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Deadly Flies, Deadly Methods: Fishing Chironomids

            Chironomid fishing may be a lake angler’s ultimate weapon of mass destruction.  Think of a fearsome “dirty” bomb.  A Dirty Bomb is one made of conventional explosives and radioactive isotopes.  Upon detonation, the radioactivity is spread over a huge area, creating a massive kill zone.  When it comes to cataclysmic fish-catching Armageddon, an angler who masters “fishing the noid” can rule a lake.

            As you might remember from the chapter on aquatic organisms, the chironomid is a member of class Insecta (insects), order Diptera (flies), and family Chironomidae (midges).  So, “midge” is a scientific, taxonomical name, not the generic term used by many people when describing “a tiny little bug I saw near the water that I could not possibly identify.”  Throughout this book, I will use the terms midge and chironomid interchangeably.  If I use the word “noid”, this also refers to a chironomid.  I have several fishing friends who stumble when trying to pronounce chironomid.  It comes out as “chirominoid”, which my other companions and I laughingly shortened to “noid”, a simplified bastardization of the original word.  The term has stuck with us over the years, and evokes a smile every time it is used. 

            Perhaps the most deceptive thing about midges and the reason too many fly anglers have ignored them is the fact that many are quite small.  Fishermen may assume that such a tiny morsel could not possibly interest a big fish.  When I try to convey to my students why indeed midges do interest big fish, I ask them if they like popcorn.  Of course, just about everyone does.  A single piece of popcorn to a human might be the same size equivalent of a midge to a fish, even a large fish.  Next, I enquire: “Do you sit down with a bowl of freshly-popped corn and only eat one or two kernels?”  Heck no.  The snacker will consume hundreds, if not a thousand, pieces of popcorn.  It then follows that a fish will snack on many, many chironomids during a single feeding session.  In order to be consistently effective, lake anglers cannot possibly ignore midges.

            Midges are one of the few food sources available to stillwater fish year-round.  Through stomach content samples taken from lake and pond fish throughout the calendar year, there are some days that stomach samples contain only midge larvae and pupae.  It is not much of a stretch to assume that without the presence and availability of midges, some fish might not survive in their environment.

            As you will recall from an earlier chapter, chironomids (midges) have a four-stage, or complete, life cycle.  For the fly angler, three of the four stages are important to imitate: larva, pupa, and adult.  And, because midges can be active and hatching year-round, even during the dead of winter, they are definitely one of the go-to flies any time you launch your boat on a lake or pond.

Pond Fishing on a Winter Day

            As I write this chapter, February 2011, I took advantage of mild weather to do some pond fishing for trout.  My plan was to check the fish activity on three different ponds.  With a little luck, fish would be willing to bite in at least one of the three.

            When I arrived early afternoon at Pond #1, I found its surface like glass, not a hint of a breeze.  A quick scan revealed no rising fish.  Water clarity was reasonable, with the visibility into the depths at about two feet.  The water temperature was typical for western Oregon in mid winter, about 47 degrees Fahrenheit.  Examining the surface for insects or vacated midge pupae skins revealed nothing. 

            To make good use of my time and wait for the fish and insects to awaken, I began to stage some of my many fly boxes and gear for photographs I needed.  There was a high overcast with the sun feebly trying to break through.  The light was very good for the shots I wanted.  As I went about my sorting and set up, I occasionally surveyed the pond for insects or rises.  The quiet allowed me to listen for rises when my eyes were busy elsewhere.  Shortly, I heard the familiar splash of a trout on the surface.  I looked up to see an expanding ring, just out of casting range.  Within a few minutes, there was another.  Hmmmmm.

            Since there were a few cruisers willing to come to the top, I readied my floating line rod.  On the leader, I secured a strike indicator with two chironomid pupae flies, a dropper fly at three feet under the indicator, and the other twenty inches below the dropper.  To add some visual attractiveness to my offerings, I selected flies with glitzy beads at the heads --- one pearl orange, the other red.  These flies were part impressionistic (sized and shaped as chironomids) and part attractor (color and shine).  In limited visibility situations, these had served me well in the past.

