Chironomids 101: Match The Hatch? Choosing the Right Chironomid Pupa Imitation


It is without question, Chironomids (non-biting midges) in their pupal state are the primary food source sought out by our BC local interior trout. It is no surprise, that in the nutrient rich still waters of the BC interior where Chironomids thrive in mass abundance, that the vulnerable Pupae alone can total nearly half of a trouts annual diet. While our local waters boast an exceptional aquatic invertebrate biodiversity, the overall effectiveness of fly fishing chironomid pupae imitations will often far outweigh the rest, with a success rate on average, second to none. If you're looking to learn more about fly fishing chironomids and gain valuable information of how to fine tune your chironomid fly fishing experience on the water then you're in the right place. Best of all, unlike many other sources available out there, everything written herein wont cost you a dime and not for lack of knowledge or experience. With the BC interior regarded as a top notch world class lake fly fishing destination and Kamloops alone being the very epicenter of it all, we've put it altogether on the front lines for many years now spending the vast majority of our free time on the water diligently studying the ins and outs of the Stillwater fly fishing world. If there's one thing we know and know well, it's fly fishing for trout on our BC interior lakes from the Thompson Okanagan all the way through the Caribou into the Omineca region.

Welcome to the 1st entry of our Chironomids 101 series! A glimpse into the mind of a chironomid fly fishing junkie where we will blogging random thoughts, opinions, ideas, techniques and well... basically anything and everything on the topic of fly fishing chironomids all in no particular order but as they come to mind. If you want to up your Stillwater game and be a more successful fly angler on the lakes this is for you.

Match the Hatch?

Choosing the Right Chironomid Pupa Imitation

There is much to be said about the What, Where, When and How, For this first article on fishing chironomids, we will focus our attention on the "what"? That is, the million dollar question... What chironomid pattern should one be fishing on a particular day?

So here it is...

I recently received a comment/question from one of our viewers on one of our fly tying tutorial youtube videos that actually inspired this series and this is the comment they left that began this series.

"Do you think with all the thousands of chironomid species present in lakes that trout are that selective about color? With different species hatching at the same time with color/size variations within each midge order, and thousands of emerging insects it would be difficult for a trout to be selective. At some point I think all chironomids have gas between exoskeleton and body that aids emergency-that is why I use a chromey or gun metal exclusively. Such careful attention to color seems more to satisfy the artistry of the fly tyer and not the "selectivity" of the trout."

Let me try and answer this based on my own personal experience, experimentations, study, research and ridiculous obsession with fly fishing stillwaters that has resulted in many thousands of hours spent on our local lakes over the last decade.

"Do you think with all the thousands of chironomid species present in lakes that trout are that selective about color?" (speaking of our T.S.P/ Tony Stark Pupa, a very detailed and colorful imitation of a real-life sample we took some years ago)

Well yes and no... Do I think a trout will be so picky as to explicitly search out only one specific type/color combinations as explicitly detailed as body rib segments that change colors as many as 2 or 3 times such as the T.S.P or Ironman Chironomid? No, I do not think fish possess much of an intellect, I don't believe they will necessarily turn down/snub your offerings just because the fly wasn't the perfect exact match. However, do I think it hurts to be as close to "matching the hatch" as possible? Absolutely not! Not always the case but more often than not, I am a firm believer, the closer your imitations replicate the real deal of whatever is the current available menu item the more likely you are to entice a feeding fish to accept your offerings especially if that specific type/size/color is the primary available food source present that they are currently feeding on. That is why it is a good idea to tie up a few replicas of whatever new variations you might come across from year to year. It certainly wont hurt. I do personally feel far more confident fishing patterns that very closely resemble the naturals, that's not to say we haven't had days where sometimes doing the exact opposite brought forth better results as well.

"With different species hatching at the same time with color/size variations within each midge order, and thousands of emerging insects it would be difficult for a trout to be selective."

Again Yes and No. I would agree that especially in the spring conditions post-turnover period when hatches are at their strongest, the lakes are reaching prime temperatures and the fish are keying in on the pupae almost exclusively, we can often find ourselves on lakes with clouds of chironomids coming off as they hatch by the thousands in many sizes and color variations and the trout will be found gorging on them unselectively. It's all you can eat buffet. It is at this time I can agree it can be difficult for trout to be selective. At these points in time the fish have turned their unwavering attention to slurping up pretty much just about any pupa they can find. Throat samples will prove this theory often with a mixed batch of all sizes and colors throughout the day. It is at these times, I will also typically tie on any two of my favorite chironomids in a size 12 or 14 (one of them usually being a chromie or gunmetal as well)and fish them successfully all day long without the need to "match the hatch" in color or size and generally find little need to change flys for the duration of the day. Out of curiosity, I will take throat samples throughout the day periodically, only to find, just as suspected I am not matching the hatch per se and still hammering fish all day long. This is when depth and location are far more important key factors towards success on the water with size followed by colours being of less importance.

At some point I think all chironomids have gas between exoskeleton and body that aids emergency-that is why I use a chromey or gun metal exclusively."

