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Spring Midge Fly Fishing on the Roaring Fork River

Every year about the end of February, here in Central Colorado, the Roaring Fork River turns into a midge factory that produces the first good hatch of the season.  The hatch of a variety of midges will fill the bottom of a self-bailing raft with so many midge shucks that by the end of most mornings in the spring you can reach down and pick of thousands in one handful. Naturally the bountiful rainbow and brown trout who inhabit the Roaring Fork, eagerly key on the early season midge fest.  The challenge facing the fly fisherman as this bug event is occurring, is exactly how to get your fly in front of a trout selectively feeding on a particular midge.

Miles of Access along the Gold Medal Waters

The Roaring Fork River in the Glenwood Valley is a midge factory each spring.  The event is tied to water temperature and progresses up from the Colorado River into the Roaring Fork River.  See this DOW map for more information on the regulations and areas to fish  Fifty some miles of prime wade and float fishing can be available from the confluence with the Colorado River upstream to Aspen. Several large tracts of Colorado Division of Wildlife leases make access to the Roaring Fork fairly easy. Knowing exactly where the hatch has progressed in the river will take a guide who has been out floating the Roaring Fork recently. Contact Vail Valley Anglers in Edwards, Colorado for up to the minute reports for the Roaring Fork River midge extravaganza.  Located along the Eagle River, just off I 70, our guide staff is experienced in floating these waters this time of year, maintaining several guides on staff who have been float fishing the Roaring Fork midge hatch for decades.

Effective Strategies

Midges come down the Roaring Fork River each morning by the millions, floating along helplessly in the current trying to free themselves of their wing cases and emerge to become an adult.  Nymphing with two flies and a strike indicator will be your best bet for success.  Use a long leader like a nine foot 5X with several feet of 6X tippet.  Nine foot medium action fly rods are best for early spring midge fishing. Begin in the morning on the Roaring Fork River with a midge larva, and then attach a midge emerger about eighteen inches from your first fly.  When you begin catching more fish on the midge emerger go with another emerger and take off the larva.  The trout here tend to progress as the hatch evolves and will not be interested in any this but emerging insects, stuck in the wing case cripples or pupa caught in the surface film.  Cloudy days present better opportunities for dry fly fishing but if you concentrate on the trout just under the surface with midge emergers you will have many more chances to catch fish.

Choosing the Right Fly Patterns

Several types of midges will be emerging at different times that will change daily based on water temperatures, water flow and weather.  You are safe with most basic midge larva fly patterns that represent the floating worm-like early stage of a midge.  Roaring Fork trout really put on the feed bag when the midges begin to emerge.  Sizes range from 16 to 22 so pay attention to what is flying around or swimming in the bottom of your boat. A size 18 miracle nymph or dirty midge will get you started.  A favorite fly of mine is a grey sparkle midge in size 20.  Black midge emergers also play an important role in your success and should be considered as well.  Do not be afraid to change a fly pattern on the Roaring Fork, this “Gold Medal River” has almost 2700 trout per mile and is well know throughout the West as an angling destination.

Masking Hatches

Later in the morning a large pale green, almost olive, giant midge appears that fools even the most advanced anglers.  It is a size 16 midge and you would think it was a Blue Winged Olive but you would be mistaken, as many fly anglers have been in years past.  Try an olive biot midge in size 16 or anything with a greenish grey body and a light grey wing case in that size range.  Later in spring the midges give way to BWO’s as the morning gives way to the afternoon.
Careful fly selection and carefully timing your fishing on the Roaring Fork River during the spring midge hatch will produce the hookups you are looking for.

Bill Perry, Guide and Content Writer