Hello everyone and hope all is well with you and your families. I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy in these uncertain times.
I have been spending a lot of time tying and filling up many fly boxes. With this extra time I have been thinking a lot about fly fishing and getting ready for our trout opener that may start on June 1st but only time will tell on the specific dates.
I have mostly been focussing on tying up as many chironomids as possible with as many different variations as possible to make sure I have the right color combinations when the trout start to feed on their main food in a stillwater environment. Chironomids can be in most circumstances about 80% or more of a trouts diet in the beginning of the season until other food sources start to show up like callibaetis, damsels, dragonflies and small fry or baitfish.
An angler can do very well on any given stillwater situation if they learn how to fish chironomids properly and the first thing we need to learn is how the chironomid life cycle works. Learning the chironomid life cycle will put you on the fast track for success. Learning when to fish the larva and the pupa stage of the life cycle is critical. What depths and where they are in the water column thru out the day is also a key factor for being a successful chironomid angler.
Lets break down and go over in more detail the chironomid life cycle starting with this picture.
The first stage of the life cycle we anglers should pay attention to is the Larva stage of the chironomid. They are tiny thin worms called larva or blood worms that live in the muddy bottom of the lake floor in small little mud cylinders. They can stay in this stage for over two years at a time before changing and transforming into the pupa stage.
Best times to fish your larva patterns are very early in the morning when you see no signs of any chironomids on the water hatching or flying around in the air. These early morning session before the hatch begin can be some of the best times to catch hungry trout.
As you can see the trout will have their noises down in the mud looking for the larva and also will be moving mud around, trying to disloge them from their tiny mud cylinders. I have many times found trout with not only mud on their bellies but also mud stuck to the sides of their bodies where they turn sideways and try to run over the mud bottom floor to find the larva. In my humble opinion most anglers don’t take full advantage of fishing the larva early morning and just start out with a pupa or in most circumstances they start with a leech pattern. On a good or average morning fishing the larva pattern you can out fish the leech pattern in the same area. In most circumstances you can catch 3 to 4 times as many fish than a leech if the larva pattern is fished properly.
Remember to fish the larva patterns 2″ to 6″ off the bottom because this is where the trout know where their food source is going to be before the pupa start to hatch. Sometimes fishing a larva pattern directly on top of the mud with small twitches works fantastic or drifting the larva along the bottom in a current if you have one.
Larva colors in most circumstances will be red, blood red or maroon in color but sometimes can be light and dark green.
The next stage is the pupa stage.
This stage is by far the largest food source the trout will find and the action can be hot and heavy for anglers with the correct depth and color. In this stage of the life cycle the pupa will just sit and hover about 12″ off the bottom of the lake floor. The trout just move slowly back in forth along the bottom of the lake floor and filter feed on them. They are helpless and the trout take full advantage of them until the oxygen builds up under pupas skin.
Pupa in this stage are normally dark in color with red, black and maroon in colors but are segmented with a silvery shine that is oxygen trying to build up in there bodies. This is a good time to have silver ribbing, shinny flash-a-bou material and anything for ribbing that is shinny.
Once the oxygen has built up enough it will propel them up thru the water column like small shimmering mirrors to the surface for them to hatch. This is the time to now change over to more of a silver or chrome body with a red, black or green ribbing.
When they are starting to emerging we will fish many different styles of pupa called chromies so your pupa pattern will shine just like the emerging pupa. This process can take up to a few hours from start to finish where the fish will continue to feed on the pupa and anglers can have phenominal fishing with sometimes non stop action of hooking fish after fish.
Once the hatch is over, the fish will move back down to bottom of the lake floor and seek out the pupa that have not emerged so the angler needs to make an adjustment and get their patterns back down into that 6″ to 12″ zone along the lake floor.
Now is the time to go back to the darker colored bodies like black, maroon, red or dark grey to imitate the pupa that are still waiting to be able to propel to the surface.
This small sample of the hatch that I have shared with you can happen on some stillwaters 2 or 3 different times during the day with many differnt sizes emerging at the same time or thru out the entire day. This is why its beneficial to make many different throat samples to see which pattern will match the current chironomids that are currently hatching.
The main rule of thumb for fishing chironomids is have many different colors in you fly box because trout are color sensitive to your patterns and will take one color or shade of two colors on a faster pace than another color.
Don’t waste any time on the same color if your not getting takes and other anglers around you are having success. I use the 10 minute rule of thumb, no grabs in 10 minutes I change colors immediately. Don’t be afraid of making changes, it only take less than three minutes to change your pattern and you will find the trout will in most circumstances take less time than that to give you a grab for your efforts.
My philosphy on an anglers key to success is in this order: Depth, Color and then Size of pattern. If you are not at the correct depth, the best color or pattern in the world will not get touched. Once you establish depth and getting grabs, now you can DIAL IT IN by changing flies and getting a faster response from the trout. The size in most circumstances you can get away with if its the correct color.
I love a 10ft 5wt for indicator fishing with chironomids. The 10ft models have a softer tip for hook setting and playing fish and can cast the larger open casting loops needed for casting these leader setups. A good reel with a smooth drag system is also a must!
Here are a few leader systems I currently use in my personal and guided fishing situations for fishing chironomids.
As with everything I have talked about there are millions of more details I can get into for fishing tactics, flies, leaders and finding fish. This of course is not the only way to be successful but you need to figure out as an anglers the best ways for you to fish and have confidence in your stillwater chironomid fishing style. Case in point the top fly in the leader set up can be set up as the way it looks in the picture, by a tag end or by bend in the hook.
This is the beauty of fly fishing. My way may not be the only way but is very successful for me. As the old saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat.
Good luck out there anglers, I hope to see you out on the water soon and please be safe.
I do love me some Stillwater fly fishing……