from Fly Patterns for Stillwaters
Chironomids are the most important food item within productive
From personal observation, these insects form 40% of the troutís diet
during the open water season. Chironomids are the first and most prolonged
hatch of the fishing season. Emergence begins soon after ice off and continues
through the fall. Peak emergence in northern latitudes takes place during the
months of May and June with secondary hatches in September and October.
Chironomids can hatch year-round in the warmer climates of North America,
such as California. Hatches are subject to variances in water temperature and
lake elevation. Owing to their small size it takes a lot of these insects to
stuff a trout. Accustomed to seeing Chironomids, trout will take a
well-presented pattern regardless of the season.
Trout prefer to key upon the pupae and the larvae, but at times focus
upon emerging pupae and adults. Floating lines, long leaders, slender patterns
and painstakingly slow retrieves are all characteristics of Chironomid pupa
and larva fishing. Patience, finding the feeding depth and confidence are all
keys to success.
For those willing to hurdle the obstacles, fishing Chironomids offers
year-round success, not only in numbers of fish but size too. Many anglers
have caught fish in excess of 10 pounds fishing Chironomid patterns.
There are over 2500 species of Chironomids found in North America.
Chironomids belong to the order Diptera meaning two winged. Diptera or true
flies include craneflies, mosquitoes, Chironomids and Chaoborus
(phantom midge). Insects from this order are some of the most highly evolved
of all. The Chironomid family has more species than all other species of
Chironomids are prolific in both still and moving waters.
Chironomids have a complete life cycle or metamorphosis. Except for the
egg, all stages are of interest to the fly fisher. The larvae are slender
wormlike creatures consisting of a segmented body with short prolegs at the
anterior and posterior end of the body.
Many species from this family utilize hemoglobin for oxygen uptake. A
rarity among insects. This enables the larvae to live in oxygen-poor waters.
Chironomid larvae are capable of living in waters in excess of 200 feet deep,
although depths of less than 20 feet are common. The hemoglobin gives the
larvae a distinct red or maroon coloration, hence the nickname, "bloodworms."
Red and maroon are popular colors, but other colors include green, olive and
combinations of red and green. The red and green larvae look like miniature
barber poles. The majority of Chironomid larvae live in tubes they construct
along the bottom between the mud water interface. Other species are completely
free living, while others spend their first molts or instars as free-living
larvae then settle down in a permanent tube home.
Larvae feed upon detritus and other vegetative matter. Chironomid larvae
thrive in lakes with mud bottoms, but are adaptable to other environments.
Moving about with a vigorous head to tail lashing motion coupled with rests in
the fully extended position; the larvae are feeble swimmers.
During turnover or windstorms Chironomid larvae are often swept off the
bottom, and become easy prey for trout. Some Chironomid larvae go through two
seasonal migrations. Moving from deep water to shallow during the spring and
vice versa during the fall. These are prime times to fish larvae imitations.
Chironomid larvae are active during low-light conditions as they leave
the protection of their tubes to forage. I have had good success fishing
larvae imitations early in the morning and into the evening. Depending upon
the species, Chironomids can remain in the larval stage for up to two years.
These species reach large sizes, up to 1 1/8 inches in length. Fly
patterns typically range from #16 2-XL to #8 3-XL. When the larva matures it
transforms into the pupae. The pupa is slender and has distinct white gills on
the top of its thorax. Some species have smaller posterior gills. Chironomid
pupae come in a wide assortment of sizes and colors. Typical colors include
black, green, olive, maroon, gray and brown. Some pupae retain the red
hemoglobin from the larval stage in the tip of their abdomen. This gives them
a distinct red butt that is worthy of imitation.
Chironomid pupae range from under 1/8 of an inch to over 1 inch in
length; the nickname "bomber" refers to the larger pupae. Chironomids can
spend a number of days in the pupal stage. This explains why pupa imitations
can be successful when there is little evidence of a strong hatch.
The pupae rise and fall near the bottom, trapping air and gas beneath the
pupal skin. The trapped air and gases aid the pupal ascent and give the pupae
a distinct silver glow. This often masks the true color of the pupae. To be
successful, patterns need to imitate this feature.
The pupa slowly elevates to the waterís surface. Once at the surface the
pupa hangs momentarily then lies horizontally to emerge. A split forms along
the thorax of the pupa and the adult crawls out onto the surface. Depending on
conditions, emergence can be quick or prolonged. Rippled windy conditions
result in a quick emergence. During flat, calm conditions, trout leisurely sip
the emerging pupae. Under these conditions, fishing is exciting.
Keep in mind that larger fish tend to feed on pupae in the security of
deeper water. Here they are free from loons, ospreys and eagles. Keep an eye
on the waterís surface for signs of the pupal shucks. The shucks are long and
skinny with prominent white gills at the head of the thorax.
The adult Chironomid closely mirrors its cousin the mosquito, although
adult female Chironomids donít bite. Adult Chironomids are the same color as
the pupae although they are brighter immediately after emergence and darken as
When you see adult Chironomids keep in mind that they are smaller than
the pupa, if the adult is a size 14, a size 12 pupal imitation should match
the pupa. After emergence, the adults form large swarms on or near the shore.
These swarming males release pheromones down wind to attract potential mates.
Females fly into the swarm and mating takes place. Taking advantage of the
calm conditions of morning or evening, the females return to lay their eggs
when there is less risk of predation by birds and other insects.
The female dips her abdomen into the water and flies along the surface to
lay her eggs leaving a distinct wake that is a trigger for
trout. Of all the stages, trout prey upon adult Chironomids the least.
However, this does vary from lake to lake. Some lakes offer fine adult
fishing, while on others it is nonexistent. Once the mating and egg laying is
complete, the adults soon die.
Philip Rowley has been fly fishing stillwaters for over 20 years. His
first book, Fly Patterns for Stillwaters is testament to his love of
flat-water fly-fishing. Phil was also one of the contributing authors for,
Fly Fishing British Columbia. His pursuit of fish on the fly has taken him
throughout the Pacific Northwest and as far south as Mexico. Using his
experiences as a reference Philís articles and photographs have appeared in a
number of magazines including, American Angler, Fly Tyer, Fly Fisherman,
Northwest Fly Fishing, Fly Fishing, Fly Tying and Fishing Journal, B.C.
Outdoors and Phil is a featured columnist for Western Fly Fisher magazine.
Phil is a regular contributor to bcadventures.com including his own
column, Philís Fly Box. A former commercial fly tyer Phil has begun marketing
his own line of Signature Flies.
Phil is a member of the Sage professional family. He also has professional
associations with Mustad Hooks, Bare Waders, Islander Reels, Gudebrod, Dr
Slick, Dyna King and Springcreek Prams. An active member of the Osprey Fly
Fishers of B.C. Phil is a former director with the British Columbia Federation
of Fly Fishers.
Throughout the year Phil can be seen performing at sportsmanís shows,
fly-fishing and tying seminars throughout western Canada and the United
States. Information regarding these shows, education and other activities Phil
is involved with can be seen at his web site,
When he is not focused upon fly-fishing Phil spends time with his
wife and their two active sons. The entire family enjoys the outdoors and
fly-fishing in particular. You can purchase Fly Patterns for Stillwaters