Midging trout – Great Lake

Craig Rist
Great Lake MidgingJim Schofield is a good friend of mine. His first impression of Great Lake used to be of a large barren unattractive lake that had no appeal to him at all. That was, until he was shown the view from out in the middle of the lake in the early hours of the morning.

The sight of tailing browns in seven metres of water and groups of rainbows charging up the wind lanes towards him feeding on midge have suddenly changed his opinion of this lake to one of the most beautiful and alluring lakes in the highland. The fact that all these fish can be caught using big dry flies, didn’t hurt either. That said, it was no surprise see Jim jump at the opportunity to purchase one of Al Garwood’s customised 14 foot punts. Powered by a 50 HP Yamaha and a bow mounted electric outboard. He saw the perfect Great Lake fishing vessel. Jim’s boat has enough power to cover a lot of water to find feeding fish and the stealth that comes with an electric outboard to get close to the fish. Jim has never looked back. So much so, he now has a hard time driving past Great Lake to fish any other water. It just goes to show, that a lake with feeding trout at the surface can quickly change your perspective of a lake.  

Early Morning Start

It was late October when Jim Schofield, Peter Broomhall and myself planned an early assault on the Great Lake midge feeders.

Jim almost missed the turn off down to the Swan Bay boat ramp in the thick fog that had covered the Central Plateau. It was very dark and the headlights did little to help see the sealed road in the dark, let alone the gravel road leading down to the ramp. There was no wind—the lake was flat calm and dead quiet. With the anticipation of an over night midge hatch we quickly launched the boat and slowly motored out into Swan Bay, checking the water for signs of midge with a torch over the side. Jim followed an old snail trail on the GPS from a previous trip to navigate his way across the Lake. Without the GPS we would have quickly become lost out in the middle of the lake.

It soon became light enough to see a short distance through the fog. The lake was glassy calm and we could see midge and a few lady beetles on the water. We stopped the big outboard and put down the bow-mounted electric motor. We sat motionless amongst the thick fog.

Everyone listened intently for the sound of a rise and scanned the water through the fog for any signs of a feeding fish. The unmistakable sound of a fish taking off the surface could be heard somewhere out in the fog, close by. It rose again giving us some idea of what direction to move the boat to intercept the feeding fish. Peter was the first to spot the fish as it came into view through the fog. I stopped the electric as Peter waited for the fish to rise again before making the cast. The fish continued towards us with another head and tail rise. Peter delivered his version of a Chernobyl Ant with a splat well in front of the fish. Jim and I looked on waiting for that magic sight of a trout gulping down a dry fly. Then just like we had witnessed a trout taking a dry fly a thousand times before, it was gone in a swirl. With the sound of the take still ringing in our ears Peter paused for a moment then set the hook into a solid fish. The fish fought hard and deep after being hooked at the surface. Slogging it out along side the boat until it was eventually led into the net. The first fish of the morning was a nice Great Lake brownie. Not a bad way to start the morning.

We managed to repeat that same scenario a few more times, first hearing the fish take out in the fog well before we laid eyes on it. Like most days on the water, not every fish was converted into a hook up. On some occasions, the first sign of a fish was a splashy boil at the side of the boat signalling a spooked fish that had approached the boat, undetected. Others would see the cast against the foggy backdrop or simply refuse the fly all together.

As the morning drew out, the sun started to burn off the fog, revealing more of the lake. The lake was like a mirror and fish could be seen feeding well off into the distance. Using the electric outboard we moved over to where we could see two or three fish feeding close by. In these bright calm conditions the fish were a lot easier to spook with the movement of the boat. We found the boat had to be move into the path of an approaching fish well before it was within casting range. Quite often, while we sat there waiting for one fish to move closer, another would suddenly appear from a different direction. This situation allowed two people to fish at once with an imaginary line drawn half way through the boat, giving each person 180 degrees to scan the water. If an approaching fish was slightly out of casting range the person on the electric could move the boat a little closer to cover the fish. Throughout the morning we all managed to catch fish on the big buggy foam flies and the more traditional flies as well.

When and Where To Go

For me, midge-feeding trout in Great Lake starts in October. Before then, there are far too many trout tailing in the shallows early in the season to even think about what could be out in the middle of Great Lake. Calm frosty nights seem to produce the right conditions for the midge to hatch over night and into the morning. An early start on the water is essential if you want to make the most of the low light conditions. This is the time when feeding trout are at their most relaxed state, feeding right up to within a couple of metres of a drifting boat.

