Fishing With a Worm: An Angler’s Guide

This is the complete guide to fishing with a worm from fishing with worm flies to fishing them as bait, this post will help you catch more fish.

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When it comes to fishing, tradition is held in high regard, so fishing with a worm is as classic as it gets. It’s not easy to find methods and techniques that work, so the things that have worked for years should be a part of every angler’s arsenal.

Fishing with a worm as bait is perhaps the oldest trick in the book. It’s where almost every angler starts and for good reason. Worms are a favorite of almost every freshwater fish. It doesn’t matter the size or type, if you choose to use a worm the chances of you landing a fish increase.

I can remember fishing with a worm with my dad and grandfather at 4-years-old. When I picked up a fly rod a few years ago, I thought my time with worms had ended. It took a few trips into New Mexico and the San Juan River to realize how amazing worms continue to be.

While worms look different in the world of fly fishing, they’re still plenty successful.

What is a Worm?

A worm is considered to be an invertebrate. There are three different types of worms: the flatworm, round worm and segmented worm. Some of the most common species you see when fishing with a worm are nightcrawlers, mealworms, red wigglers and wax worms.

A huge catch of fish in a fishing with a worm.

The wiggling motion from these worms entice fish of all sizes to eat.

Life Cycle of a Worm

Worms have a fairly common life cycle! They find their way into the water usually during heavy rains. As the soil fills with water, worms make their way to the surface where things are a bit more dry.

The rains continue move the worms towards the water and they eventually fall into the current. It does not take long for fish to see one of these enter and pounce! This is when fishing with a worm can be most productive.

Stage 1

The first stage of a worm’s life is spent in a cocoon. As eggs are laid, they spend a few days in the cocoon until they’re ready to break out of it and enter the juvenile stage.

Stage 2

The second stage of the life of a worm is the juvenile stage. Hatchlings emerge from the cocoon and burrow into the soil. As they burrow, they feed and continue to grow.

Stage 3

The third and final stage of a worm is the adult stage. They continue to grow and live as mature worms. It’s possible for worms to live up to 10 years. However, the most common lifespan is 1-2 years. Predators make quick work of these worms!

When To Use Worm Flies?

Worms are going to work at a variety of times throughout the season. The most common and obvious time to fish them is during or after a rain. When it rains, it saturates the soil and the worms head the surface.

Many of them are swept into the water. When it’s raining, the fish know what they want. They sit near the banks due to the rising water levels and all because of the food that’s being washed into the water.

I’ve caught tons of fish using a simple wiggle or San Juan worm in the midst or right after a rainstorm. Many anglers choose to leave the water as it’s raining or right after, but don’t make that mistake. Tie on a worm, cast upstream along the bank and see what happens.

A fish is about to eat the worm flies underwater.

The fish will feast on the worms after a rain because they rarely see them. I’ve caught fish that throw up a massive amount of worms when caught because they’ve been continuously feeding for a few hours.

Another great time to use worms is when there is high metabolic activity and the fish aren’t seeing many insects, go ahead and throw on a worm. The fish are hungry and desperate to eat almost anything.

If you see low clear water and it’s been that way for a while, worms are a great option. Take a look at the forecast and see how much rain they have gotten in the past few weeks. If it has been warm and dry, you’d be surprised at how well a worm works.

Fish are always willing to eat worms, but be sure that they match the water color and are the proper size. Worms are extremely versatile and a blast to use!

Fly anglers don’t typically use live bait, so when we talk about fishing with a worm, we’re talking about fishing with worm patterns, flies and lures.

How To Cast When Fishing With a Worm

Casting worms does not have to be difficult. If you think back to the days of fishing for panfish with worms, you’ll remember how easy it was to land fish with them. Anywhere you laid them, the fish would find!

While it’s not this easy with fly fishing, it doesn’t have to be too complicated. Worms fall off the banks into the water. As a result, the most of them will be up along the banks of the river.

Depending on the size of the water, focus your attention on the banks. If it’s a large, free flowing river, stand on the bank and cast directly upstream along the bank. Let the fly drift down towards you and watch for a strike.

If possible, cast to the opposite bank or stand in the middle of the water and cast towards the bank. These are going to accomplish the most natural looking drifts. The fly will start up against the bank and be pulled directly into the middle of the water. This is what the fish anticipate.

An angler showing on how to cast a worm.

If you’re fishing still water, go ahead and cast the worm towards the bank as well. Fish are not expecting to see worms in the middle of the lake or pond. They know the worms fall in right along shore. Don’t make it too complicated! Use some common sense and you can land fish.

Species For Fly Fishing With Worms

The beauty of worms is that they’ll work for almost every type of freshwater fish. However, they’re going to work best for trout, panfish, bass and fly fishing brook trout as well.

