Thanks to a childhood spent throwing big lures at salmon, it took me awhile to accept tiny little bug imitations as the way to go when fly fishing. Anything smaller than a No. 16 seemed fragile and invisible. Once I paid attention to the size and shape of actual trout food, it made sense. I went small. I started with smaller versions of my favorite patterns like the pheasant tail, birds nest and prince, but many times wary trout, especially in winter, won’t tolerate your normal bead-headed attractors or imitations.
Once I started dropping size 18 and 20 midges, I saw just how valuable it is to have a solid small ball game. Depending on the conditions, using a bright attractor to make trout curious is a good way to get them to see the more food-like midge rolling below. Other times a more subtle top fly will be passed up by the trout, but the midge will be too much for it to resist.
Two of my favorites are the Zebra Midge and RS2. A nice thing about both of them is that they are easy to tie yourself, especially the Zebra Midge. It takes sometime to get used to staring at a size 20 hook if you’re not used to having such small hooks in your vise, but you can whip through a bunch of these really quick and fill your box.
The Zebra Midge is an effective staple of most fly boxes. Usually you’ll see the nickel bead and silver ribbing, but clear or black beads are nice variations. As far as body color, black is standard but it doesn’t hurt to have a few in red. You’ll also see wings, or wraps of peacock just behind the bead.
Hook: emerger hook size 16-22
Bead: silver, clear or black 1/16
Thread: black, or red 8/0
Rib: silver wire
The RS2 changes from stop to shop and webpage to webpage. It’s a mayfly imitation with a dubbed body and wing. Colors vary along with hook size and shape. One fly shop might have grey body with brown hackle as a wing, while another has olive body and ribbing.
Hook (varies): standard nymph or dry fly hook size 18-24 (straight or down eye)
Thread: Depends on dubbing shade and hook size, 8/0 or 6/0
Body: grey or olive superfine dubbing
Rib (optional): gold, olive
Wing: CDC, white or gray