorite patterns have failed. If you see midge hatches on your favorite stream then you’ve got to try the Zebra Midge.

Again, I fish the Zebra Midge most often two feet behind a Patriot dry fly. I’ve noticed that depth really matters with the Zebra Midge. If I don’t get strikes with the pattern at one depth I usually will at a different level.

I recently tested the Zebra Midge on a private stream in the East. I used a Patriot dry fly as the lead fly and tied the midge pattern 2 feet behind it. One late August afternoon, in 200 casts with the tandem I had 52 strikes. That’s one strike in every four casts! Now that’s a productive pattern!

Dressing: Zebra Midge
Hook: Size 16-20 shrimp/caddis hook

Bead: Brass (for black body) or copper (for chocolate and olive body)

Thread: Black, chocolate brown or olive 6/0, not pre-waxed.

Body: Black, chocolate brown or olive tying thread

Ribbing: Fine silver wire (for black body) or fine copper wire (for chocolate brown and olive body)

But, wait a second! You thought the Zebra Midge was quick and easy to tie. Recently I had a piece of fine gold wire remaining after I had tied a dozen Zebra Midges. I put a bead on a size 18 scud hook, added a drop or two of Super Glue on the shank, wrapped the wire around itself at the bend and then ribbed the bare hook up to the bead. I added another drop of glue at the head and let the pattern set for a few minutes before I cut the excess wire off. I dubbed the pattern Almost—almost a bare hook. Does the pattern work? I’ve caught hundreds of trout with that pattern. I’ve caught trout with Almost when no other pattern worked.

So you think the Zebra Midge with its body of black tying thread, ribbed with fine gold wire and a brass bead is easy to tie. Almost has only a body made up of a bare book, ribbed with fine gold wire and a brass bead. Try it—you’ll be surprised how productive it is.

Note: Look for my new book, Memory Rising—Hatches, Waters and Trout. in October 2003. Call or fax (717) 684-4215 for your Limited Edition copy. Hurry!

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