            I must admit that my focus was divided, which limited my fishing success.  I made a few casts, then arranged my inanimate subjects and took photos.  When my indicator went down on my first strike, I cleanly missed the hook up.  When the second strike came twenty minutes later, I set the hook solidly into a nine-inch rainbow.  The size of the fish was totally irrelevant to me.  The important thing to me was actually fooling a fish.  It took a silver-bodied fly with the orange bead.

            The rises at Pond #1 were sporadic and spread out over a large area, but more frequent by mid afternoon.  This is logical since it was the warmest part of the day.  Occasionally now I saw an airborne midge.  It was these, I think, that encouraged a rise here and there.  I was fascinated at how the rises were consistently beyond casting range.  Since I was fishing on foot, no float tube, I could not get my flies to the Red Zone.  I moved my casting positions to various points around the pond, managing to get one more strike, which I missed.  Time to move on.

            The conditions at Pond #2, about a mile away from the first, were exactly the same.  I stayed with the same set up, two flies not too far below an indicator.  As I walked toward the little bay I wanted to fish, I scanned the water for risers and insects.  Nothing.

            Standing on a shoreline tree stump, I was in a position to cast to the water that had been productive for me previous springs and summers.  My expectations were low, so any action would be a bonus.  Lucky for me, my wait was a short one.  Within ten minutes of my arrival, my indicator went down hard.  As I raised my rod tip, I felt the solid resistance of a worthy trout.  After an admirable struggle by the fish, I slid the rainbow into the shallows for a look and a quick release.  It had fallen for the red fly.  Good choice.

            As I continued to fan my casts out in different directions, I found a scenic photo opportunity where the stumps in the lake and the trees were reflected in the pond’s mirror surface.  Being right-handed, I switched my rod to my left hand, to hold the camera in the favored one.  As I raised the camera to look through the viewfinder, I simultaneously saw my indicator twitch.  Instinctively, I raised the rod tip to feel that familiar thrashing resistance every angler loves.  After a fine accounting of itself, actually pulling line from my fly reel several times during the battle, I soon slid a solidly built fourteen-inch rainbow into the shallows for quick inspection and praise.  After a few quick photos --- which did not steal its spirit --- I sent the fish back to his home.

            During the next twenty-five minutes, I got one more strike.  Missed it.  It was getting late into the afternoon, so it was time to go to my last destination.

            Pond #3 was low.  It is fed by many springs, so there is no shortage of water.  The apparent problem was that an excessive amount of water had breached part of the earthen berm that held water in the pond, adding to its depth.  Wandering the shoreline, I located the area of deepest water . . . and some rising fish!

            The dimming light of evening was fast approaching as I made my first cast.  As usual, the cruising risers were just out of reach, so I was never really able to put a cast onto the ring of a rise, but a few times I got close enough.  During my brief stay, I got three strikes, landing one small rainbow on the red fly.  As I headed to my car for my journey home, a few fish were still rising . . . just beyond casting range.

            In reflecting on my day to better insure fishing success on a future trip to these ponds, I wished I had experimented more with fly patterns and depths at which they were fished.  I never cast either of the two rods I had with me with sinking lines on them.  There were locations at each pond I wished I had had time to fish.  Additionally, I wonder if pursuing the fish in a float tube would have translated into more strikes.  Probably.

            One thing I noted was that strikes came within a minute of the cast.  When I let the flies rest stationary for two to four minutes, the strike never came.  With the in-water visibility limit of about two feet, I surmised that the flies had to luckily land near a cruising fish.  There was a chance that the gentle splash down of the flies and indicator drew the attention of the fish.  I have certainly seen this reaction on excellent visibility days when I can watch cruising trout as I cast to them.  It logically followed that I did not let my flies rest for more than a minute after the cast during the latter half of my fishing day.

            Though I had some success, I know I can do better.  I should have had two more floating line chironomid rods rigged and ready to cast before I went fishing.  My float tube will be with me next time, as will my depth finder / fish locator.  Rather than take fish photos, I will use my stomach pump on them.  Lastly, I will start a bit earlier.  Review.  Analyze.  Plan.  Go fishing.

