Livin’ Large, Gettin’ Small

My old friend Chris Nation, a Brit who exited Britain for Spain a short while before the historic and troubling vote on Brexit, wrote to say he had read about 40-pound trout being winched out of some lake in the U.S. They were almost certain to be lake trout, Salvelinus Namaycush, and were caught either through the ice on a baited hook dangled from the end of a stout fishing pole (or perhaps a backhoe), or by dragging a leaded line through the deeps of a great lake behind a barely moving motorboat. To each his own. I have heard that hooking a big laker is akin to snagging a sunken log, though once in the early spring I caught a pair of three-pounders below the dam at the East Outlet of the Kennebec and they were quite frisky, teenagers who had run away from home.

Which leads me to thoughts on midges. As the train of thought chugged through the thickets of my noggin, it progressed from the kind of fishing I don’t like to the kind of fishing I do like: flyfishing for smaller fish in smaller waters, angling for trout and salmon in rivers and ponds. And as the train spiraled downward, size-wise, it finally arrived at midges. The good thing about midges, from a trout angler’s perspective, is that they are hatching virtually year round. The bad thing about midges is that when trout are keying on them they — the trout — can be maddeningly difficult to catch. After a frustrating and fishless day on a pond where trout were gorging on midges I stopped in at Brett Damm’s Rangeley Region Sport Shop to try to find a midge pattern that might catch some of those highly selective trout. When I told Brett what I was after he looked down at his shoetops with a sort of thousand-yard stare and muttered, “I hate midges.”

Five years ago, as the Boston Bruins were playing the Vancouver Canucks for the Stanley Cup, I was in northern New Mexico on the San Juan River, just below Navajo Dam. By day I fished, by night I cheered the Bruins, the lone Boston fan in the bar at Fishead’s (which is how they spell it). Equipped with a selection of flies, mostly midges, from Abe’s Fly Shop, I waded into the San Juan to join a platoon of anglers fishing thigh-deep in the slow-moving tailwater in that area below the dam where the river splits into several channels before uniting into one deep, swift stream. No one was really casting; they were using strike indicators and just flipping their lines upstream a few feet and letting the flies drift past them just a few feet from where they stood. The bottom is soft there, and every step raises a cloud of sediment that potentially harbors fish food, with the result that fairly large rainbow trout are feeding virtually on your boot tops (it’s not cool to dangle your midge nymph right beside your boots). Two guys directly upstream from me were having a good evening, catching nice fish with regularity, while I managed to hook one or two small ones on size 22 midges that I could barely attach to my 7X tippet. Finally I waded up to the guy nearest to me and explained that I was new here and would he please show me what he was using. He did show me, but I had to look very closely with optical aid to see it. They were using flies as small as #28. With my lumbering #22s I was fishing too big. That was a somewhat useful lesson in catching trout during a midge hatch — somewhat, I say, because while a trout might be able to see a #28 in the water, I can’t see it well enough to tie it on. I’m with you, Brett.

Next day I hired a guide with a drift boat and caught lots of trout, and not on midges.

San Juan Rianbow

          San Juan Rainbow

Nick Mills

About Nick Mills

Full disclosure: I was not born in Maine, alas! I was born in Massachusetts, but the family moved to Maine when I was eleven, and I grew up in Thomaston. My dad was skipper of one of the draggers that sailed out of Rockland, in the days when it was a rough-tough working fishing port. When he came in from the sea his favorite activity was freshwater fishing with me and my brother, Peter. We learned together to flyfish for trout in the Alder Stream in Eustis. Once hooked on the sport, pun intended, I fished at every opportunity in every place I could -- in the rivers, streams and ponds of Maine; in the mountain ponds of Utah, where I was stationed for a year in the Army; in high Andean lakes in Colombia, where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer; even in a lagoon that surrounded one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Baghdad. I tried once to go trout fishing in northern Afghanistan, when the U.S.S.R. occupied that country; a landslide blocked my path, but that led to a more interesting adventure, which I will tell you about in a future post.