Chironomids 101: 20 Tips to Tying a Better Chironomid Pupa Imitation

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

Fly tying is a skilled art and is an ongoing learning experience that can take many years to become exceedingly good at. Like anything there is almost always room for improvement and we can all usually learn a thing or two from others who have put their time and efforts into perfecting a certain skill set. So I thought with it being mid winter and so many people out there busy re-stocking their fly boxes for spring ice off to make our second installment of our Chironomids 101 series not so much about fishing them but preparing and tying them to a higher standard which also coincidentally fit's in perfectly with our first and previous installment "Choosing the Right Chironomid".

Chironomids are super easy to tie and some of the most satisfying, rewarding and simplest flys out there to twist on a vice and are also the perfect introduction to fly tying for beginners. I believe that with just a little direction anyone can shorten the learning curve immensely and be tying like a pro in no time by just strictly following a very basic set of general guidelines. If you don’t tie chironomids this may also help you learn what to look for in chironomids when purchasing them for yourself from any fly shops or custom fly tyers. So I compiled together a very basic list of simple things one can do to improve the aesthetic quality of their Chironomid imitations.

First of all...To each their is in the eye of the beholder, what I might consider a perfect tie or flawless chironomid to another person may not be or vice versa. I don’t profess to be the guru of Chironomid tying, however over the years I found myself going from taking notes to becoming more of a critic to even those I once learned from. Don’t get me wrong I appreciate every individual style and efforts, ideas and creativity put forward by all fly tyers and love to share both encouragement and positive feedback to all and to be fair have always been my very own worst critic. For me, my flys have never been good enough, they must always meet a high set of standards or expectations that even I myself can’t always seem to make work on a hook and that for me has always been the most frustrating part of learning but also the key to improving my skill set to the next level, I am always striving for perfection and I believe if you do the same you too will soon find yourself tying better flys.

Do those tied with more effort produce more fish? Some would say they don’t however I would disagree with them, it is a topic that is up for debate, I have not done any real scientific studies to confirm my beliefs but it is my own personal opinion that they do indeed catch more fish. While not nearly as important as color, size, depth and location I feel far more confident fishing chironomids tied by me now than those tied in my first few years of fly tying and I have seen a significant increase of productivity on the water using the latter. One thing is for certain, they are more aesthetically pleasing to my own eyes and look more professional and that for me is enough to strive for as it is a huge part of the appeal of tying your own flys.

But enough rambling, let’s get to it...

Here‘s 20 Basic Tips to improving your Chironomid Pupa Fly’s ...

1) Seven “Ribs“ (8 “Segments“)

All Natural Chironomids have Seven “ribs” (=8 segmentations). Always. To replicate the naturals 7 ribs is the magic number to strive for. Being one off is not a huge deal either be it 6 or 8. Any more is less is not ideal. While the fish can’t count it is not a difficult task and therefor why have it any other way. You can always go back and undo the wraps if the proportions are wrong. I have been counting ribs/ segments for years now and for me personally any more or less just doesn't cut it. *Use photo above for reference*

2) Taper, Taper, Taper!

All Natural chironomids are tapered to varying degrees but always being skinniest at the rear and widening out towards the head. This should be a smooth transition free of lumps or bumps. I never tie in additional materials at the back or middle of the fly as it only adds more bulk to a given area, tie everything in at the front behind your bead and work back without skipping. If you 'skip" areas when building your fly body and are all over the place with your thread it makes it very difficult to maintain that smooth body taper.

3) Slender profile's Catch more Fish?

While Natural Chironomids vary slighlty in size from skinny to fat. Try to keep the body as slim as possible. For whatever reason slim profile chironomids tend to fish better, at least in my own experience. Using threads like UTC 70 is an excellent choice for building the body shape as it tends to lay flat opposed to other threads and is of thinner density helping reduce bulk. note: it is still good to have an assortment of fat chironomids on hand!