True Simpletons: Chironomid Larvae

            If ever there was a commercial fly-tier’s “dream fly” as a money-maker, it has to be midge larvae patterns.  A skilled tier may be able to knock out a fly in forty-five seconds.  If such a fly wholesaled at $10 / dozen, that translates into $50 / hour.  Not bad.  If you are a beginning fly-tier, this is an easy fly to start with that will catch fish . . . assuming you know the basics of how to fish it. 

            Chironomid larvae can be best described as “skinny little worms” that live in the mud, detritus, and vegetation on the lake bottom.  Those residing in burrows or tubes in the substrate will leave these temporarily to feed on decomposing plant material or disintegrating organic matter.  As they forage, fish will dine on the unprotected larvae.  Other free-living, roaming sorts not residing in mud tubes are available to the fish on a continual basis.

            It is logical, then, to fish chironomid larval imitations along the bottom.  Though the shallower waters along the edges of the pond or lake can be very good locations to fish larvae flies, there are times that the fish may have retreated to deeper water; midge larvae will be there.  In fact, larvae may be found in water fifty feet deep.  This is much deeper than most fly anglers are willing to fish.  Count me among this group.  Down-riggers and eight-ounce weights are too much for any fly rod I own, so I will max out my pursuits at about thirty feet.

            Though the larvae wriggle, it’s a stretch to call it swimming.  So, when fishing a midge larva fly get it near the bottom, and fish it with little or no movement.  You can troll it as slow as possible for a short distance, then stop to let the fly settle and sit.  If you choose to cast and retrieve, I suggest that all you do is attempt to keep your line tight by occasionally taking in the slack with a deathly-slow strip, or a creeping hand-twist retrieve.

Hang ‘Em Low

            An effective method for fishing midge larvae is to suspend them under an indicator.  The nearer the bottom the better.  If the bottom is friendly, having the fly sit on the substrate can be good.  As the angler moves the fly occasionally, a little “dusty puff” disturbance of the mud or detritus may grab a fish’s attention. 

            An electronic depth finder is indispensable to know precisely the length of leader and tippet needed under the indicator to put the flies near or on the bottom.  If you do not have a depth finder, or don’t want to hassle with it today, secure your forceps to your line or hook.  Drop the system into the water, allowing the forceps to sink to the bottom.  Once the system hits the bottom, make note of how much leader or leader & line is required to hit bottom.

            I fish two larvae at a time, different colors.  Brown, olive, amber, and red are my favorites.  I separate the flies by about eighteen inches on my leader.  If the fish should show a color preference, then I will tie on two of the same.

            It is amazing how subtle the fish strike can be.  Even when the water’s surface is still, a quiet interception of the fly may move the indicator so slightly that you may ignore it or think it is your imagination.  I cannot possibly recount how many times I have lifted my rod tip in response to an “imagined” strike to find a fish on the line.  I try not to over react on the strike, quickly lifting my rod tip a short distance to come tight.  No more.  If it was truly my imagination, or I missed the strike, I merely drop the tip again, and let the flies settle toward the bottom to await another opportunity.

            To visually enhance my larvae patterns, I sometimes incorporate a glass bead of matching color at the head of the fly.  I have a few experimental patterns where the entire pattern is nothing but glass beads.  However, to be able to slip glass beads onto a hook, their diameters must be much greater than that of the ultra thin midge larvae.  When I catch fish on such concoctions, I cannot help but wonder if fish really took the fly as a genuine larva, or took it because the fly merely looked interesting and edible.

Bobbing the Noid

            Fishing chironomid pupae under an indicator can make you feel guilty.  Some fly anglers hesitate to do it, preferring instead to cast and slowly retrieve the fly.  It is an interesting study in human behavior when I encounter those who turn up their noses at fishing a “bobber”.  When their catch is minimal, those who disdain indicators can quickly lose their religion when anglers around them continue to sound off, “Yeehaw!  I’ve got another one.”  Pride will be damned.

            There is actually a simple solution, an alternative to standard strike indicators.  In lieu of cork, foam, plastic, and yarn, use a dry fly.  I often fish a Callibaetis dry fly as an indicator in late spring and summer.  This is particularly effective when both mayflies and midges are available to the fish.  I am sure the dry fly may be mistaken for either insect, even though there may be a size discrepancy.  Fortunately for us, hungry fish are not always discriminating. 

