Size Matters (To A Trout, Anyway) And Small Is Beautiful

In the previous installment of this irregularly occurring wheeze, I was rather pleased with myself for learning something new about trout fishing. When Trout Boy and I had encountered vigorously rising fish and had flogged the water with dry flies and midges for a couple of fishless hours, the new guy on the pond advised us, “Go deep, young men.” Even though we were not young men, the advice paid off in some handsome brookies. So when I returned to the pond alone and found the trout engaging in the same type of behavior I eagerly strung my flyrod with a sink-tip line, tied on a small nymph, and — nothing. I had been practicing my casting-and-retrieving for a couple of hours when another angler paddled out in his canoe and started casting. Just as with the guy in the previous episode, the new guy almost immediately caught a nice trout. I had to ask.

“What did he take?” I shouted.

“Big yellow dry fly,” came the answer, and, as soon as he removed it from the trout’s mouth he held it up for me to see. Big and yellow it was. A dry fly it was. Another lesson in trout fishing — “Go deep” — entered into the books with an asterisk: *Might work, sometimes, or not.

I started fishing a big yellow dry fly, caught nothing, steadily went down the size ladder and finally hooked a beauty on a floating midge. Then the fun started. After tiring the trout to where I thought he was ready for the net, I brought the fish alongside, but when I lowered the net into the water he made one more dash for freedom and wrapped the fly line around the anchor line. Three times. To the rescue rode (paddled, actually) Mr. Big Yellow Dry Fly (not his real name). He lifted the anchor rope, I netted the fish, and he even took pictures, which he later sent to me.

Wrap-around trout

Wrap-around trout







So. Midges. Here’s a sample of my fly collection.

Fly Boxes

Don’t think for a nanosecond that these are all my flies. These are just the ones I pulled out of my vest pockets. One of these boxes holds nothing but tiny midge nymphs and emergers.



How tiny? I put a half-dozen on a dime, for comparison. Flies on a dime






But I realized they didn’t show up too well on the dime, so I traced the dime and made a dime-size circle…dime and circle






…and put seven of the little buggers inside the circle, with room for more.

circle of midges

Small, you say? Only the very tiniest of these caught trout on the San Juan River when I fished there a few years ago. The others were all too big. In Maine waters, sometimes big works, sometimes small works, sometimes teeny-weeny works. Sometimes nothing works. It’s hard for an angler to figure why feeding trout pass up a happy-meal of a huge dry fly in favor of a near-microscopic midge, but they do. One evening I drifted a variety of what I thought were tasty treats directly over a rising fish. All were ignored. I finally tied on a midge and caught the fish, an 18-inch salmon, on the first cast.

So here’s a sort of sure-fire way to catch trout on a fly: try everything short of hand grenades.

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.