Yes "at some point" they will, but at what point? After chironomids undergo their metamorphosis from the larvae stage to pupae they will begin the next stage of their journey and that is to ascend from the lake bottom to the surface to hatch into it's adult terrestrial form. They will do this by trapping gases under their exoskeleton which aids their ascent and creates their new "chrome" or "gun-metal" like appearance, but the Pupae will also sometimes stage at the lake bottom for long periods of time, sometimes days before they "gas up" and begin their travels. And always keep in mind, Just because there is no clear indication of a strong hatch on the surface doesn't mean there isn't exceptional chironomid activity going on down below. An ASB/red wire "Gun-metal Chironomid" has probably been my primary number one go-to starter pattern for years up until recently being replaced by our "Velvet Revolvers", these "gassed up"-type patterns definitely out-perform the rest (majority of the time), however, don't make the mistake of being ill-prepared. Often overlooked by many is that cluster of "brown-red butts" or maybe "tiny size 20-18 lime greens" or maybe even some "tony starks" mentioned above that is perhaps the only current and abundant available food source that the fish have stumbled upon and are gorging on exclusively, sometimes throwing a "chromie" or something shiny at 'em just doesn't cut it like we hope for. Sometimes if your presentation doesn’t seem to belong amongst the current hatch the fish will not have almost nothing to do with it. Sometimes it's a shiny chromie but sometimes the dull drab colors will be the key to a very successful day. We can’t expect our top producers to always produce. You may pick up a fish or two with your go-to pattern, but if you do, do a stomach pump and if that sample shows a whole vile of live wiggling size 18 "tiny limeys" I would strongly suggest tying on something as close to matching the hatch as possible. It may pay off, it might not, BUT, it could be all the difference between a few fish over a few hours OR "lights out"! (a fish grabbing your fly every time you cast your line out). Notice I said Live. Something also to always keep in mind. Live chironomids being, what's happening now and dead ones being, what may have been earlier that day.

Having a wide variety of chironomids in all shapes sizes and colors will undoubtedly put you at a huge advantage over those who don't. There is nothing more frustrating then watching the boat beside you catching all the fish because they had that magic fly and you didn't. I have been on both sides of the fence. I would strongly encourage anyone who fishes just a few select flys of choice to rethink their approach to chironomiding and "think outside the box". The more experimentation the more we learn and better anglers we become. What might be your best banging pattern one day could be an absolute disaster the next day on the exact same lake. So change it up!

It's a Catch 22, sometimes one fly fished more is better than more flys fished less. I can't count the amount of times my young daughter out-fished me. Usually on the tougher fishing days but Why exactly? Is it because she is better/quicker at setting the hook on those light takes? No! Is it because she maintains a tight line like I repeatedly try to burn into her brain? Of course not! Is it because she watches her bobber like a hawk looking for it's next meal? lol, Absolutely not! Half the time she isn't watching her indicator, has a giant slack loop in her line and she misses the hookset. So why then? Part is luck, but a big part of the reason is because she has her line in the water twice the time her dad does. While I'm re-casting and re-tying on new flies and re-trying old flys, changing from float line to sink lines etc etc (you get the point), doing this all afternoon trying to solve the puzzle of the day and she's getting more fish from more fly-time in the water, plain and simple. She will generally fish “old faithful” all day long. This is why when it is slow fishing or you're searching for willing participants it is a good practice to fish "old faithful" on the secondary rod that will spend most of it's time in the rod holder and use the primary rod for changing all those searching patterns until one "get's dialed-in".

This article wouldn't possibly be complete without mentioning "The Bigger Apple Theory". Something I learned watching one of my favorite televised Stillwater fly-anglers and Kamloops local, Gordon Honey years back when I was still new to fly fishing. He believed that when fishing a hatch to always give the fish a look at the bigger apple. He said something along the lines of (paraphrasing to the best of my recollection), "if I think 16's are coming off, I'll tie on a will stand out in the crowd". And I couldn't agree more, just a very small and subtle bump in size isn't so drastic of a difference to deter a fish but will rather entice the bite. After all who doesn't like the big slice of cake!

Match the hatch...don't match the hatch... you might be thinking some of this article seems to continually contradict itself?! Well it certainly does and that’s because things change constantly from day to day, hour to hour, minute by minute lake by lake and do on and so forth. In order to be a proficient fly fisher you must always be versatile, willing and able to adapt to the ever changing circumstances you may encounter that can flip on a dime without notice.

Such careful attention to color seems more to satisfy the artistry of the fly tyer and not the "selectivity" of the trout."

You got me there!! How many of these fine details we incorporate into tying our chironomids do trout pick up on? One will never really know but I have greater confidence in fishing them over those less intricate. Perhaps that is why 9/10 times I prefer to fish chironomids tied with black nickel/metallic beads and uni-stretch gills VS the classic "ice cream cone" white beads...

Though we‘ve only merely scratched the surface we hope you have found some of our content both helpful and informative! However, like anything, the learning never stops and just when you think you've got it all mastered, reality steps in, cuts down your pride and humbles you for yet another round. So with that being said we hope you'll check back later in the coming weeks for Part Two of this series or for any similar blog posts on our website that might just elaborate further on the above subject. If you enjoyed this article please feel free to share it with others like yourself. We greatly appreciate your support!

Cheers and Tight Lines!

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