            Even a fly that has no living counterpart can catch fish.  If you tie a huge fluffy dry fly onto the upper portion of your tippet so it floats high and is easy to see at great distance, a curious fish may very well impale itself on it.

            There are some days when fish will attack my indicator, trying to eat it.  Go figure.  I learned a long time ago that when this happens, attach a hook or fly to the indicator.  On these special occasions, I typically land several fish on my indicator hook.

            Good chironomid pupae fishing can be killer even if no hatch of the adults is occurring.  Prior to their final ascent to the surface, midge pupae may emerge from the tubes or cases in the substrate where they transformed from larva to pupal form.  They may be suspended in the first couple of feet off the bottom for a day or two, exposed and vulnerable to cruising fish.  A fly suspended in this zone can be stupidly effective.  The fishing can be so easy, you may go home early to do your laundry and clean the bathroom.

It Isn’t Always Easy

            There are certainly those fishing days when lake fish do not go crazy for chironomids on your initial attempts.  Fishing pupal flies near the bottom may only be the starting point for discovery.  Because of nearby bottom contours, water temperatures at various depths, light intensity, water clarity, or the presence of flying predators, fish may choose a specific cruising and feeding level.   If you get no action near the bottom, begin to experiment with suspending the flies at incrementally lesser depths.  I gradually suspend my flies in one-foot upward adjustments, moving them closer and closer to the surface.  Of course, it could be the fly size and color that need adjustments.  Carrying multiple rods onboard allow me to quickly switch up.  Time is not only money; time is fish.

            Even after experimenting with depth, presentation, size, and color, trout may ignore your chironomids.  They may go off the bite for a time, or they may turn their focus to other food items.  If the area I am fishing is confined, like a small bay, and shallow --- ten feet or less --- it is possible to spook the fish out of the area for awhile.  The flies, depth and method may be correct, but the location to fish them must be changed.  If good fishing action tapers off, my first tendency is to move to other locations before making adjustments to my gear or method.  On waters I am familiar with, I make the rounds.  I go from location A to B to C, and so on.  Eventually I return to my starting point, to repeat my travels throughout the day.  Fishing with companions can help you track the nomadic wanderings of the fish.  With multiple companions, there are times I can accurately follow the movements of the fish moving along a shoreline, as fishing pressure moves from one area to another.  The movements of the fish can be easily observed if they are feeding on pupae in or near the surface.  Their rise activity will move from one location to another in response to fishing activities that disturb them.

Fishing Naked

            Sometimes, chironomid pupae must be fished in water deeper than ten feet.  With a fixed indicator, this presents an obvious difficulty.  If an angler is using a standard nine-foot fly rod, a fish that has taken a fly fifteen feet below an indicator that won’t slide on the line is hard to land.  Even when the angler reaches as high as possible with armd fully extended, the fish may still be under the surface, out of reach of a hand or the net.  Imagine if you are fishing at a depth of twenty-five feet!

            There are a couple of solutions.  One possibility is a term I first heard coined in Canada: fishing naked.  What is meant by this is fishing chironomid pupae on a l-o-n-g leader without the aid of an indicator.  Fished with a floating fly line, a leader of up to forty feet (!) is cast into depths of twenty-five to thirty feet.

            After determining the depth, a leader that is approximately 25% longer than the depth is to be used.  As an example, if the water is twenty feet deep, use a leader that measures twenty-five feet.  For leaders of twenty feet or longer, I start with a nine-foot tapered leader, with a tippet diameter of 2X (0.009”).  Then, using a Double Surgeon’s knot, I add successive sections of 2X, 3X, and 5X, all at least four feet long, except the last which is three feet.  For leaders over twenty feet, lengthen the 2X and 3X sections, keeping the last (5X) at three feet.  These are general guidelines, not rules.  I always find it useful to make a paper sketch of my potential leader lengths.

