Fly Tying: Learn to Tie and Fish the Skull & Bones Midge Pupa

Midge pupa are an extremely important food source for trout, particularly those in tailwaters. Midges are among the most common of aquatic insects and they hatch year round. In many instances they are one of only a few insects that trout eat during the winter months.

Many fly fishers and fly tyers are turned off by small flies, but there is no reason to be intimidated. Yes the flies are small, but the strike indicator is just as big as it is for a #14 nymph. Furthermore, small flies are generally less complicated to tie than larger ones.

Skull & Bones, A midge pupa imitation

Skull & Bones

The Skull & Bones is our “go to” midge pattern. We’ve used it extensively on tailwaters in the Southeast, but we’ve also used it with success on Montana’s Madison River and we’ll occasionally trail one under a dry fly in the Smokies. This fly works great on its own, fished in tandem with a second nymph, or under a dry fly.

Hook: #18 – #20 Scud hook

Bead: 5/64″ or 2 mm black bead

Thread: Black 8/0

Body: Black Ultrawire, Small or X-Small

Wing: Zelon, Midge Grey

Collar: 1 or 2 strands of peacock herl

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Tying Skull & Bones, Step 1

Step 1. After threading the bead onto the hook, wrap your thread onto the hook behind the bead. You can wrap all the way to the bend of the hook and back up but we generally avoid doing this to prevent too much build up on the hook and keep the body slim and slender.

Tying Skull & Bones, Step 2 Tying Skull & Bones, Step 2

Step 2. Tie the wire onto the hook behind the bead. Hold the wire tight at an upward angle as you wrap thread over it. This will keep the wire on the top of the hook. Wrap all the way to the bend of the hook.

Tying Skull & Bones, Step 3

Step 3. Wrap the thread to the head of the fly. Tightly wrap the wire forward. Stop about 1 bead’s distance back from the bead. Tie it off with the thread and clip any excess.

Tying Skull & Bones, Step 4

Step 4. Tie in a small strand of Z-lon fibers. You may have to divide a strand of fibers in half. The wing should be clearly visible when the fly is complete, but it shouldn’t be too bulky either. Wait to clip the excess until the rest of the fly is complete.

Tying Skull & Bones, Step 5

Step 5. Tie in one or two strands of peacock herl. A #18 generally requires two strands, but this is sometimes too bulky for a #20. Wrap the herl around the thread about 5 or 6 times, then wrap around the hook about 3 times. Wrapping the peacock around the thread will reinforce it and make it less likely to break when you’re fishing it. The bulkiness of your peacock will dictate how many wraps it takes to create the collar. You want enough to fill in the gap nicely without creating unnecessary bulk.

Tying Skull & Bones, Step 6

Step 6. Tie off with a couple of half hitches or a whip finish. Clip the wing so it is short and stumpy. It shouldn’t be very long.

Skull & Bones, A midge pupa imitation

Take it fishing!

This fly fishes very well on its own in rivers with robust midge populations like the Clinch River here in East Tennessee. If only a few midges are hatching we’ll fish it in tandem with a sow bug pattern or another nymph like a #16 Beadhead Pheasant Tail. We usually fish the Skull & Bones as the top fly.

It’s not unusual for us to fish it under a dry fly. We’ll fish it under Sulphur patterns when the hatch is sporadic. It is heavy enough to sink well, but not heavy enough to sink a #16 Sulphur Comparadun dry fly.While it’s not our top producer in the Smokies, we’ll occasionally use it as a dropper when rising trout seem to ignore everything else. It’s hooked enough tough fish on Little River that we keep a few in our vest. Be sure to use 6X tippet with this small fly.

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