Chironomid fly fishing is the act of fishing chironomids with a fly rod. These tiny flies are also known as midges, they always seem to be the savior on a difficult day of fly fishing.

These flies are hatching at all times of the year and seem to bail me out every time I’m struggling to land fish.

I enjoy fishing year round and Chironomids are the only flies that follow me at all times of the year no matter where I fish. I’ve caught fish on them in northern Canada all the way down to Arizona. They’re truly universal and need to play a major role in a fly anglers life.

While they’re never going to be the most attractive fly in your box, they will lead to some of the most successful days on the water. They’re extremely versatile and a blast to use.

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What is Chironomid Fly Fishing?

Chironomid flies go through three stages. They complete these four stages in a matter of a few weeks.

Chironomid​ on a leaf

Stages Of The Chironomid Fly

Below is a list of stages of a chironomid fly life cycle. These stages can also be represented by different chironomid fly patterns.

Stage One

The first stage of a chironomid is the larvae stage. During this stage, anglers should use a nymph.

They have segmented bodies and the midge nymphs are going to be size 16 to 22. The midge larvae bury themselves in the bottom of rivers and lakes. When fish are looking down, this is what they’re wanting.

Midge nymph fishing is an amazing way to land fish and practice your casting skills. Many anglers choose to Czech nymph in these situations, but we’ll dive more into technique later!

Stage Two

The pupa stage is the second stage of a chironomid’s life. The flies that represent this stage is an emerging fly. These flies actually have an air bubble that they develop that helps them start to rise to the surface.

These flies look extremely similar to full grown flies. However, they’re still developing their wings and sit just below the surface as a result. This stage doesn’t last long, but if you time it well, you’ll catch a massive amount of fish.

These flies are the most successful in areas of transitions. The parts of the stream where water depth and speed changes are going to hold emerging flies.

Stage Three

The final stage for a chironomid is the adult stage. This is also known as the dry fly stage. Dry flies are a fan favorite for fly anglers. These flies are sitting on top of the water until their wings dry.

They’re small flies and resemble mosquitoes. If you time a chironomid hatch correctly, you’re going to find yourself in the midst of some of the most entertaining fly fishing possible.

When To Use Chironomid Flies?

Chironomid flies have a time and place in almost every fishing scenario. However, if you’re fishing still water, look for birds diving at the surface. If this is happening, it’s likely because a chironomid hatch is occurring.

As you gain more familiarity with chironomids, you can look for their shucks and determine that a hatch had recently occurred. This is another good time to throw them since the hatch was recent.

Fish will feed on these flies for only three to six hours a day. Go during prime feeding times. In the spring, summer and fall, the best times to use these are in the mornings and evenings.

Chironomid flies

In the winter, use these flies during the warmest parts of the day. This is when the fish will feed and the flies will complete their hatching phase.

How To Cast a Chironomid?

Casting a Chironomid ultimately depends on what type of Chironomid you’re using and where you’re fishing. These flies are generally between 10-22 so they’re small and require some delicate touch.

Focus on river loading and few false casts. You’ll likely be using quite a bit of leader and tippet so you don’t want to make too many false casts due to the high possibility of tangling your line.

Chironomid Fly Patterns

There are all sorts of options for chironomids. While they may not vary in design, the colors of the flies are especially important.

Look around at the water you’re fishing and see if you can locate flies. Take a look at them and see if you can match the hatch. Otherwise, talk to a local angler or fly shop and see what they recommend.

Chironomid Fly Patterns For Trout

Trout are the main predators of chironomids. Almost 50 percent of their diet is made up of these flies. As a result, you have hundreds of these flies to choose!

Buzzer

The Buzzer is a tried and true midge for trout. It has a simple design of black and copper pattern attached to a size 14 hook and attached by thin wire. On top of the fly is a small piece of white hackle to entice the fish.

This is a great fly to use in still water. You’ll need to attach split shots and a strike indicator to ensure if falls in the water column, but it always seems to prove its worth.

Chironomid Bomber

The Chironomid Bomber is a wonderful option for your next adventure. This fly is tied in a dark pattern and attached by a thin red wire. Below the eye of the hook is a small, white bead that helps fish locate the fly and add some extra weight to the fly.

Depending on the clarity of the water, this is a great option. It’s a bit darker, but the white bead head alerts the trout in the area that food is near. Again, use this fly when you know that the chironomids are in the larvae stage.

Chromie

The Chromie is a beautiful little pattern that works great in clear water. The bright silver material attached by red wire and a white bead head gives this fly plenty of flash on those bright and sunny days.

Use this in clear streams and lakes. They’re going to work well in almost every situation. Plus, Chromies are great to tie. Even if you’re not too experienced, this fly isn’t difficult to tie. You can fill your box with these and always land fish.