            Casting such a long leader can put immediate fear into the heart of any fly caster.  Getting the system airborne and executing a cast where the line and leader land fully extended on the water can be a daunting task.  It all starts with leader construction.  Secondly, a certain amount of fly line must be left beyond the rod tip as the cast begins.  I suggest a length of fly line approximately equal to the length of the leader.  Finally, the sunken fly must be coaxed to the surface in a specific manner just prior to the beginning of the cast.  This is most easily accomplished with a series of roll casts that extend the line and raise the leader and fly to the surface.  After two or three roll casts to lift and extend the line / leader system, send the line overhead and to your rear into an initial back cast.  With one or two false casts, send the fly to its destination.

            A slightly weighted fly will make for a quicker descent.  Experiment with a countdown before you commence to retrieve with a very slow strip or hand-twist retrieve.  The descent to the bottom can take a couple of minutes.  If your fly gets fowled with vegetation, shorten the countdown.

            If you know you are fishing very near the bottom, but not getting strikes, shorten the countdown systematically in ten-count increments.  The fish may prefer intercepting chironomid pupae at level higher up in the water column.

            As always, utilize the stomach pump on the first worthy fish you catch to make certain your fly closely approximates the naturals in size and color.  If the water is extremely clear and the sun is high, it might be necessary to decrease the tippet size.

            As with anything else worth doing, preparation and practice are the foundations.  For those who want to be more proactively involved in their chironomid fishing, not relying on the much more passive endeavor of staring at an indicator, “fishing naked” is the solution.

Deep Water Indicators

            Another nifty piece of chironomid fishing equipment I saw for the first time in Canada is a slip strike indicator.  This is the answer to fishing long leaders and indicators.  The striking movement of the rod tip, or the subsequent pull on the line by a fleeing fish, disengages the indicator from its fixed position on the leader.  This, then, allows the indicator to slide freely up and down the leader while the fish is played.

            Once you see how it is set up on the leader, the mechanics of the slip indicator are ingeniously simple.  The indicator has two parts: a body of cork or buoyant foam with a hole bored through its center, and a hollow peg that nestles into the hole.  Before tying on a fly, slip the leader through the hollow peg, which is fitted into the hole in the indicator.  Slide the pegged indicator to the desired location on the leader.  Disengage the peg for a moment, pulling it up the leader a few inches towards the rod tip.  Grab the leader immediately below the peg, and pull a small loop of line up to and along side the peg.  Slide the indicator up and onto the peg, wedging the small line loop between the indicator and peg.  A tiny loop of line will be visible above the indicator.         

            Experiment with how snugly the peg is pushed into the hole of the indicator.  It must be tight enough that the indicator does not disengage while casting, but not so snug that a quick lift of the rod tip against resistance, or a fighting fish, cannot free the peg from the indicator, allowing it to slide freely.

Easy Peasy, Lemon Squeezy

            I have saved the easiest chironomid fishing method for last.  For maximum sinkage, string up the fly line with the fastest descent rating.  Locate your fishing craft directly over the deep water (fifteen feet or more) that you want to fish.   No cast required.  Having determined the exact depth of the water, drop your fly / leader / line system off the side of the boat and start stripping line from the reel.  Let out that length of leader and line whereby your point fly is suspended barely above the bottom, directly below you.  Next, wait for a cruising fish to bite your fly.  If nothing happens, slowly lift your rod tip a few feet.  Then, slowly lower the tip again.  Repeat as needed.  Easy & cheesy, but this can be dirty effective.  If you dose off, don’t drop your rod. 

Cast and Puff

            A long time ago in a land far away (Idaho), my friend Jeff Hilden, Josh Cuperus, and I were fishing Henry’s Lake.  It was the first time for Josh and me; Jeff had fished it with a guide on a previous trip.  By default, Jeff was now our guide.  Fortunately, Jeff has an excellent job outside the world of fly fishing to pay the bills and provide for his family.

            After a fruitless morning of trying this and that, here and there, I pulled my float tube out of the water to wander the shoreline in search of hope.  My plan was to watch for anglers who might offer me a clue about where the fish were and what fly they might eat.  What I wanted to see more than anything was an angler with a bent rod.  There was lots of chatter on the lake, but not the excited whooping associated with playing a fish.  I had now wandered far away from Josh and Jeff, when I saw him. 

