Claire Corlett

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How to Fish: Chironomid Fly Fishing Strategies | GoFishBC

How to Fish: Chironomid Fly Fishing Strategies | GoFishBC


Chironomids or midges are one of the
most important torut food sources. They belong to the order diptera and they’re two
winged insects. They have a complete lifecycle: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The
adult chironomid looks like a mosquito except the females don’t have that long
biting proboscis, so they’re a non biting midge- that’s what they are. They come in a variety of sizes and colors.
There’s over 2,500 species of chironomids found living in fresh and marshy
waters of North America. So they come in very small ones and they come in quite
large ones and different colors and because fly color can be discerned
by the fish that’s why we tie all these different colors of chironomid pupa.
The chironomid lifecycle goes like this:
eggs are laid by females returning to the lake. They dip the tip of their
abdomen in the surface film of the lake and the eggs sink to the bottom of the lake. They
could be in 3 feet of water; in 30 feet of water; they could be a 90 feet of
water. Those eggs hatch into a worm-like larva- the chironomid larva- which are most
commonly maroon or red in color and that’s why we call them blood worms
because of their blood red coloration but other colors of the larvae are green,
shades of green, and brown. The larvae build little mud tubes at the bottom of
the lake, whatever depth they’re in, so it’s like a little tube they live in and
they stick their heads out and they feed on detritus. The larvae are segmented-
they have pro legs, little legs at either end at that tip and the back end of
their larva. And they range in size from an 8th of an inch to well over
an inch in length depending on the species so these larvae are living in
tubes at the bottom of the lake when they’re fully matured they seal
themselves in the tube and transform into the chronomid pupa.
The pupae then when it’s fully developed it usually takes 10 to 14 days for the
transformation to occur from that segmented roundworm creature
larval stage into the pupae. When the pupil is fully developed it breaks out
of that old larval case at the bottom of the lake and slowly rises, ascends
vertically to the surface of the lake and it’s slow. So in 30 feet of water that
pupal ascent could take several minutes. In seventy feet of water it could take
five, six, seven, ten minutes. The way the pupa gets to the surface is it body
releases gases that build up under the pupal cuticle under the outer skin and
the gas helps raise or elevate that pupa to the surface of the lake and so quite
often chironomid pupa are quite silvery in color and that’s that gas that’s trapped
under the pupal cuticle. So as the pupa rises to the surface of the lake, it
finally gets the surface split forms on the back of its thorax, and the adult
chronic crawls out, dries its wings momentarily, flies off, goes too shore to
mate. The females with fertilized eggs come back that evening
or the following morning to skim over the surface of the lake, tip their
abdomens in the surface film and they look like a floatplane trying to take off and they’re releasing
eggs and they drop to the bottom and that life cycle is complete. So trout are
eating the larva when they’re in their tubes at the bottom wait but they really
gorge on the pupae because when there’s a pupal emergence, when there’s a hatch
of chironomids, there’s literally hundreds of thousands of them coming up through
the water column and so it’s a very easy meal for the trout to feed on. For
trout and for any fish species it’s all about minimizing the amount of energy
required for the greatest amount of food intake. For the pupae, they’re
helpless in the water and the fish just opened their mouths suck them in, open the
mouths suck them come in and they get a big meal. So that’s the chironomid lifecycle. Very
important to understand because they are such a significant trout food source. Chironomids can hatch in a wide variety
of depth zones, but the most productive chironomid fishing
often occurs in water that’s about 20 feet in depth and less. So lots of
chironomid fishing is done in five feet of water, 7 feet, 10 feet, 12 feet of water. So
our first line of choice to fish chironomids is a floating line
and then chironomid pupa pattern with a swivel above it (about 24 inches
above it) and then an indicator that will set at the depth that we want and that
will keep it very precise. So what happens when there’s a chironomid hatch or when the pupa are coming up to hatch is that they break out of the larva tube at the bottom of the lake and they stage at the bottom within a
foot of the bottom within 12 inches of the lake bottom and they’re sitting head
up, tail down, wiggling and they’re waiting to ascend. So the trout love to
