Midge Magic, For What You Need to Know about Midges

I first met and fished with Ed Koch about 35 years ago on my first fishing trip to the Pennsylvania limestone spring creeks. I’m a bit vague on the exact year, but I know it was long enough ago that anglers did not yet have access to 6X and 7X tippet materials, because on that trip Ed gave me a spool of monofilament sewing thread to use as tippet. He also introduced me to tiny “midge nymphs” in 18, 20, and 22, which I used with good results both on that trip and later on my “home” streams in the Catskills of New York. Since then, I’ve used Ed’s original patterns and my own variations on them very effectively around the country.

Ed’s first book, Fishing the Midge (Freshet Press, 1972), was a significant contribution to fly fishermen. It gave good information about using small flies for large fish and listed a half dozen or so patterns with broad applicability. This latest book, Midge Magic, written by Ed and Don Holbrook, picks up where the first left off and goes far beyond.

Holbrook is the primary author of Midge Magic, with Koch primarily providing expert testimony on midge fishing as well as on tackle and technique. Holbrook’s 25 years of research into midges and other tiny insects that inhabit trout streams is extensive, well documented, and valuable to anglers anywhere. His research was done on the insect-rich Pennsylvania limestones, primarily the Letort, Yellow Breeches, and Big Spring, as well as on a few northern Pennsylvania freestone streams. Midges exist in profusion in virtually every trout stream, however, so the book’s information is applicable nationwide.

Midge Magic is mainly a fly tyer’s book, containing 300 superb color photographs of naturals, imitations and tying steps in its 109 pages. The book may also provoke the non-tyer into learning to tie because one is not likely to find anything resembling these patterns in any fly shop.

Midge Magic is not a book for tackle fanatics. While there is brief discussion of what constitutes an appropriate midge fishing setup, there is very little advice or information about the “best” rod, reel, or line size to use in fishing tiny flies. In fact, the authors imply that virtually any rod, reel and line is fine, provided you put the right fly in the right place on the right leader. While the “right” flies are the book’s primary message, the authors do provide some excellent advice on leaders and leader material as well as guidance for fishing the tiny flies and light tippets effectively.

If using and/or tying real little flies is not your cup of tea, the book may not be for you, but if you want to increase your personal contact time with trout in the midge-laden waters of the San Juan, the Frying Pan, the Guadalupe, the Green, West Virginia’s Elk River, or in other waters where small stuff is prevalent, this is very good stuff. A “large” fly in this book is an 18, and there are detailed pattern instructions and photographs for flies all the way down to size 32.

Obviously, the midge patterns are not terribly intricate as there is a limited amount of tying real estate offered by a 22, 24, or 26 hook. The designs given in the book are, however, incredibly accurate imitations of the naturals. Holbrook proves this beyond any doubt with his excellent macro- and microphotography comparing naturals and imitations. His research teaches us a great deal about midge coloring and translucence, and he has translated this in imitations that are tied using generally available, inexpensive, craft store materials.

Midge Magic provides basic information on the midge life cycle, but blessedly the book does not burden the reader with a lot of technically accurate but practically useless genus and species information. The photographs give us a good sense of the insects’ basic body structures and colorations, and the tying information tells us how to imitate them effectively.

I’ve been tying flies for about 30 years, and feel pretty confident about most of my trout fly designs. In the last several years very few books have driven me to the bench to try tying the patterns recommended in them. Midge Magic did precisely that, and I can’t wait to see how some of these designs will work in the Guad.

Midge Magic by Don Holbrook and Ed Koch is published by Stackpole Books, 577 Ritter Road, Mechanicsburg, PA 17055, and sells for $29.95.

Eric Peper