Its late February in East Idaho and I for one can tell you that I am excited! It’s hard to see it up here in Island Park but if you head south toward St. Anthony there are signs that spring is coming. It has been a brutal winter in my opinion. Temps dipped down as low as -30 this winter. When the mercury dips that low I stay in the house real close to the fire! With the coming of warmer weather my thoughts start turning toward spring fishing! We are blessed in this area to have so many different options and water to fish.
Those of you who come out in the summer know what it is to float or wade down one of our area rivers and see a multitude of different insects. Often times there are multiple hatches of different insects going on at the same time. For example you may see PMDs along with several other mayfly and caddis all on the water at the same time. We are lucky to have these rivers that teem with all this insect life. I am like all fly fishers, a bit of a bug junkie. It’s a rare day that I don’t flip rocks in the river or am studying the aquatic vegetation to see what’s crawling around. It’s fascinating to me. To me they are beautiful. I often refer to the bugs I see as “sexy” which often gets me a few double takes in the fly shop but I think most folks agree with me! What I have learned over the years is that regardless of the time of year you can always find insect life crawling around on the rocks on the bottom of the river. Caddis larvae, stonefly nymphs and mayfly nymphs can be found year around in our waters. Most of these nymphs are slow moving and almost in a dormant like state in the winter because of the cold water temps. There is one exception, the midge.
The Midge or Chironomid is a very large and hardy family of insects. They play a vital role in the overall health of the rivers as the larvae consume and recycle large amounts of organic debris. They are also a very important food source for fish, birds and predatory aquatic insects. The beauty of all this for you and I is that they are active in very cold water temps. There are four stages in the midge life cycle. The eggs are laid on the surface and after sinking to the bottom the larvae usually hatch within a week. The larvae then burrow into the mud where they will form a small tube and feed on organic material. If you dig around in the mud along the river you know what I am talking about as these small burrows are easily found. Usually the Larvae are a red color but olive, brown and grey are also common colors. You may have heard folks referring to them as blood worms. Depending on water temps the larval stage can last up to 7 weeks. Larvae will than pupate in these tubes on the bottom. In extreme cold the pupae will go into a dormant stage stay suspended in these tubes. When the water temps come up the body cavity of these pupae inflates with internal gases which buoy them to the surface to become adults. The life span of the adult is only three to five days. In most cases the transition from pupa to adult happens quickly making the pupa, pinioned helplessly to the surface film, the most attractive stage of the cycle to the trout.
This is all very good news for us that suffer from the fishing withdrawals that winter can bring. I call it cabin fever and I got it bad this year! Taking advantage of this early season hatch is relatively easy. Here are the steps I suggest.
1. Leave the drift boat at home. The hatch is usually short lived. There is a window in the middle of the day that is the best. I would say two hours max. Access to the river this time of the year can be a challenge so getting a boat in or out of the river can be next to impossible. Also bring your snow shoes, you will need them.
2.Pick your day. If you get up in the morning and see the temps are just above freezing and there is a bit of overcast in the sky than call in sick and get to a river near you!
3.Be mobile, I like to be able to check multiple areas through-out the day.
4.Focus your efforts in areas where trout don’t have to work hard. Backwaters are often full of “midging” fish this time of the year.
5. As any good boy scout will tell you be prepared. The weather is often very unpredictable this time of the year and a dip in the water will the end the day for you, trust me on this. I took a dip in the Madison River with my good friend Shaun Lawson about this time last year. It was not something I want to do again!
As far as fishing techniques go keep it simple. If you arrive at your favorite stretch and see there is nothing going on, don’t fret. As I explained earlier the hatch may not start until later in the day so a good way to start your day of fishing is to try nymphing. I would have a good selection of zebra midges. I like #16 and #18 red or brown zebra midges. Streamer fishing can also be very productive while you’re waiting around for a hatch. Keep an eye on that slow moving water I was talking about earlier, watch for the rise ring. Another good spot to look is on the snow. When the midge hatch begins the snow will look as if somebody spilled the pepper on the snow. Once you spot actively eating fish you should change your game. I like to fish a Griffith Gnat this time of year. The Griffith Gnat simulates a cluster of mating midges. A close look at this classic pattern shows you a peacock body with a grizzly hackle wrapped throughout. This is to represent multiple insects as a single midge can be very small #22 or even smaller. I like Griffith Gnat because it very effective and I can see it. I fish a #18 Griffith and it will get the job done. As far as leader and tippet size go I will usually fish Rio’s 9’ Powerflex 5X leader and if I need to add tippet I like the new Powerflex Plus from Rio. If you’re having a hard time with presentation you may want to try 6X tippet. Another good option is to use a midge pupa as a dropper, about 6 – 8 inches below the Griffith’s Gnat.
Spring in East Idaho
Spring is such an amazing time to be in our area. If you’re looking for some solitude than spring is the time. If you’re looking for second to none fishing experience than spring is the time. I really do love this time of the year.