We haven't really had much of a winter yet and when temperatures reached the mid-50's during the first week of January I couldn't help but think about fishing. I kept my eye on the weekend forecast for Alcova where the high temperature for Sunday was predicted to be 48°F. As the week progressed the forecast high dropped lower and lower, I decided to go anyway. I fished from about 11:30 until 2:30. By the thermometer in the truck, which I read every hour or so as I thawed my frozen feet, the high for the day was 36°F, a couple of degrees below the Saturday forecast for Sunday.
With the flow out of the dam at just 500 cfs fishing was quite different from 5000 cfs in August when I was last there. At these temperatures the guides on the rod ice up and the wading is brutal. At these temperatures the fish are just plain sluggish too. There is a short period during the day when they seem to be mildly interested in feeding. Just before 1:00 the fish turned on for about a hour and I managed to hook a half a dozen fish and landed five of them. They were all rainbows between twelve and fourteen inches. A fish this size used to be considered small for the reef but any more they seem typical. I did have one good fish on for a minute. Once the fish realized it was hooked, it surged off shaking its head. Just as I managed to get the line onto the reel I had nothing but a steady pull, no life at the end of the line, just constant tension. I broke off and walked back to the truck to rerig while warming my feet.
When fishing nymphs or midges I always tend to throw a standard two fly rig with enough tin shot to get the flies down (how many depends on the flow) and anymore I just use a thingamabobber as an indicator. I tried serving up various patterns including leeches (green and black), scuds, a crane fly, a crayfish, a red midge larvae and of course the old standby glass beadhead midge pupae in size 20. I only hooked up on the midge pupae so eventually I just fished two of those. I was using black and grey/tan. When I was packing to leave, another fisherman who had been working the far side of the river from me came by and asked me what I was hooking up on. I showed him my rig and he was genuinely surprised (as non-midge fishermen usually are) that such tiny flies actually worked. He was fishing a three fly rig which included a leech, a scud, and a rock worm pattern. He did not hook up.
Tying midges patterns is dead simple. There are about 600 beautifully illustrated midge patterns in the Takahashi and Hubka book Modern Midges: Tying & Fishing the World's Most Effective Patterns. Ed Engle's book Tying Small Flies is excellent. You can see some tying instructions for the the midge pattern I use most (just vary the colors) in a previous post on the Mercury Midge. I like the TMC 2488H hook these days, it's very strong.