Shuttlecock Midges

By Jeff Morgan

As winter wanes, the urge for dry fly fishing returns. Most late-winter anglers get their topwater kicks by casting dun patterns on rivers with blue-winged olive and March brown hatches. However, this time of the year can bring on some of the best dry fly fishing on stillwaters: the early season midges .

What makes early season midges special is their large size. On many Northwest waters, size 12 midges are common and size 10 are possible. These large insects are very attractive to trout because they are the only food actively moving around in the still-frigid waters of February, March, and early April.

In addition, their emergences are often concentrated in shallow margins only one- to four-feet deep, allowing trout to cruise along and feed on all stages--larva, pupa, and adult--with little effort.

Midges are usually best matched with pupa imitations, but early-season species are slow emergers due to the cold, moist air. This makes emerger imitations not only practical, but often just as effective as a pupa pattern.

The Shuttlecock Midge

A variety of surface patterns can be used for early midges; an Elk Hair Caddis or an Adams can even take fish. But there is a simple pattern that is perfect: the Shuttlecock Midge.

The Shuttlecock is a British style that uses a "pullover" of CDC to make the CDC wing extend forward over the front of the fly instead of over the back. For insects such as midges, which extend in a linear fashion, or caddis, which may stick their wings forward as they pull them out of the shuck, this forward-wing style is very effective.

On the water, the back end of this fly hangs just below the surface, while the CDC breaks through and keeps the upper part in the film. The fly is easy to see, realistic, and will float well until fish chew it up. Like other CDC patterns, a powdered desiccant is essential to ensure that the fly continues to float after a couple fish have inhaled it.

You can add several features to these flies that I have mentioned in other articles (Tying Midge Patterns--Part I and Tying Midge Patterns--Part II):

  1. A red butt matches both the hemoglobin-like cells that turn the end of the abdomen reddish on some chironomid pupae.
  2. The orange flash of the wing pads is not anatomically precise on wings that have already emerged, but an orange spot in the thorax can add to the effectiveness of your flies.
  3. Flies banded with flash material can create the effect of the gasses trapped in the "skin" of the emerging midge.

Shuttlecock flies can be tied with either a straight-shank dry fly hook or a curved shank scud/emerger hook. However, the scud/emerger hook must be 1XF (extra fine). This means my favorite hook, the Dai Riki 135, which is 1XS (extra strong) is not suitable for these patterns. Either a Dai Riki 300 or a Tiemco 100 is the proper hook.

Shuttlecock Caddis

A Shuttlecock Caddis can also be constructed by adding legs and/or antennae to the "pupae" part of the fly. Emerging caddis patterns are rarely essential, since adult caddis emerge quickly from the pupal shuck and fly away almost immediately after reaching the surface. However, an emerger often works just as well as an adult when fish are actively rising and are superb patterns for pressured trout that have seen it all.

Patterns and Tying Instructions

Click the links below for tying and fishing instructions.

Shuttlecock Midge
Shuttlecock Caddis

Jeff Morgan has written many articles for Westfly, mostly on entomology and fly tying. He is the author of An Angler's Guide to the Oregon Cascades and Small Stream Fly Fishing.