feed on the pupa regardless of the depth that they’re hatching in. They love to
feed on them within about 12 inches of the bottom of the lake. If we’re in 12
feet of water our standard setup would be the chironomid pupa with the
floating line and the indicator pegged at 11 and a half feet, six inches off the
bottom, or 11 feet and we’re just gonna peg it. So as an example we’ll just uh take it at 11 feet. This is a quick release indicator. So we’ve got our
indicator set up and then we’ve got our chironomid pupa and we’re gonna cast
directly downwind because it got a good breeze right now. So the pupa are stationed there they’re not swimming there; they’re
stationary, just wiggling and they’re waiting to that come up through the water
column. So cast out, and now the pupa pattern is slowly sinking and it’s gonna sit, when
it finally settles, it’ll be six inches off the bottom because we know it’s 11
we use our depth sounder, we know the depth we’re fishing in. We’ve got
that indicator now out there and we’re just going to constantly watch that
indicator to make sure if it dips down we know we’ve got a fish on and then
we’re gonna set the hook. We had a bite Remember, when we’re fishing with these chironomid pupa that that pupa is tied on with a
non-slip loop knot so that fly is wiggling, just like the real ones are
wiggling up and down in the water column. So that’s the typical setup that you’d
start with chironomids: floating line and a varying length leader with an
indicator depending on the depth you’re fishing.
So, again, if we’re in 16 feet of water we’d want about 15 to 15 and a half feet
of leader between our indicator and our fly. The same technique would be used if
we wanted to fish the chironomid larva, or the blood worm, because the larva-
they’re in the bottom in the mud water interface, so we hang
those chironomid larva 6, 7, 10 inches above the bottom and the fish will see
them and they’ll suck them in. So, what happens if we’re fishing chironomids; there’s a
big hatch coming off, we see swallows and nighthawks skimming them off the
water; we see the shucks on the water, but it’s 49 feet deep? Well, we do the same
thing. We anchor our boat -bow and stern- but we take a full sinking line, the
fastest sinking line you’ve got, like a type 6 or a type 7 which sink at 6 or
7 inches per second. We tie on a 4 feet of straight monofilament leader. Four or
five feet of maybe seven eight pound. Tie on a chironomid pupa to match the ones
that are emerging with a non-slip loop knot and then we tie on a chironomid pupa and then we clip on a pair of
hemostats to our fly. And then lower this over
the side of your boat letting line out so it hits the bottom
then we make five or six turns of our reel so that the flies about a foot off
the bottom, hand line it in and then take off your hemostats. So now you know the
depth and then you just flip that amount of line back out cast it back out,
let it sink to its straight vertical straight up and down and you just hold
onto the rod- there’s no retrieve, and you wait for those fish to come by they see
the pupa and they grab it and your rod buckles over and you set the hook.
That’s called deep lining, where we’re fishing with a full sinking line in
deeper water. So remember chironomids can hatch at all those different
depth zones and when when they get above about 25 feet in depth
that’s when you want to switch into that full sinking line mode because
it’s very hard to cast 25, 30, 35 foot leaders with a floating line. Use your
sinking line, let it do this sinking for you. When you’re also fishing with with that
sinking line setup you can cast it out if that depth say it’s 40 feet deep
leather sink so it’s straight up and down and then you can start a very slow
hand twist retrieve inching that sinking line straight up and all you’re doing is
bringing it straight up through the water column and the fish will see it
rising and they see it escaping and they’ll grab the fly. So you can let it
sit static straight on the bottom or you can do it very slow, very slow hand twist
retrieve bringing it up through the water column. Floating lines, sinking
lines are the way to go for any chironomid fishing technique you’ll find
on our lakes.

14 comments on “How to Fish: Chironomid Fly Fishing Strategies | GoFishBC

  1. Thank you very much!!! The best video I have seen on chironomids, their life cycle, flies, tackle and techniques! Excellent explanations! Cheers! Hank

  2. Great description of the Chironomid life cycle. Since gas is used to transport the pupae to the surface it seems that this ascension would accelerate as the pupae goes up and the gas bubble expands decreasing the pupae density. I learned this from my SCUBA lessons. Maybe this explains why fish will hit my flies when I am quickly lifting the flies out of the water to recast?

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