4) Lose the Big Head

Chironomids don’t have massive heads, so why do so many people tie them that way? I tend to disagree with what seems to have become the industry standard. They will catch, there’s no doubt about it but for a better look try tying in a more realistic approach to bead size to hook. If you are worried about getting the fly into the zone fast try using lead tape for the underbody or tungsten beads. The bigger the bead the fatter your chironomid becomes trying to maintain that taper that blends nicely toward the bead, OR you end up with bead that sits out proud of it's body. Think of putting a scoop of ice cream into a waffle cone, the bead should sit inside the cone not overhang far off it's edges. I have had some question and criticize the sizes of beads I use on some my chironomids, like using a 5/64th bead on a size 12 togens scud hook for example, and you'll most certainly never see me tie a chironomid using a 1/8 bead they are just too big for any size hook I tie on for my liking. In general, if it fits on the hook and looks good...then it's all good!

5) Tie more realistic color patterns

While we all love those holographic tinsels and thinking outside the box experimenting with new patterns, If it is an un-natural color scheme it is unlikely to be a solid consistent producer. I am not saying you won’t have a good day fishing a pink, purple or blue chironomid or come out on top when the going gets tough but when the fish are keyed into a hatch, these patterns next to the Chrome gassed-up patterns and natural browns, greys, greens etc etc will undoubtedly pale in comparison on most of occasions.

6) Overlap your Materials

By doing a very slight overlap with each wrap of material onto the previous we can eliminate any possible gaps between wraps showing or revealing the underlying materials or thread.

7) Counterwrap your wire

By counter-wrapping your tinsel or whatever material in the opposite direction of the previous material it not only makes for a fly that is longer lasting and prevents unfurling everywhere after catching multiple fish but also prevents the wire from digging in between the tying material used and even sliding that material forward or backward from where you wanted it to sit. If there is any possible gaps for the wire to slip and dig in it will instead of sitting on top and pushing the materials down nice and snug.

8) Give 'em a Haircut!

Natural chironomids do not have excessively long gills. When tying in white gill materials try keeping them to the length of the bead or less. I use the hook eye as my guide and always cut my gills off flush with the outside edge of the eyelet.

9) Peek-a-Boo

Often when people tie in their gill material they end up creating too much bulk and the bead won’t slip all the way forward or pushes thread forward and bunches it all up leaving thread exposed in front of the bead. You can see it poking it’s ugly head out. Try using less but tight wraps and using materials like Uni-stretch is an Excellent choice as it is an expansive material meaning you can tie it in small and it will expand or fluff out much bigger in front of where it is tied and creates a very realistic look with minimal bulk.

10) Less is More...

Never use wire any bigger than XS or Small unless your are tying Huge Bomber size chironomids.

11) Easy on the Glue

We all like a strong chironomid that will hold together and last a hundred fish. But big visible globs all over the fly doesn’t exactly make for a sharp looking chironomid. Using a coating of thinner consistency can also help reduce or eliminate this considerably. There is a fine line between both as you certainly don’t want a fly that comes apart after a singlet fish or two.

12) Keep 'em Consistent

Don‘t tie too short or too far back and try to tie to the same stopping points on all your flys. The fish don’t seem notice how far back or short you tie but utilize the hook length appropriately. There’s no point buying a multitude of different hook sizes if you can’t keep the lengths consistent. The whole point is to be able to switch from one size to another on the water as needed. As a general rule on scud hooks I like to tie back until my thread is at about a 45 degree angle away from my hook point and use this as my stopping point. On curved nymph hooks I don’t go quite as far back as the hook gap is smaller and shorter and I like to keep my materials away from the part of the hook that will doing the puncturing when out fishing.

13) Operation

Not always an easy task but when cutting off your thread or material at the body of the fly try getting in as close as possible. A good pair of scissors, good eye and a steady hand is crucial. Nothing makes a well tied fly look amateur faster than a big lumpy tag behind the bead where you cut your material or thread out. Any UV resins or glue only make this tag look even more pronounced. Also, breaking wire out by means of twisting in a circular motion while pulling eliminates the need to trim wire with clippers which will leave a bump that difficult to hide behind your bead.

14) Spacing And Sizing your Segmentations

This can be one of the most difficult things to achieve when tying chironomids that don’t utilize wire ribbing (for example spacing window tinting or tinsel to imitate the segments). One of the most undesirable features of any fly is unevenly spaced segments or those disproportioned. Everything should look uniform. Also, when creating the indented “ribbed” segments without the use or wire, floss, tubing etc between the ”armor-plates” use the appropriate width of material so that when you wrap forward to create the ribs they should be smaller than the plates. Ribs and Plates should not be the same size. The ribbing should be approximately half the size or less. Take a look at the photo above, you will see the red/brown ribs are half the size of the midnight window tinting. This problem can be fixed by just changing the width of the wrap you are using. Keep in mind the last segment or two at the rear tend to be a bit smaller as they are situated at the thinnest and smallest area of the fly.

