Around West Virginia’s Elk River, a size 28 fly is way too big. The midge maniacs there prefer 32s-so they can cut off the shanks in order to tie size 40 flies.
“Since catch-and-release regulations went into effect in 1994, the fish have gotten pretty darn smart,” says Dave Breitmeier, owner of Valley Fork Fly Fishing and high priest of the river’s midge cult. The Elk’s hard-fished browns aren’t fooled by anything but the tiniest flies. “You can still catch fish on larger flies, but only in the swift pockets. If you want to catch the fish in pools, you have to go real small.”
Tippets are small, too, ranging from 10X to 12X. Breitmeier and his cadre hope for the day when 14X tippet hits the market.
Most of the trout in the Elk measure less than 15 inches, so landing them on such light tackle isn’t difficult. But Breitmeier says that he and others have tamed browns up to 24 inches on size 30 flies and 10X tippets, a near surgical feat.