Fly Fishing Worms For Trout

When you choose to use a worm when fly fishing for trout, go anywhere where trout live. It will work! It doesn’t matter if you’re fishing in still water or moving water. You can’t go wrong.

Again, focus on the banks and anywhere a worm would make its way into the water.

Fly Fishing Worms For Bass

When you use worms for bass, be sure that you use a larger fly. Bass won’t waste their time on smaller worms, especially if it’s directly after a rain. They’ll have their pick of the litter for the worms they want to eat so make sure that it has some nice size to it.

An angler fly fishing worms for bass.

Cast near structure or anywhere you see bass feeding. Fish are active right before a storm and right after. Plus, you can catch a nice amount of fish in the midst of a rainstorm. It takes some extra dedication on your part, but the activity is worth the effort.

The Best Worm Fly Patterns

Worm patterns are perhaps the least complicated patterns to tie. If you’re new to the game, be sure that you try tying a few worms. In all honesty, the more handmade they look, the better. Fish don’t always want to see a perfectly tied pattern.

The Chamois “Shammy” Worm

The Shammy. I love this fly! It’s extremely easy to tie and it does some serious damage on the water. It is a representative of an earthworm and does some serious damage!

Chamois is the material that is found in car drying towels. These micro-fiber towels are filled with chamois. If you buy one of these towels, you can tie over 100 flies with it! It’ll only cost you around $10. This is a massive steal in the world of fly tying! Take advantage of it.

As soon as the chamois worm fly gets wet, be ready. the realistic looking fly is too tempting for these fish. It’s smart to tie these flies because you can choose what size you would like. There are days when the fish want a bit of a larger looking worm.

If this is the case, you’ll have access to them. Be aware of the chamois wrapping around the eye of the hook. This is a common occurrence so keep an eye on it as you are fishing. This isn’t a common fly to find in fly shops. Therefore, you can have peace of mind that not many anglers are using this pattern.

Photo of the sanjuan worm

San Juan

Every fly angler in the world would be disappointed if they didn’t see the San Juan on this list. The most common colors for this pattern are pink, red and green. The green are less common, but well worth your time. It’s a great representation of an inch worm.

The San Juan gets its name from the San Juan River in New Mexico. This river receives quite a bit of rain and the amount of worms in the water is impressive. This fly will land you fish in all areas of the country.

Again, size can be very important when you’re deciding what to use. Be sure to either tie these or purchase these in a variety of sizes. At times, you may need to to in a micro version of the San Juan.

If you know this fly is working and there are worms in the water, don’t give up on it. Change the size and continue to work the banks. As you work the banks, you’ll likely receive a few flashes or strikes. Simple can be better in the world of fly fishing!

The Squirmy Wormy

The Squirmy Wormy is another classic fly. It’s a stretchy material and almost has a rubber feel to it. Worms are very active in the water. They can drown fairly quickly so they use quite a bit of action to try and escape. This fly accomplishes just that.

This fly pattern can be found in every color imaginable. It’s not a bad idea to try and match the water or worm color. In the midst of a storm or right after a rainstorm, take a look at the worms. Are they a lighter pink or are they dark brown?

If you can match this color, you’ll have more success. Worms usually lighten as they’re exposed to more water. Keep this in mind as you fish with them. These worms work very well if you’re fishing still water. This will provide action even on the calmest of days!

Delectable Soft-Hackle Worm

This is by far one of the most unique worm patterns that you can find. You can’t find many soft hackle worms in fly shops across the country. Plus, this fly is tied with a bit of a beadhead. If you need some extra weight on your fly and don’t want to use a split shot, this is a perfect option.

I have used the Delectable Soft-Hackle Worm fly on some of the larger rivers out west. I don’t always like tying on split shots for a variety of reasons so this is a great pattern for me. It drops quickly in the water column, but it’s also a nice realistic looking worm pattern.

I would argue that this is one of the best options on the list. It has just enough flash on it that you’re going to see success anytime that you use it. You don’t have to worry about matching it water color or worm color. It’s found it’s way on to the end of my line more and more as time passes.


This is one of the most ingenious fly patterns I have ever seen. I always wonder who had the idea for this fly, but I commend them because of how successful this fly has been for me over the years.

The con-dominator uses a condom to give the shiny exterior that worms have. This shininess is exaggerated as soon as the worm hits the water. To tie this fly, you pull the condom tight over the dun and secure it with some wire near the bottom.

You really can’t believe that this works, but you’d be surprised. Fly tiers have been using rubber or latex materials for years, but the thin latex on a condom works best. It isn’t overwhelming for the fish and provides the perfect amount of shine.