15) Blend those threads

Working with acetate floss can be a pain, Blending threads is taking over. It is no new thing but becoming increasingly popular among the online stillwater community and while any red butt chironomid is surely a bonafide trout slayer, one where the transition between two different colours are carefully blended into each other is just that much better as it better replicates the majority of Natural specimens you will encounter. There shouldn't be a clear distinction between where each color meets/ends. A well blended chironomid looks to be ten times more realistic than that which are not. Keep in mind certain threads that lay flat like UTC and are much easier to achieve the desired look VS round threads like UNI-thread. Also as a general tip, you can spin your thread counterclockwise to open it up more making it thin out when laying it down which makes blending that much easier.

14) Keep the Thorax or “Collar“ short

During the last step of tying your fly, when tying in the thorax or ”collar” as I like to call it, in behind the bead-head, the part that holds all your materials in good and firm don’t get carried away making it too long, keep it short without using too many wraps or whip finishes. It is easy to get carried away wanting everything to be secure, 2 whip finishes is plenty with the proper glue. In most instances I generally try to keep the length no more than half the length of the bead.

15) Wing case

Increasingly growing in popularity is the addition of a strong and realistic imitation of a wing case added into the pattern. Though I've never had much problem catching fish on patterns where a well defined wing case wasn't present at all, using materials such as goose biot, orange candy wrapper, holographic tinsel’s, buzzer wrap etc to imitate a strong wing case only adds to the look of a exceptionally great chironomid imitation. I may put out a video on how to do this later as it can be a bit more difficult to do and a little more advanced technique to new tyers.

16) White beads are Gills

I often see people tie in white gill materials and then slip a white bead behind it. No harm done, I‘m sure they will fish, but it is just not necessary as the white bead is already the representation of the white gills on the chironomid.

17) Peacock Herl

This is a bit old school and not the most durable of materials, but for the sake of tying a chironomid imitation that produces fish exceedingly great above many others it must be said that the addition of a peacock herl thorax can make an already good pattern absolutely great. The magnetic power of a little peacock herl is deeply underestimated and overlooked by many. Don't believe me?...try and see for yourself!

18) Tie Wire inline

Many don’t realize this but if you do not keep your wire in line along the hook shank every discrepancy will show through or multiply when adding materials overtop. You may think it is being covered but it's shape will often show through as you build upon it. I always tie my wire down in place along the side of the hook and watch diligently that it doesn't wander.

19) UV Glue before wrapping wire with a tinsel on tinsel body.

You may have found when wrapping any tinsel type material over another such as window window tint, it tends to be slippery and getting proper or desired placements can be difficult especially when approaching the front of the hook where the body taper tends to widen. it always wants to slip back. The difficulty increases greatly when also incorporating wire in conjunction with both. One way I have found to remedy this is to use a little UV resin to glue the tinsel’s in place before moving forward with the wire. Without doing so the wire can start to slide your segments around and be very frustrating.

20) Parting your gills

If you ever look closely at chironomid naturals you may have noticed it's gills are split to both sides of its head. By parting your gills and securing in criss cross fashion you can achieve a more realistic look as well as keep the hook eye free of any material that can otherwise make tying your fly on slightly more difficult. I do this one larger sized chironomids. If the bead hole is too small this will not work as it will push each side back together when you slide the bead forward. The gills will need adequate room inside the bead to sit freely as you intended. Also, as added feature you can try tying in the same material in a very subtle fashion to the butt of the fly as you will find this also on many of the naturals you encounter on the water.

Finally, I would like to hear from some of you readers. Was this article clear enough to understand or do you think pictures should be added to go along with our tips? Did you think it was too short? too long or maybe just about right? The more feedback we receive the more we can cater to the what the readers are looking for.

In conclusion, We hope this article has been informative and helpful in reducing the learning curve many tyers face. If you follow even half of these tips your well on your way to mastering the art of tying Chironomids! If you have questions please don't hesitate to ask in the comments section below. Please stay tuned for much more in-depth learning in our next upcoming installment of our Chironomids 101 series!

Until next time Cheers and TightLines!

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