Fishing Chironomids by Danie Erasmus

Chironomid fishing in lakes

By Danie Erasmus

Chironomids are one of the most important and abundant food items trout eat in lakes. The first chironomid hatches occur soon after turn-over in a lake and continue for most of the spring and into the summer. There is also a second round of hatches in the early fall.

Chironomids have a complete life cycle, meaning that the larvae (bloodworms) transform into pupae before hatching into adults. Bloodworms live on the bottom of the lake and prefer muddy areas as many build tunnels in the soft bottom. Pupae often stage for a couple of days near the bottom, and during this time they accumulate gas to help rise to the surface. Once at the surface, the adults crawl out of the pupal shucks and fly away. Trout feed on all chironomid life stages, but most heavily on pupae, followed by the larvae and in a distant third, the adults.


         Pupa and bloodworm


     Trapped air in the pupa gives them the classic shiny chrome look


There are a few different methods to fish chironomid flies, but most anglers fish them using the indicator method. This method is relatively easy and the thrill of seeing an indicator go down never gets old. A lot of the technique and strategy used in indicator fishing micro leeches is also directly applicable to fishing chironomids. To be successful with chironomid fishing follow these guidelines:


  • find a chironomid hatch 
  • double anchor your boat and set the depth of your fly
  • learn how to throat pump a fish


To find a hatch, look for spent pupae shucks or chironomids hatching on the water surface. Sometimes you need to look a little harder for other signs like swallows dive bombing the water to feed on adult chironomids. Also look for surface activity from fish and once in that area, chironomid shucks will confirm that a chironomid hatch is underway. When chironomids are hatching, do not let the rising fish fool you as most fish are feeding close to the bottom.


     Chironomid shuck


Slowly lower the anchors to avoid spooking the fish and set the depth of your chironomid pupa pattern. To start, it is hard to know exactly what colour and size fly to use. Start by using the size of the shucks floating on the water and tie on an Ice Cream Cone or Chromie pattern. These two patterns imitate a large percentage of hatching chironomids and these flies will fool a few fish, even though they may not be the best option for the day. Once you have your first fish, use a throat pump to determine what the fish are eating, but use it correctly to avoid injuring the fish.

Steps to using a throat pump:

  1. Only throat pump fish 12 inches or larger and do not push water into the fish.
  2. Before using, lubricate the throat pump in the water by sucking up and pushing out some water. 
  3. While still in the net and in the water, turn the fish upside down as this calms the fish. 
  4. With the bulb compressed, slowly insert the pump stem until you feel constriction, then slowly release pressure on the bulb to pull food out of the fish’s throat. 
  5. Pull the pump out.
  6. Allow the fish to regain strength in the net and only let it go when it can swim away on its own.  
  7. Push the food from the pump into small vial filled with water. Sometimes you need to suck up water from the vial to rinse out all the chironomid pupae.
  8. Compare the size and colour of chironomids in the vial to your patterns and tie on the most appropriate fly.