If possible, give this fly a try. It’s a bit heavier so you can have success with this fly on one of the larger rivers you fish. Spend your time along the banks and see what you can catch with this fly! Don’t knock it until you try it!

Jello Shot

The Jello Shot is perfect for any sort of fish. If you want to land bass, trout or even carp, go ahead and use the jello shot. The tentacle will move at any sort of retrieval pace. Depending on how much action you want, you don’t have to worry about moving this fly around.

If you’re fishing stocked fish, this is going to work wonders. You won’t believe how often fish will strike this fly! Don’t be afraid to live and die with this fly before or after a storm. At times, you need to force this fly down the throat of the fish and they’ll start to eat.

Gear To Use When Fly Fishing with Worms

When you’re fly fishing with worms, you don’t need any sort of special gear. You can fish with these flies on any sort of gear. Don’t make your life too complicated when you’re fly fishing with worms.


When fishing with worms, you can use anywhere from a size 2 to 8-weight. You never know what size of fish you’re going to run into when using a worm. If you know there are big fish in the water, it’s better to go bigger. You don’t want to not have enough power to land some of these fish.


When you’re choosing the reel to use, be sure that it matches your rod. Many anglers make the mistake of using a reel that is either too big or small for their rod. You want to be sure that it’s either a perfect match or no more than one size bigger or smaller.

a man fishing with his fly fishing gear a fly rod and reel on the river

It’s also important that you use a large arbor reel. These large arbors are going to handle almost any size of fish that you can find. Make your life easier and spend a bit more money on a large arbor.


When using worms, I’ve found that using floating line is best. The flies are going to absorb enough water that they’ll sink. It’s not uncommon to tie on a split shot if you need to drop a little further in the water column.

Floating line is going to stay out of your way and let the fly do the work. Another option is weight forward line. This isn’t a bad idea if you need to drop in column quickly. The weight forward line will pull your fly down to a nice level.

Either way, floating or weight forward line is going to work well. Do some experimenting and see what you can find.


When you choose what leader to use, I usually use 9 foot 3 or 4x tapered. This is plenty of length and strength to deal with the fish that you catch. Some anglers choose to not tie on any tippet when they use this size of leader. I find that this is much easier so I stick with it!

Techniques, Tips & Tricks For Fishing With a Worm

When it comes to fly fishing worms, don’t over complicate it. If you have spent any time fishing, you know how successful worms can be. There’s a reason that your father or grandfather tied on a worm for you and said go and catch some fish.

Focus on the Banks

When you’re fishing with worms, you need to remember that they’re going to fall off of the banks and into the water. Start your fly on the bank and let it be taken by the current into the main seams. Don’t give up on your fly as it enters the middle of the water.

a fly fisherman fishing for wild trout on the mountain river

Let it fully complete its drift and try it again. Fish will eat worms in all portions of the water column. Don’t shy away from any sort of water when fishing with worms.

Timing is Important

If you choose to fish worms, the best time to use them is right after a rain. However, if you know that there has been little precipitation and the fish are hungry, a worm can work very well. This often happens later in the summer.

While the temperatures may be warmer, the fish will still eat in the mornings and evenings. Toss one of these in the riffles and see what happens. You’ll be surprised at the size of fish that strike! Hungry fish are willing to hit almost anything.


Versatility is the worms best attribute. No matter where you are fishing, you can fish with a worm. It’s a wonderful search fly. Make your way to lake and start casting a worm. It’s going to entice a few fish and chances are you will see quite a few flashes.

A fly angler caught a huge bass on wet fly fishing

These flies are a must for all anglers to have in their box. They’re a blast to use and when fish are hitting, there are fewer flies on the market that are similar in productivity.

Are You Ready for Fly Fishing With a Worm?

If you’re new to the world of fly fishing, it’s never a bad idea to use a worm. This fly will help you learn the tendencies of fish and make the most of your fly fishing experience.

No matter where you are in the world, you better have a few worm flies handy. If you don’t, you’re guaranteed to be sorry. Fly anglers make their lives too difficult. Don’t fall into the trap! Worms are going to catch you fish and give you a leg up on many of the anglers you find on the water.

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My name is Danny Mooers and I’ve been fly fishing for five years. As soon as I went to college, I dove headfirst into my obsession for fly angling. Every spare weekend or long break was dedicated to finding fish. I’ve fished all over North America in search of trout, salmon, steelhead and everything in between. I currently write articles for Guide Recommended and Reel Adventure Fishing. Fly angling is one of the most challenging yet rewarding hobbies any person can have. Don’t be afraid to give it a try.  It’s an addicting activity that tests everything from your fine motor skills to your patience, but it’s well worth your time.

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