April 5, 2010

True Madness

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.
Mark Twain

Reasoning draws a conclusion, but does not make the conclusion certain, unless the mind discovers it by the path of experience.
Roger Bacon

When I decided I wished to learn how to tie flies, I had no idea as to where it would lead. I don't even remember why I wanted to learn. Well, looking back from here, how could I possibly imagine all that? All I knew then was the immense pride I felt as I viewed that grotesquely huge, awkwardly primitive pheasant tail nymph sitting in my vise. I've still got it, although it never did get to the business end of my tippet.
Years later, sitting back after another lengthy session at the vise in search of yet another possible solution to a riddle I've struggled with for years, now, I silently ponder the soundness of my mind. But not for too long, as I know I must certainly be approaching that certifiable stage.
As my skills at the vise and with the rod progressed, I soon was fishing all year long. My interests changed, revolving, dependent upon time of the year and type of water. For several years, stillwater fishing captivated me. And, because I live and fish in the Pacific Northwest, it was a pretty natural course of events that lead me to try to understand the most prolific, widespread trout food there is. The midges, or chironomids.
I don't have to tell any of you about the numbers and varieties of chironomids that are found in any given body of stillwater. The lakes of the Pacific Northwest are no different. They abound with them. From three quarters of an inch in length down to less than a sixteenth. In every conceivable earthy-toned color (and some that are downright gaudy). And they are a constant, year-round source of sustenance for fish, with hatches that overlap each other per specie. That's what can really make it interesting. Or drive you nuts. Or both.
As my focus began to be trained more and more on moving water, I was able to take what I'd begun to understand about the chironomid with me, to a certain point. But with moving water, I soon discovered that it wasn't enough just to be adept at replicating the naturals I found, that it was paramount that I understand how I should fish them. And when. Specifically, time of the year is most important, but also keep in mind time of the day. As my knowledge base expanded, I observed that even in the warmer months when the vast majority of aquatic insect life is most accessible for the fish, there are still those times of each day when they will seek the midge. This became readily apparent to me late one warm August evening when I observed fluttering caddis, and an Olive hatch sprinkled with midges, and neither the Olives nor the caddis were the top menu item. I can say this with some conviction after each of the olive and caddis imitations I fished managed to with each drift miraculously wend their way through a serious pod of fish feeding just in or under the surface. Finally, after fooling one male with a small (#24) brownish pupal imitation of a chironomid under an indicator I pumped its esophagus and was quite amazed at just how many similarly-sized naturals it contained. Some time later, as darkness descended around me on the Missouri River a couple of miles upstream of Cascade, I was reminded of this experience and brought several big Browns to hand with a chironomid drifted in the surface film through rings that were occurring just below the surface. What I found in the esophagus of the first fish astounded me. It was a virtual potpourri of food items, all surely taken in and around the time I fished. But one thing was for certain, that midges were a constant, either as the sole item, or, if the fish was foraging, mixed with any number of easily accessed nymphs, stillborn, or trapped emergers of many different species. I found no healthy mature adult forms of any of them in this particular sampling.
My son and I took a few samples from the bottom of Michele Creek, a tributary of the Elk River B.C., late last August. We found several tiny dark worms and chironomids mixed in with different immature nymphs of mayflies, caddis, and stoneflies. Midges are everywhere there is water, moving, or still, and thus occupy an important niche in the feeding habits of trout.
It's frustrating sometimes, or should I say many times, but I'm striving to gain a better understanding of this sometimes microscopically small organism. They will make me a more successful fisherman, or drive me completely insane. Or both.

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