            There was an elderly man fishing solo in a pram, a stone’s throw from the shore.  He was anchored with his back to me.  Perfect.  I could watch him and not be watched.  He eventually netted and released an excellent trout, then released it.  In no obvious hurry, Pram Man lit a cigarette, settled himself and made a cast.  By the color of the line and the orientation it quickly assumed, I was positive he was using a sinking one.  Once the line settled on the water, he sat down, still with his back to me.  For the next couple of minutes he did nothing except sit and puff, absorbed in his waiting and his cigarette. 

            When he sensed the time was right, Pram Man made a couple of slow, short pulls on the fly line.  By now, the line appeared to be almost straight down from his rod tip, almost below his boat.  If he had chosen to, my man could have merely stripped line from his reel and let it sink straight down; it would have had exactly the same effect.  He was obviously in deep water.  Whereas we had been fishing all morning in water that was probably no more than four feet deep in most locations, this guy was parked over a hole.  My bloodhound had sniffed out the spot I needed to know about.  And to confirm it, he soon hooked another trout.  Time for me to launch my tube for closer inspection . . . and some fishing.

            As stealthy and as nonchalant as an excited fisherman can be, I kicked my craft out of the shallows.  Not wanting to be perceived immediately as an intruder, my path was not directly at Pram Man.  I stayed well away from him, but always in position to watch him.  Considerately, he was always fishing with his back to me.  The fact he was always facing the same direction encouraged me to get a bit closer to his position.  Approaching at a nonintrusive distance toward the rear of his boat, I made my first cast in his direction. 

            I was fishing a sparsely dressed peacock nymph.  I was prompted to use this fly by a story someone had told me about his fishing day at Henry’s Lake.  Somewhere in the tale, a veteran angler had said the phrase “Thin is in!” making reference to his successful fly.  Somehow, I had connected “Thin is in” to a fly called the Skinny Minnie, a pattern with a slender thread or peacock body.  Thus, my modified Prince Nymph with the skinny body was the fly of choice, in lieu of a more standard chironomid pupa pattern. 

            Mirroring the cast, wait, and retrieve rhythm of Pram Man, hope was growing.  The hole over which he and I were fishing had a circumference large enough that I could keep my distance.  Since the angler was parked over the center of what must have been a large spring, I stayed on its edge, and continued to cast in his general direction.  Just like in the movies, I was soon into my first Henry’s Lake cutthroat.  With the aid of my stomach pump, I quickly extracted numerous chironomid pupae the fish had eaten recently. 

            Though my fly was not a perfect match for what the trout were consuming, I stayed with peacock imitation and caught more fish, just as Pram man did.  The most important thing to the fish --- besides this sweet location in deep water --- was the manner in which the fly was fished: low and slow.  As the fly was lifted vertically, straight up from the bottom, the strikes were most likely to occur.

            Eventually, the action slowed as the sun got higher and the day grew warmer.  As I went in search of greener pastures, I watched Pram Man lift his anchor and head for shore, confirming that the bite was off for now.  For a while, the fishing had been easy peasy.  And, later that evening it was again.

Thoughts on Chironomid Flies

            I enjoy tying simple flies.  The simpler and faster the pattern, the more variations and experimental models I can tie.  In a given fishing year, I tie more chironomid pupae than all other patterns combined.  Fun colors such as red, purple, orange, blue, silver, gold, and kelly green are utilized in my fly tying.  I had a couple of clients in my retail days who swore that a purple midge pupa was the Holy Grail of stillwater fishing.

            The use of metal, plastic, and glass beads on some patterns can be very effective.  Sometimes I wonder if the fish that bite flies with beads are biting the hook because they think they are eating an enticing mutant chironomid pupa, or they are merely attracted to the bead that happens to be attached to the body of the imitation.  Previously, I had made mention of catching several trout one day when all that remained on the hook were some turns of thread and a glass bead.  There are days when fly pattern is irrelevant.  The fish are hungry and they just want something to eat.  I remember to appreciate such days, especially those days when fish are hard to fool, even when I am using my Best of the Best flies.

