January Fly: Zebra MIdge

By the time this article exists in a form other than thought, it will be January. In my infinite wisdom and fore-planning, I decided to start with a fly that everybody has used at one point, but a majority choose to buy over build. A small Zebra Midge. I could have chosen smaller, but I chose to start with a size 18 Dai-Riki #135 scud hook, and a 5/64 bead. Midges are a staple in any box, especially in the cold months that plague us all. Most terrestrials are dead, trout aren’t super aggressive, and the forage naturally found in the water is microscopic. In order to stay busy hauling in fish, we must change our tactics.

For my very first midge, EVER, I decided to try it DIY style. I have a very rudimentary knowledge base of fly tying. I was gifted a fly tying kit when I was about 10. It contained all of the necessary parts to build a few wooly buggers, a couple of dry flies, and that’s about it. Most tied on hooks too big for the fly that they were, but it was fun. It kept me entertained for a while.  I figured I could make something adequate on my first attempt, so I hopped right in.

First, I had to pick a color.  The definition of “Zebra”. Black UNI thread and a silver bead/wire combo. My first obstacle was getting the tiny bead onto the hook. I could only imagine how hard the rest of the process would be if the bead presented such a big issue. After a minute or two of struggles, I had the bead on and the hook on the vise. I was taught early on to always wrap a thin layer onto the shank of the hook to start, so that’s where I began. Easy enough. Next, to decide where to place and wrap the wire. I decided to start from back and work forwards, figuring that at the end of the process I would have to build a thorax/body about the size of the head, and it seemed like a good place to end. I wrapped the wire in with three twists of the bobbin, and then trimmed the tag end on the bead side. There was a bit of wire exposed, but it would probably be covered up later I assumed. Before wrapping the wire, I moved the thread up the shank to the head of the fly, preparing for the eventuality that I would have to finish the head by securing the wire at the head. Once that was done, I began to wrap the wire up the shank. I wasn’t sure how far apart to space the wire, and to be honest I’m not convinced that it matters too terribly much. The wire reached the head, and I wound the black thread around the wire as tight as I could. In all honesty, my main problem in tying has always been finishing the head and keeping the material secure. After I was sure it was tight and not moving, I trimmed the excess, and moved to my least favorite part of the tying process. The whip finish has always eluded me, especially with a finishing tool. I’ve watched countless videos, attempting and watching simultaneously. I still have issues. However, I have a vast knowledge of ropes and knots, and so I tend to rely more on that than a “proper” finish. I used my fingers and made a couple quick turns of the thread, and pulled the thread tight. Pulling the thread too hard, and it snapped. I checked the knot quick and saw that it held well enough. I finished the midge with a couple drops of Dave’s Flexament on the head and body to seal everything in place. Challenge complete.

Overall, I’m very satisfied with my first product. Some might even say ecstatic. I had low expectations on how well I would tie this fly. Midges are terribly small, I’m not the most delicate or patient person, and I tend to tie too heavy. I’ve noticed that my flies have a lot of material, and one of the key ingredients to a good midge is using less material. I didn’t stop at one though. I made more.

Midge number two was a red beauty with a tungsten brass colored head and wire. For this fly, I decided to find an online video to watch and follow for fun. I chose to go with a good ol’ fashioned Orvis video you can find below. The video was simple, detailed and exactly what I needed. There were a couple of noticeable differences between my method and the experts over at Orvis.

First, the instructor used a nifty popsicle stick with a magnet to hold the bead. What a million dollar idea! Second, the wrap was a bit different. While I started with wrapping the whole shank very thin, he wraps the first quarter of the shank a bit heavier, and leaves the bend bare until the wire is attached. Third, he begins his wire from underneath the bead and wraps towards the bend, where as I started from the back. His method secures the wire along the shank of the body, securing the wire to the underside deep into the bend of the hook. I liked this method, it provides stability for the wire, and created a very flat body profile. The fourth difference was very subtle, and I didn’t prefer either way over the other, but his method of removing the excess wire was to “helicopter” the wire in a circular motion until it broke off clean. Fifth and finally, his finishing knot was a whip finish, and he chose not to use head cement.

Overall, I see both methods as valid. If I was to go with a particular method as a reader, the Orvis method was great. It was well explained, has a video as the process happens, and created a great looking fly. When I used the Orvis method, I created a great fly body, the wraps look neat and the taper of the body is nice. The problem for me comes at the end with the whip finish, I’m terrible at it. By using a whip finish, I created a bit of a loose area of thread, and thus my head/thorax area is a bit sloppy. In the end, when all were created and done, I combined the best of both methods. I used my personal modified finish, head cement, but used the Orvis instructors method of building the body.

I enjoyed this tying very much. It’s a small fly, but it’s no small task. It was very simple, but requires a delicate touch. I’m sure in about 50 years when I’m finally starting to lose my vision, this task won’t be great, and I’ll resort to using a magnifying glass. Better yet, I’ll be retired blowing through money, and I might as well just buy flies. For now, I’ll gladly tie 100 Midges anytime the weather is cold, the water is angler-free, and the fish are eager to fight.