Frostbite Chironomid Pupa

Remember, the Pupa stage is the second stage of the Chironomid life. It is essentially an emerger fly. The Frostbite Chironomid Pupa looks similar to a midge nymph, but a small bit of excess hackle near the bead head makes it look similar to pupa fly.

The hackle represents the air bubble that the fly develops as it grows older. If you don’t think the fish are feeding quite near the bottom go ahead and use the Frostbite Pupa because it’s nice in between.

San Juan Worm

The San Juan Worm belongs in every trout anglers box. No questions asked. Trout love worms and the San Juan has been proven to work in all areas of the world. The San Juan works as a great dropper on a dry dropper pattern.

When anglers find out that the fish are feeding on San Juans, a smile spreads across their face. This is when fishing can get fun. Trout of all sizes will feed on these flies.

Tungsten Zebra Midge

Perhaps the most famous fly on this list, the Tungsten Zebra Midge works well in both still and moving water. The flashiness of the tungsten bead makes it a great fly to use in clear water.

Rowley’s Holo Worm

Rowley’s Holo Worm is one of the more unique chironomid flies you can find. The excess hackle near the bend of the hook represents a fly that is just leaving the larvae stage.

If you think the fish are starting to move up in their water column, give this fly a try. It comes down to timing, but the more experience you gain, the more of an idea you’ll have on when to use this fly.

Hatching Midge

The hatching midge is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a representation of a pupa. The fly has small wing representations, a “tail” and some excess hare’s ear that almost vies it a representation of a fully grown fly.

Use these flies when you see the fishtailing. If you don’t see the fish completely leaving the water and only see their tails, this means that they’re feeding on emerger flies.

This is a wonderful time to fish. These fish are starting the feeding process so they’re not as picky. If you can time it, you’ll land tons of fish. This isn’t a long stage in the life of a fly, but you’ll have a solid 30 minutes every night to use emerging patterns.

Emerging flies are some of the least flies used in every anglers box, but they can be the most effective.

Chironomid Fly Patterns For Bass

While trout are the most common fish to eat Chironomids, bass will also eat these flies. Again, it comes down to timing, but they can be plenty successful. Here is a list of a few great options.

Seal Fur Bloodworm

Bass are always going to be suckers for worm looking flies. This is going to have more success with smallmouth bass, but the messier looking pattern has proven to land quite a few bass. Don’t worry too much about the appearance of this fly!

The rougher look of this fly the better. It’s not rare that a bass will slurp this up on its way to eat a baitfish.

Wonderbug

The Wonderbug is a lesser known chironomid pattern and it was actually first tied with the metallic looking material from a bag of Wonder Bread. Since then, thin metallic material has been used.

Bass are often willing to hit brighter lures especially during the spawn. If you cast this near a bed, a bass will likely suck it up in an attempt to get it away from their eggs.

Coppertop

A Coppertop fly is a beautiful little pattern that has a large bead head with a small piece of material at the top to attract the attention of the bass swimming on by your fly.

You can find these in size 10. A little larger flies for bass are always going to work better than small patterns. Bass needs to be enticed into biting. As long as they think it’s worth their time, they’ll eat almost anything that looks alive.

Gear To Use When Fly Fishing Chironomid

Chironomid fishing and gear lead to some of the greatest debates in the fly fishing world. Still water anglers swear by their method and moving water anglers have their passions.

Rod

The rod is one of the rare places that still and moving water anglers agree. A 10-foot rod is going to be your best bet for these flies. This is much longer than a traditional fly rod and for good reason.

When using Chironomid flies, you need to be able to master a perfect drift. The longer rod allows you to reach far out over the water to ensure the most natural looking drift.

a fly rod and reel on the river

For weight, a 4 or 5-weight rod is going to be just fine. The extra length allows you some extra power to land these fish.

Line

When fishing with Chironomid flies, the line you use can vary greatly. If you’re fishing with nymphs, the weight forward line works just fine. However, some anglers argue that you can always use a floating line when fishing with Chironomids.

Either way, you can make either work. Whenever I am fishing only with Chironomids, I use a floating line. It allows me some more freedom with my choice for leader and tippet.

Leader

Leader is another controversial topic for chironomid anglers. The general consensus with leader is that longer is better. If you’re using a floating line, you want to be sure that your leader is long enough for the fly to reach the bottom.

Whatever the depth, be sure that your leader hovers a couple feet above the bottom. This is where chironomid flies are going to float downstream. Fish are going to spend quite a bit of time feeding at the bottom so be sure that you meet them where they are.

