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10 Tips for Success with Stillwater Chironomids

by Brian Chan


I’ll be the first to admit I am a certified stillwater chironomid aficionado. I love the challenge of locating the hatch, determining what size and colour pupa the trout are selecting and dialing in the exact depth zone that the fish are feeding. All of this information needs to be assembled before the daily emergence subsides. Each day is unique in terms of when the emergence starts, at what depth zones the pupae are emerging from and the species of chironomids that are coming off. Even more amazing is that this specific insect emergence attracts the attention of the biggest fish in the lake. Trout literally gorge on the helpless pupa as they suspend or ascend up through the water column.

So here are 10 tips to help you master the art of chironomid fly fishing

1) Double Anchor your boat

Chironomid pupae ascend vertically up through the water column to emerge into the adult form. The emergence could be occurring anywhere from 5 ft to 75 ft of water. It is extremely important that your fishing craft does not move or swing around in the wind that will impart unnatural movement to the pupal pattern or patterns being fished. Pyramid shaped lead anchors work the best for anchoring in mud or marl bottomed lakes. Make sure your anchors are heavy enough to withstand a windy day.

2) Be Observant

Chironomid emergences can be quite localized, meaning they can be coming off in one bay or one end of a lake and not at other locations in the lake. Watch for birds such as gulls, Night hawks, terns and swallows as they feed on emerging adult chironomids. Always watch the surface of the lake for the cast shucks of newly emerged adult chironomids. If there are shucks drifting by your boat but you can’t see any coming off then move up wind to locate the actual emergence area. Use a small aquarium net to capture pupae and adults to verify size and colours

3) Use a Throat Pump


Sampling the throat or esophagus of a trout will reveal still live pupae which can really help in narrowing down pattern choice. Use a throat pump on fish greater than 12 to 14 inches as the esophagus of smaller fish are not large enough to easily pass the throat pump tube. Handle the fish carefully and do the pump while the fish is in the water. Turning a fish upside down will calm it down and make the sampling that much easier and quicker.

4) Keep the noise level down

The majority of stillwater fly fishing is done in water less than 25 ft in depth. Much of the most intense chironomid emergences occur in 15 ft of water or less. Sound travels quickly through water so it really pays to have a quiet boat. Dropping objects on the bottom of an aluminum boat will often chase fish out of a particular feeding area. Put indoor/outdoor carpet on the floor of your boat to help deaden noise and also protect fly lines. Lower your anchors slowly out the bow and stern of the boat rather than throwing them out into the water.

5) Use a depth sounder/fish finder


Sounders not only tell you the exact depth you are fishing but will mark fish below and to the side of your fishing craft. For lake fishing the best sounders are ones with side scanning capabilities. Sound scan is important because we fish so much shallow water. As an example, say we are anchored on a shoal that is uniformly 14 ft deep then we really want to know if fish are out in front or to the side of the boat. The Humminbird Fishing Buddy sounder is a relatively inexpensive portable unit that has side scan which can be set to scan up to 120 ft out.

6) Use the right fly line


The majority of chironomid pupal fishing is done with floating lines with or without indicators. There are fly lines specifically made to make it easier to cast indicators which can be large and cumbersome. The RIO InTouch Extreme Indicator line casts indicators with ease. Fishing without indicators or as we call it fishing naked can often mean using a leader in excess of 20 ft in length. You want to be using a fly line that is sensitive to the bite and can turn over longer leaders. For this application I choose the In Touch RIO Perception line.

7) Fishing the right depth zone

In the majority of productive stillwater fisheries trout prefer to eat the chironomid pupae close to the lake bottom regardless of the depth of water the actual emergence is taking place. A good general guideline is to start off suspending or fishing pupal patterns within 18 inches of the bottom. Consider gradually moving up the water column if there is no action close to the bottom.

8) Pay attention to the details


Trout can be ultra-selective as to the colour and size of chironomid pupa they will eat. Compound that with multiple species (sizes and colours) emerging at the same time and it becomes real clear that patterns need to be as realistic as possible. There are many synthetic tying materials available to create very life-like pupal patterns

9) Daily emergence timing

Make sure you are on the water when the chironomids are actually emerging. Typically the hatch begins mid-morning and tapers off by late afternoon. Trout gorge on the helpless pupa because there are so many of them in the water column and they offer high caloric value. There will be days when you have incredible pupal fishing action yet never see an adult or shuck on the water. Chironomid pupae will often stage or concentrate just off the lake bottom as their transformation from the larval to the pupal stage is not quite complete or water temperature at the depth they are situated is not quite right for the emergence to begin.

10) Have patience

Many newcomers to chironomid pupal fishing liken it to watching paint dry. In the majority of situations you are fishing a static presentation or at best using a painfully slow hand twist retrieve. Slow or no movement at all makes for a successful day on the water with this particular insect food source.