Chironomids – What to buy, tie and try


Most of us that heard of them, some of us buy them, a few of us tie them and some of us actually fish them.

Well, I once fell into all three categories. I first started trying chironomids about 10 years ago and frankly had little faith them. Seemed to be right silly pitching a tiny little bug out into all that water and really expecting a fish to find it.

The first try was at Alford Lake. After trying all kinds of things, I happened onto a few chironomids that I’d tied some years earlier. Tossed them out using a strike indicator as a depth gauge and sat there and sat there and sat there.

That didn’t work and like most things that I tied, the chironomids got shuffled to a hidden corner of the fly box. A couple of years later, a friend and I were fishing Dixon Trout Pond. This time I couldn’t miss. There were chironomid

s hatching everywhere, I could see them wiggling their way to the surface. Searched out and found the hidden bugs and proceeded to catch fish after fish. And so it started.

There wasn’t a lot written about chironomid or how to fish them Sure, some of the stillwater fishermen in BC talked of them & some actually fished them. But information was tough to find prior to the advent of the internet..

The first question is what was their life cycle – that would give me a clue of what to tie and how to use them? I learned that they spent nearly all year in little borrows in the bottom. The bugs looked a lot like very small worms and were

called bloodworms by those in the know.


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 When the bloodworms hatched into the larva, they tended to suspend near the bottom for some time before wiggling their way to the surface to hatch into adults. This is where they are susceptible to feeding activity of the trout and where we should concentrate our angling efforts. Below is a picture of a nearly hatched chironomid taken near the surface of the water.




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What is really clear is that they “shine” – a lot near the surface. This is due to the expansion of the gases within the chironomid. The deeper the chironomids, the less they shine.


In order to represent the duller chironomids that exist deeper in the water column,  I use either golden pheasant or ring neck pheasant tail fibers as a body material counter wrapped with gold colored copper wire similar to the fly below..


The pheasant tail fibers come fairly close to representing the dull bodies.  The counter wrap of copper wire makes the fly last a little longer.


But what about the shine? Now that was a much tougher question. Stillwater fly tiers have tried a host of things for get the “shine”. Some used bright colored materials like Flashabou and Frostbite. The fly below called a Chromie uses a body of silver Flashabou c/w a rib of red Flashabou. Detailed tying instructions are available either by the purchase of Phil Rowley’s  book  Fly Patterns for Stillwaters or from his web site:








Other flies may use Frostbite or similar materials which are also very shiny.


But there exists a third school of thought. This school uses over-coatings of various materials to either give depth to the fly or reduce the shiny effect to get a more subdued appearance.


Below is a fly that used five coats of Sally Hansen’s Hard as Nails finger nail polish. The body of the fly in this case is thread c/w a red rib of Flashabou Accent. In this case, the fly coating has depth and shows clearly the rib and body color.


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Fluid coatings like Sally Hansen’s  Hard as Nails can be replaced by the use of vinyl or plastic strips. The fly below utilizes a vinyl strip. The vinyl  is used as a doily or table cloth protector. It is cut into slightly less than 1/8” strips. The underbody in this case is yellow thread c/w a black thread wrap. The underbody color and rib is very visible.



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The fly below utilizes the a plastic strip taken from a cereal box liner. The strip is slightly less than 1/8” and is wrapped over a yellow thread body c/w a black thread rib. The color is the body is more subdued as the plastic material is opaque rather than translucent..


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Below is a different approach to the same idea of enhancing the color while giving some depth to the body of the fly. An under body of bronze Flashabou is enhanced by the use of Stretch Magic 0.5mm Bead and Jewelry Cord wrapped over the body. Vinyl Rib or Larva lace will give much the same effect..





Other approaches to get the shine utilize the Anti-Static Bags that are used for computer parts. The anti-static bag is quite shiny and nearly opaque thereby nearly hiding the underbody color. Anti static bag supporters believe that the shine makes all the difference and one has to wonder if they aren’t really on to something based on the picture of the natural insect.





To sum up, I tend to use chironomids in shallow water of less than 8’ that are shiny or are enhanced with some type of shiny over-coating material. In deeper water, my choice is a duller chironomid. You should be aware that in harder fished waters, a more natural representation of the chironomid will probably boat more fish.


But what about bead headed flies. They are all over the place and are used by many anglers. Metal beads come in many colors – chrome, gold, bronze, ruddy brown and black. The glass or plastic beads come in a rainbow of colors and each color seems to have its champion. I tend to use white beads only to represent the gills of the natural insect.


I use beads for some of my flies. The fly directly below has a metal bead whereas the one below that utilizes a plastic bead.

Depending on how you wish to fish the fly, both have their place. The plastic one, of course, sinks relatively slowly while the metal bead sinks faster.


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So what about Alberta and the lakes I fish – what do you use?


In a short statement – depends!


Depends on lake stocking, lake bottom type, water nutrient load, time of year and finally clarity.


Most lakes is Alberta have mud bottoms and chironomids are the major insect in the lake. But the size varies greatly. Chironomids may be found that are 1/8” long to specimens exceeding 1 ”. There are some broad strokes that we can apply. In most Central Alberta lakes, the big chironomids do not exist in any great numbers, so we are left with chironomids in the size #10 to size #18 with the bulk of the insects in the size #12>#14 range. The larger chironomids do exist however in lakes that have not been over-stocked or have high nutrient loading. This type of lake is more often found in the northern or eastern parts of Alberta whereas from Edmonton south, the chironomid populations tend to be of the “middle sizes”.


And what about color? Chironomid bodies tend to vary from gray>olive>black with ribbings of orange, red or silver. Occasionally, a bright green chironomid will be the fly that does the job but for my money I would tend to select flies of the gray>olive>black bodies.


Like most insect hatches, there are better and best times to fish them. Unlike other insects, chironomids hatch may occur at any time from spring to fall with the more prolific hatches taking place from ice out to about the end of June. Like most other insects, the larger chironomids tend to hatch prior to the end of May with sizes tending to diminish over time with smaller chironomids hatching near the end of the season.


Water clarity and popular lakes will often require flies that use more subdued colors complete with over-coating that are a little less colorful. In these cases, brighter and shiny flies will often produce less well than their less colorful cousins. Further, the use of fluorocarbon type leader materials will often increase success rates in cleaner waters..


To sum up, chironomids are the fly of choice of a increasing number of successful

stillwater anglers. They work well on most lakes most of the time. Tie them, buy them and try them. You won’t be disappointed.