            The down side of having too many fish fall for my silly experimental flies is that I can lose a little respect for the fish.  While it’s fun for a while to catch fish on anything and everything, it is the challenge of successfully wooing difficult fish that gives me most pleasure.  Catching fish that others cannot is my personal ultimate achievement.  I don’t always win, but “losing” only makes me more determined.  And, fortunately, I will never have the Final Answer.  This is as it should be for me.  One more challenge, one more difficult fish to challenge me.  Though I have caught a good number of fish on them, no, purple chironomids are not really the Holy Grail.

Thin Is In!  

            It isn’t just fashion models who know it.  Chironomid larvae and pupae are thin.  Your flies should be, too.  Almost anorexic.  When you look at the full length of your larvae flies, and the abdominal portion of your pupal patterns, if you ask yourself, “Is this body too thick, too rotund?” the answer is probably “Yes!”   I know some very good chironomid anglers who fashion the main body of the fly out of fly tying thread, or wrap the hook with a single strand of floss.  Can’t get much thinner than this until you fish a bare hook. 

            As I write this chapter, I am thinking of a new experimental pupa tied on a red anodized hook.  I will secure some silver wire --- without using thread --- at the rear of the hook shank, and spiral it onto the bare hook.  I will secure the wire near the small bead at the hook eye.  So, the only items on the hook will be six or seven turns of fine silver wire, a tiny bead, and a few turns of thread to secure everything at the head.  Then, of course, I must do the same thing with a black hook and a bronze hook.  By using different hook finishes, a variety of hook sizes and multiples of each, a range of wire colors, and all sorts of beads --- glass, metal, plastic, lots of colors --- all of a sudden I will have a hundred new chironomid pupae flies to try! 

Silver and Glass Mimic the Gas

            As midge pupae prepare for their ascent to the surface, they are assisted in their upward journeys by the generation and trapping of gas bubbles beneath the skin.  This buoyancy aid complements their feeble swimming efforts as they slowly float to the surface, where the thorax will split and the adult will emerge.  The shiny, silvery appearance of the gas bubbles is an obvious attribute of the pupae as hungry fish intercept them.  It only seems logical that this silvery sheen should be incorporated into some of the pupal fly patterns in your fly box.

            Silver wire, silver and pearl tinsels, and clear glass, white and silver beads --- either separately, or in concert --- serve to enhance the gas bubble effect of attractive midge pupae patterns.  I find that I tend to favor these flies, especially when the fish become more selective.  And, of course, there are endless combinations of colors, finishes, and sizes that utilize these bubble-mimicking materials.  My inclination at this very moment is to stop writing and start tying flies.  I can’t wait!

Other Obvious Important Characteristics of Killer Pupae Patterns

            Besides being very slim, the abdomen of the midge pupa is very obviously segmented.  To maximize the authenticity of the artificial imitation, ribbing material, usually wire, creates the segmented look.  Red and silver are the two most favored colors.  Sometimes I will use white thread.

            The head and thorax appear fused, and distinctly larger than the thorax, roughly twice the diameter.  The head / thorax unit comprise about one quarter of the insect’s total length, and are often darker in coloration than the abdomen.  Most good pupae patterns suggest these.

            Prominent white respiration filaments on the top of the head / thorax region are very obvious to fish that eat them.  A little tuft of white Antron or polypropylene yarn or ostrich herl simulates this feature.   Some patterns, like the Ice Cream Cone Chironomid, utilize a white bead at the eye of the hook to simulate the filaments.

It’s a Team Effort

            If my chironomid fishing efforts are sketchy, instead of fishing two midge patterns, I typically replace the point fly with a scud, Micro Leech, or damselfly nymph, additional members of my “A” Team.  The point fly is easier and faster to switch than the dropper.  Food preferences for stillwater fish can change hourly, it seems.  Therefore, I experiment to discover what fish may want for the moment, the fly du jour.  During this experimentation, the last fly to be replaced is chironomid dropper.  Because midges --- particularly the pupal stage --- are so important in a lake fish’s diet, this fly will always receive maximum playing time; it’s only fitting for the “A” Team captain. 










Contact Information


Postal address
Michael Gorman
330 NW Autumn Place, Corvallis OR 97330
Mckenzie River fishing guides & Rogue River fishing guides specialists

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