The leader primarily depends on how large of a fish that you’re fishing. However, you shouldn’t need to go any heavier than 10 pounds.

Tippet

Tippet is extremely important when it comes to chironomid fishing. You want a decent amount of 6-pound tippet so the fish don’t pick up on your leader. Three to four feet of tippet is going to be plenty when you’re fishing with chironomids.

How to Fly Fish Chironomid

Fishing with chironomid flies heavily depends on what type of water you’re fishing. Even though they’re so small, they can be quite complicated to use.

Fly Fishing Chironomids in a Lake

When you’re fishing a Chironomid on a lake, be sure you’re knowledgeable of the depth. Since these flies require you to be right along the surface, you don’t want to be unsure of the depth of the lake.

Once you find out the depth, use a 7 to 9-foot leader. Once you’ve attached the leader, attach enough tippets to get you about 5 feet from the bottom of the lake. Once there, attach a swivel and another foot or two of tippet. The swivel adds a nice amount of weight at the bottom of the rig.

At this point, you’ll likely want to attach a split shot so that the fly doesn’t get swooped up in the water column and lose its proper place. A .5 ounce weight should do the trick.

Let the fly fall and once the weight hits the bottom, reel in your line. Mark where the weight hit and attach your indicator at the appropriate place. Once the indicator is attached, you can begin casting.

Fly Fishing Chironomids in a Lake

On lakes, be sure to cast into the wind so that the fly drifts naturally. Even though it doesn’t look like the water is moving, lakes have drifts as well. Slowly strip in the line and see what comes after your fly.

Fly Fishing Chironomids in a River/Stream

When fishing Chironomid flies in a river, it’s nice to use a dry-dropper setup. Let the chironomid act as the dropper. Tie on a larger dry fly that will act as your indicator.

This way, you can determine whether or not the fish are looking to feed on the surface or lower in the water column. Again, be sure you understand the depth. You want your dropper to be 6-12 inches from the bottom.

Since river depth varies, it’s better to go a bit shorter than deeper. You don’t want your fly continuously getting snagged.

Chironomid Fishing Techniques, Tips & Tricks

These flies are more active depending on what stage of their life they’re in. For example, if they’re in the larvae stage, they don’t do much but float downstream. Be sure you understand the life cycle before you use them.

Larvae Tips

As mentioned earlier, chironomid larvae essentially float downstream and don’t have much action. Your fly should follow suit. Cast upstream about 15-20 feet and hold your rod tip far out on the water.

You want your fly to float almost directly below your rod tip. This ensures the most natural drift. You’ll only have about 10-12 feet of natural drift before you cast again.

As you fish with chironomid nymphs, you’ll learn that your window to catch a fish isn’t large. Drifts through moving water require quite a bit of mending to ensure that everything looks natural.

Pupa tips

Dry flies are a blast to use. Similar to nymphs, you don’t have long to achieve a natural drift. Chironomid dry flies aren’t very heavy so it’s easy for your tippet and fly line to get ahead of the fly.

If this is the case, you’ve lost your drift. Let the fly lead the charge. It’ll look the most natural in this case. Cast across and upstream. If the current is heavy, shorten your casts.

Also, when fishing with dry flies, don’t make it too complicated. If you see a rise, cast near it. Chances are the fish hasn’t moved or another fish is following suit. The hatch is the best time of day for a fly angler.

Match the Hatch

As mentioned earlier, the fly you choose must line up with what the fish are eating. They’re not going to switch their diet for you. Take a look at the surface of the water or the cobwebs near the water.

Flies will be on the water or trapped in the cobwebs. This will help you match the flies to what you have in your box.

Best Destinations For Chironomid Fishing

The west is a great place to use Chironomid. Any famous river in the western United States is going to be a home for these flies. They’re a perfect searching fly if you aren’t sure what to use.

River fishing

Wyoming

Take Chironomids to the Bighorn or Gros Ventre and you’ll land an amazing amount of fish. Remember to fish these in the mornings and evenings. Also, if you want to fish these rivers in the winter, the Chironomid will be your best friend.

Montana

Montana is another great spot to fish with Chironomids. The Madison and Flathead rivers see quite a few of these hatches and will give you some great entertainment.

Are You Ready For Chironomid Fly Fishing?

Chironomid fishing may not be the most exciting fishing, but it’s by far one of the most productive. Ask any angler what their initial thoughts of chironomid flies were before they used them and I can almost guarantee they’ll be negative.

Then, ask what they think of them now that they’ve been used and the response will always be positive. These simple flies are to thank for some of the 5o to 60 fish days.

Timing is the major factor when it comes to using these flies, but the more you study a body of water, the more comfortable you’ll become with using these. They can be used all over the world and are guaranteed to catch you fish.