An early start to the morning for me is launching the boat while it is still dark and waiting out on the water for enough light to see feeding fish or midge on the water that may have fish close by. If the wind has come up over night look for fish in the foam lines and wind lanes. A reliable place to find these wind formations are down wind of points and islands. These areas funnel the accumulation of midge and other insects into the wind lanes, carrying them across the lake.

When travelling across wind to these destinations you will often pass over other wind lanes that have fish feeding in them. Spook a fish or find food in one of these and it’s well worth pulling up and taking a drift down the side of one of these feeding lanes. Fish can be found feeding in the calm slick of the wind lane, and several metres to either side of it, amongst the rough water where the insects are still being pulled into it.

When there is no wind and the lake is flat calm the insects and the fish are spread out across the lake. Finding rising or tailing fish in these conditions is easy, but a careful approach using oars or an electric motor is needed to get to within a comfortable casting distance. These flat conditions can be a lot more demanding, with very spooky fish travelling in different directions. When the wind does eventually show up, the fish are a little easier to catch, with most fish feeding into the wind and the waves hiding the presence of the boat and the cast.   

Wet Flies

When the fish are totally preoccupied with midge pupa rising up from the bottom, wet flies allowed to sink and then drawn back up in front of a fish can work very well. Flies with a little extra weight will sink quickly and rise up when stripped back. Size 12 to 14 green nymphs and beetle patterns have worked in the past, fished in this way. The retrieve speed of the fly should vary, start slow and then speed up if the fish are not responding. Success usually follows when you can lead the fish, allowing the fly to sink and then swim it up in front of the trout’s line of sight. When all else fails, throw on a small woolly bugger and strip that in front of them, you might be surprised with the response.   

Dry Flies

Fishing dry flies would be my first choice when fishing Great Lake. When it comes to fly selection you can throw away the match the hatch theory for 90 percent of the time in Great Lake. These fish are used to finding a mixed bag of insects that have found their way onto the water during the previous day or over night. Great Lake Trout are opportunistic feeders that will usually pass up 10 midges to suck down a larger insect that is going to give them more protein for less effort. This is great news for the fly fisher as it simplifies the whole problem of how to get a fish choosing your small midge dry fly over the hundreds surrounding it. Large size 10 and even 8, deer hair and foam flies such as the Cubit Mudeye, Chernobyl Ant, Foam Beatle and Craig’s Hair Chernobyl are very effective. All these flies sit low in the water, making them very obvious to the fish and have great fish pulling features with a heavy landing and those rubber legs that instantly bring life to a stationary fly. For the more traditional dry flies Red Tags, Bobs Bits and a variety of midge flies will catch fish with precision casting, but will usually be out fished by the larger deer hair and foam models that will get the attention of a fish from further away.  
Boat Handling

How well the boat can be controlled plays a big part to a successful morning on the water. A boat equipped with an electric outboard or a set of oars to quietly position it, to set up a cast, will catch more fish. How fast the boat drifts in the water also plays an important part. If the boat is too light a strong wind will blow the boat too quickly in an uncontrolled way across the lake making it very difficult to make an accurate cast and manage line. A flat drogue set off to the side of the boat will slow it down and keep it broadside of the wind. Combine this type of drogue with a bow-mounted electric motor and you will find it very easy to reposition the boat to intercept a feeding fish without the need to pull in the drogue. By simply driving forward with the electric outboard the drogue will straighten alongside the boat giving little or no resistance to slow the boat. When the boat stops moving forward, the drogue will once again take hold and you can resume the drift.

When fishing three to a boat its far better to have one person dedicated to driving the electric outboard or controlling the oars than to have the third person trying to fish and position the boat. Do this on a rotation and everyone will catch more fish and have a lot more fun. Sit back and enjoy fishing as a team. The sooner you can get your mate into a fish, the sooner it will be your turn.  

Fishing the midge feeders on Great Lake is an exciting option and a great way to start a day on the water, wave polaroiding or searching the shallow bays. If that’s not enough, you have the evening midge hatch to look forward to. A day on Great Lake can soon turn into a sixteen hour fishing marathon that will go past in the blink of an eye, so make the most of it!

Craig Rist