In North America, in stillwater fisheries, the small but mighty chironomid is the foundation to a healthy lake and big fish. They range in sizes and colors but are found in nearly all lakes or ponds no matter the latitude. As someone who obsesses over fly tying and fishing I have done hours of research on what colors and sizes of chironomids I should have in my boxes for the areas in which I fish. So I wanted to share with you, in one place, the go to chironomids you should have in your boxes when you venture out on the water.
This has to be one of if not the single best chironomid to have in your box. Phil Rowley nailed it with this fly. It’s simple and catches fish. I tie it in the original color scheme of silver and red with holographic tinsel, but I have really liked fishing the gold and cranberry holographic tinsel. It gives the fish something a little different that at specific times is exactly what they are looking for. This fly really shines when the chironomids are in hatching mode. If I’m new to a body of water this fly is great at dialing in depth the fish are feeding at.
Across the pond this might be their most popular chironomid pattern. The combination of black and red really sell this fly to the fish and when you include the orange/red gills it’s a meal ticket. This has been a great fly for me in the high altitude lakes that I fish. I tie in both the Euro style with a straight shank hook and North American style on a barbless curved shank hook. The straight shank hook style is best when you are fishing them naked or with a washing line method. The curved shank style is great for fishing under an indicator or under a dry fly. All these patterns mentioned can be tied on a straight shank hook and if you plan to fish any of these patterns without an indicator then I think you will see a better hook up rate if your chironomids are tied on a straight shank hook.
Ice Cream Cone
This might be the single most successful chironomid in North America. This fly is most popular in either red or black but if you only had a box of these in different sizes and colors you would cover 90-99% all situations that would require a chironomid. This is a zebra midge with a white bead so there isn’t much to it but it works. I like mine with a silver rib but white is good as well. You can also tie these flies with a tinsel body as well. If I were to fill a box of these flies I would have a black, red, olive, brown, gunmetal, & blue. Then I would tie them from size 10-16 and I would be covered nearly anywhere I went and there were fish that ate chironomids.
I point out quilled patterns because they are a special kind of pattern. They are the fly fishing equivalent of umami that gets the fish going. They give a fly a this authentic natural look that you can’t get with just thread, wire, tinsel, or life flex. The down side to natural stripped peacock quill is that they are hard to get your hands on and they are very fragile which is a challenging combo to deal with. This challenge has created a market for synthetic quills which are way more available and a 100 times more durable. Depending on the brand and look you’ll get different effects but they can be really close to the real deal. It’s good to have them on hand.
You have to have some kind of blood worm in your arsenal. This can be a chenille worm, red ice cream cone, articulated worm, apps worm, or any worm that you like. This is the fly to have at the bottom of your set up, this is your point fly. That being said this fly should be heavy. Blood worms are the first stage of chironomid nymphs and hang near or even in the bottom of the lake. The one pictured here has a tungsten bead to get it down deep quickly. This last year I caught dozens of fish on this very fly while fishing a lake mid season. If you have the opportunity to throat sample a fish and you see blood worms I would suggest immediately changing to your favorite version of the fly. It is also a good searching pattern when you start the day because as the day progresses so does the life cycle of chironomids.
There are literally thousand of different chironomid flies out there. Look into your local water and see what other people are fishing because there could be a local favorite that your fish key into. Also throat sample fish and take pictures or videos of the sample. This will help when you get back to the tying bench and/or back to the fly shop when filling your boxes again. As always if you have any questions or comments please reach out to me through the contact page or social media @garrettlesko everywhere.