by Ken Woodward


During the heat of the BC Interior summer, while most lakes are in the doldrums, a much anticipated hatch occurs at a few nutrient-rich, mud-bottomed lakes in the Kamloops area: Bombers! Stillwater fly anglers from far and wide descend on lakes like Tunkwa and Leighton to enjoy some of the fastest fishing of the open water season. It can be tricky to find an uncrowded spot to anchor as literally dozens of boats jockey for position, all hoping to be in one of the feeding lanes where trout are cruising and, if they know what they’re doing, often enjoy a fish – or at least a take – after every cast. Happily, most anglers are courteous and we all try to give each other sufficient room to cast and fight the scrappy Kamloops trout that are so willing to grab our flies.


Even some veteran flyfishers reading this are probably scratching their heads wondering “What the heck is a Bomber?” Anglers used to fishing midges in rivers, and other, less productive stillwaters, have seen the Bomber’s diminutive cousin: midges; Bombers are huge chironomids that typically hatch in huge numbers sometime in late July and early August, and the trout gorge on them. The prelude to the hatch is the appearance of large (>1″ long) bloodworms in throat samples. Since bloodworms are chironomid larvae, seeing large ones with increasing frequency usually means the big hatch is imminent, and anglers in the know start getting excited. Soon, inch long (or more!) pupae begin to appear, gassed up and wiggling like mad and ascending to the surface in ever increasing numbers, causing the fish (and fishermen!) to go crazy. You won’t be fishing size 22 midges, though; matching bombers calls for size 12-8(!) 2XL hooks. Anchor in a good spot, dangle a reasonable imitation at the correct depth and you’ll have a heyday.


Although it sounds like the fish are suicidal and the fishing is fast and furious, it can also be very frustrating if you are not properly set up and presenting your fly properly. I’ve been there, and I regularly see newcomers to chironomid fishing looking on in fishless frustration while nearby anglers are netting fish after fish. While not the only way to approach this hatch, and far from being a comprehensive treatise on fishing chironomids in lakes, here are a few tips that you may find useful that are common practice among many avid – and successful – chironomid anglers:

Your boat must be anchored at both ends

It’s often windy on BC Interior lakes during the summer and, if your boat is swinging in the wind, which often changes direction, or even worse, you’re drifting, you will most likely hook no fish. Even though chironomid pupae wiggle a lot in the warm summer water, they still ascend very slowly and fast-moving imitations will usually be ignored; I suspect that they just don’t look right to the trout. I have a 14′ boat with a 20 pound lead pyramid anchor at each end. It has to be almost too windy to fish before I get blown off my anchors.

Be courteous

Allow your fellow anglers plenty of room, at least 100′ between boats. That will make it more enjoyable for everyone, ensure room for fighting fish that can go into your backing from time-to-time, and allow for changes in wind direction. It’s very frustrating when another boat anchors close behind or beside you – bearable with the current wind direction, and then the wind shifts and now they’re on your lap. Also, avoid motoring through a group of anchored boats. If you must pass through, go very slowly and, if possible, use your electric motor. Your fellow anglers will be very appreciative!

Keep your eyes and ears open!

There are often several anglers in the flotilla who know each other and there will almost certainly be conversations about what color and size of imitation is working and the best depth. If it’s relatively calm you can also guesstimate the approximate depth at which successful anglers are fishing by watching where their fly lands in relation to their indicator and/or flyline. Most anglers are friendly and willing to help, too, so if you’re having a tough time getting dialed in, politely ask someone who is doing well for advice on colour, size and depth.

A decent quality sounder/fishfinder is very handy.

When the hatch is in full swing you can get away without one – to find the fish just look for the boats. However, the fish can get very localized in a small area and you might be on the outside looking in, so you may need/want to search elsewhere for fish. Or, you might be one of the early birds and you’ll need to find the fish and draw the crowd. You’ll also want to have some idea of the depth where most of the fish are cruising. They’re usually near the bottom, but not always. Sometimes the optimum depth at which to hang your fly is a few feet off the bottom, and a sounder can help you find that depth more quickly than trial and error. Hint: Turn off “Fish ID” and learn to interpret the display – you’ll be much more accurate at separating fish from flotsam.

Use a 10′ 5 or 6 wt rod

like Sage’s ONE or ACCEL, with a good quality floating line, like RIO’s Indicator II or Perception on a large arbour reel like Sage’s 4200 series or Redington’s Rise or Behemoth. You’ll be casting level, 15′-25′ long leaders with a weighted fly on the end, and often with a swivel and quick-release strike indicator. The long, 5-6 wt rod will help you cast open loops (and thus avoid nightmarish tangles), have enough backbone to cast your rig and fight the strong, feisty fish quickly while still being enjoyable to cast all day, and will be flexible enough to protect your tippet. RIO’s Indicator II and Perception lines have the tapers needed to cast long indicator rigs, they lay out nice and straight, which is critical for strike detection when fishing without an indicator and virtually no stretch makes for very positive hook sets. (As an aside, I am particularly excited to try the mew RIO Sing-Hand Spey line for chucking long-leader indicator rigs in the wind. No backcast – and danger of rat’s nest tangles; just easily roll cast that rig out there!) Kamloops rainbow trout can take blistering runs, often while your rod is still in its holder, so a good drag is essential, and they also often run right at the boat so a large arbour reel will help you recover line quickly and stay tight to the fish. If they jump while the line is slack they’ll almost certainly shake the hook!

