Spring Quilled Midges

Sometimes when it’s cool and breezy in the early spring, nothing is seemingly coming out of the water. If you really want to catch a nice trout on a dry fly you have to pull something out of your vest that is part of the buffet line menu for the surface feeders. 

Most often trout throughout the day are still pecking at the surface in the not so hatchy moments. Prior to the Hendrickson hatches it can be discouraging but with a little patience and a keen eye you can feel like your beating the winter blues. Little black midges are quite common during these times of year. Not only are they nearly impossible to see in flight but they are nearly indistinguishable when they are emerging and floating in the surface film. As we all know black midges are hard to fish especially when they are size 22’s and smaller. During certain parts of the day it’s very hard to even see a midge cluster because of reflections and shadows on the water. The trick is to create something that is very small like the naturals but is easy to see so you don’t miss strikes. Being a die hard dry fly guy I don’t even carry nymphs or streamers in my fly boxes so I had to devise a way to keep catching fish on the surface in the off season. These same patterns are actually quite effective very late in the season as well, from late October through end of November.

Over the years I’ve developed my own tactics by doing lots of sight fishing, and casting very small midge emerger patterns. Prospecting, i.e. standing in the water and simply casting dry fly’s in likely areas just does not work that great in early spring and it is not a preferred way of fishing for me personally. If you carry a monocular and spot fish ever so slightly pecking at the surface you may be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes you may find they are Shiners or Chub, but most of the time it’s a trout looking for something to nibble on the surface. The little sucking action is very deceiving during the early spring, they are conserving energy and will not move far from their feeding lanes. So the little nibble can be quite a large fish, they are not going to throw surface bulges like other times of the year.

There are two fly’s that I use almost exclusively, it is the Black Quilled Midge Para Emerger, and the Black Quilled Fore & Aft. I have tweaked my patterns around a bit over the years to my liking using quills, mini silk thoraxes, hackle hues, and different hook types. I fish these on 6x and 7x, and coincidently lose a lot of them too. So I tie up about a dozen at a time. Remember midges do not have tails!, so if your tying up a natural and want to mimic a trailing schuck a few fibers of undyed mallard flank works great. These two patterns are definitely my old stand by’s to transition myself from winter to spring and keep me satiated with my dry fly obsession during the colder parts of the season.

Quilled Midge Para Emerger

Hook: TMC 2487 #18-24

Body: Black dyed quills

Thorax: Pure silk dyed black

Wing Post: Turkey flat

Hackle: Black or dark dun saddle hackle

Black Quilled Fore & Aft

Hook: TMC 101 #20-26

Body: Black dyed quills

Hackle: Black, medium dun, 

or ginger hackle.


Of Trout & Men

"My wife wonders why all women do not seek anglers for husbands. She has come in contact with many in her life with me and she claims that they all have a sweetness in their nature which others lack."
~ Ray Bergman

Over The Shoulder

“Somebody just in back of 
you while you are fishing 
is as bad as someone

looking over your shoulder 
while you write a letter 
to your girl”
~Ernest Hemingway


{Popillia japonica} Japanese Beetle

Through the dog days of summer in many parts of America a strange mylar-like terrestrial shows upon many trout streams. The Trout seem to just sit quietly in the shade of an overhanging tree or shrub and wait for these crunchy morsels to drop from the heavens above.
The stout Japanese beetle plops down every few minutes soon after an often violent slurp turns a quiet pool into a variable tsunami.

Most beetle patterns today are tied with a myriad of synthetics including mylars, foam bodies, and various rubber legs of all shapes and sizes. If your a tyer that likes to use natural materials like myself, that tends to shy away from synthetics, a simple selection of quills and peacock herl will be great mediums to achieve this pattern. It’s a very convincing imitation that is easy and as familiar as tying your favorite Catskill dry fly with very similar materials.

1) Build up a black dubbed body with a slight egg shape profile on a #16 or #18 straight eye dry fly hook. Tie in two peacock herls along with two black quills that have soaked for thirty minutes or more. Let them extend behind the hook.

2) Begin to wrap the peacock herl first. Then wrap the two quills individually around the body in a spiral not to cover up the herl but rather to segment it and reinforce it.

3) After both the peacock herl and the tag end of the quills are wrapped towards the head of the beetle fasten them down and pull them back with a few wraps of black thread. Clip the herl and quill legs so they extend just slightly behind the bend of the hook.Tie in some black hackle for a few turns near the head.

This pattern can be fished dry or just under the surface in fast water. Remember to be careful when striking fish that come up for beetle patterns, the strikes are often sudden and it’s easy to strike too hard and pop tippets.


A.K. Best & Vince Marinaro

I was very inspired at around age 29 by a man who I thought really had a honest and contemporary perspective on fly tying. He used a lot of traditional materials but used them in a way that was innovative and thoughtful. Not only did he resurface some of the forgotten materials but he taught how to use them in a highly functional way. A.K. Best has since then been very inspirational when it comes to my own personal tying experience. The use of quills is something that now riddles my patterns as well as the use of hen hackle wings, and silk dubbing. I still dye my own rooster and pullet capes myself as well as strip and bleach my own quills. His hands on approach allows me to get exactly what I want when it comes to color, proportion, and profile. Back when e-mail was not as accessible I wrote back and forth to him quite a bit and he sent me some feathers in the mail. He introduced me to Coq de Leon feathers and their many uses especially when it came to tailing. I did not like artificial tailing for duns or spinners so he enlightened me on the many uses of this highly prized feather. Now I still get my Coq de Leon from Argentina and employ the use of this feather in a myriad of ways. I have used many of A.K.’s dun patterns over the years and they have always proved themselves time and time again. I never quite warmed up to post or cut wings but fell in love with his winging techniques using pullet, which once learned, these wings are actually quite easy and fast to execute. Most of the dry fly’s that I tie are A.K. inspired with the exception of my terrestrial patterns. A.K. seems to be a blend of Catskill, British, and good ole’ Yankee know how when it comes to fly tying techniques and patterns.

A Modern Dry-Fly Code by Vince Marinaro is book that I have read from cover to cover about thirty times and much of his dry fly perspectives are similar to A.K.’s. Both definitely hold a certain conviction when it comes to profiles of fly’s, color, and proportion. Again they are more inclined to use natural materials and do some very creative improvisation to manipulate these materials. Hackling duns for example Marinaro style is very intriguing and also very difficult. If you’ve ever tried the “x” criss-crossing manipulation while winding hackle it can be very fickle. A.K.’s method of creating a uniform and sparsely hackled fly is much more obtainable, and fast. Although the thought behind Marinaro’s technique is spot on. I personally tie it both ways depending on what kind of water I am fishing and the size of the fly. I was able to obtain a lifetime supply of porcupine quills from a veterinarian and tie Marinaro’s hopper pattern that floats perfectly with the two outrigger-style quills. A.K. uses quills the same way, for buoyancy, and layers them on larger fly’s creating a kind of life-preserver making them float like corks. Traditional Catskill-style fly’s that use quills are so thin that you cannot see any contrast to create the illusion of segmentation. A.K. uses a thicker section of Chinese Rooster quill and overlaps the quill on itself to create a more profiled abdomen.

Both of these men were and are very giving when it comes to sharing their perspectives and craft with the world. I feel blessed that I was inspired by them so long ago and still employ and evolve their techniques today.

Recommended Reading:
Production Fly Tying by A.K. Best
Fly Tying with A.K. by A.K. Best
A Modern Dry-Fly Code by Vincent Marinaro