Use a level leader

Save your nice tapered leaders for dry flies. Your presentation will be static, or at least very slow, so trout have all sorts of time to inhale the fly and, discovering that it’s a fake, reject it very quickly. It’s difficult to make a tapered leader go completely straight, and coils in the leader will allow trout to inhale and eject your fly with you having no clue since the trout has to straighten the coils before you notice anything at your end. It is essential that your leader hang straight down with no curves or coils so that, as soon as a fish takes your fly, you will feel it or the indicator will move and you can set the hook. Quick-release strike indicators work better with think level leaders, too. My preferred setup is: 12′-16′ of 3X (8 lb) monofilament (fluorocarbon) connected to the flyline loop-to-loop, through a quick-release strike indicator, to a small barrel swivel, to 3′-4′ of high-quality 4X tippet like RIO Fluoroflex Plus, to the fly connected to the tippet with a non-slip loop knot. Some of my friends use 2X (10 lb) before the swivel and 3X (8 lb) tippet to (hopefully) prevent break-offs. Those fish are strong and fast at this time of year!

Know your fly’s depth!

It’s critical. With such a prolific hatch there’s no reason for a fish to swim up 2′-3′ to grab your fly when there are all sorts of naturals right in front of it, and if you’re too deep your fly will be in the mud. You want to hang it where most of the fish are feeding. If you are using a strike indicator, attach a weight to your fly and lower it to the bottom to gauge the depth directly and the set your indicator accordingly. Six inches to one foot shallower than the measure depth is a good starting point. If it’s really windy, try setting the indicator so your leader is at least as long as the water’s depth; otherwise the current will curve the leader and lift the fly higher than where you desire it to be. Some anglers add a small split shot or pinch of tungsten putty above their swivel to hold the fly down and keep the leader straight. That can add to casting challenges, though…

Observe the naturals,

and match the hatch accordingly. If you can manage to catch a fish, use a throat pump to carefully sample a fish’s most recent meal to help with pattern selection. If you’re struggling to hook your first fish, keep your eyes peeled for pupae at the surface. Grab one and observe its colour and size. You can also zero in on size by looking for pupal shucks floating on the surface and then use a good starting pattern like an Ice Cream Cone, Chromie or a Red-Rib Anti-static. Once you land a fish you can sample its throat contents (notice I did not say “stomach contents”) and get dialed in. If fishing slows down, sample another fish to see if the colour and size of the pupae have changed and adjust accordingly.

Retrieve slooowly!

Chironomid pupae are slow swimmers, so use a crawling, slow retrieve. Too fast will look unnatural. The figure-8, hand-twist retrieve is useful since it keeps your fingers busy without retrieving too quickly. A slow, steady retrieve keeps you in constant contact with the fly, will help you detect takes more readily and, as a result, hook more fish. That said, it can sometimes be very effective to add a short strip or two followed by a pause. Takes will often occur during the pause, possibly because the fly’s sudden movement caught the attention of a nearby fish.

Tie on your fly with a loop knot.

Chironomid pupae ascend vertically, so your fly should always hang with a vertical orientation, too. A loop knot will ensure it always hangs that way, and it will also allow the fly to wiggle when you twitch it during the retrieve. Good loop knots include the non-slip mono loop and the double surgeon’s loop.

Tie on your fly with a loop knot.

Chironomid pupae ascend vertically, so your fly should always hang with a vertical orientation, too. A loop knot will ensure it always hangs that way, and it will also allow the fly to wiggle when you twitch it during the retrieve. Good loop knots include the non-slip mono loop and the double surgeon’s loop.

Treat the fish with care and respect.

If all goes well, you’ll be landing a lot of fish, so fight them quickly to a good catch-and-release net and, as much as possible, keep them in the water and avoid handling them before promptly releasing them. The flies often fall out of the fish’s mouth as soon as they are in the net and line goes slack, so it’s often a simple matter of tipping the net so the fish can swim away.

Have fun!

Some anglers liken fishing chironomids “like watching paint dry”, but once you learn how to do it properly, fishing chironomid hatches like the bomber hatch often results in truly stellar fishing. It’s not unusual for a relatively skilled chironomid flyfisher to land >50 feisty rainbows in a few hours. If you find yourself in the BC Interior mid-summer, don’t count out stillwater flyfishing just because it’s hot; you might miss out on some of the best action of the year…

Ken Woodward
RIO Regional Ambassador
Chironomid Addict