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Chironomid Pattern Design Thoughts

A place to discuss techniques and rigging options for use in "non-mountain stream" areas such as lakes and warm-water areas, as well as non-traditional tenkara techniques such as nymphing.

Chironomid Pattern Design Thoughts

Postby Karl Klavon » Mon Mar 26, 2012 9:28 am

Here are some of Phillip Rowley's thoughts on how lake fishing chironomid fly patterns should be tied: http://flyanglersonline.com/features/lakes/part58.php

I believe this article requires some explaining to put it in perspective and in context. Philip Rowley, Brian Chan and the angling friends who contributed the bead head Chironomid Pupa patterns for Rowley's book - Fly Patterns for Stillwaters, A Study of Trout, Entomology and Tying - primarily fish the rich lakes in the Lakes Region of British Columbia and eastern Washington State, for mostly very big trophy sized trout. Those fish do not get big by exposing themselves to birds of prey by feeding near the surface of the lakes they live in, so they take most of the midge pupa that they eat as the pupa are just leaving their pupal cases on the lake bottoms of from bottom plant growth, hence the preponderance metal bead and glass bead head type Chironomid patterns in Rowley's book and fly fishing shops and catalogs.

A lot of the tying materials recommended in the book and above article are also of the Hard-Body types, which unquestionably work but are not held as long by the fish as softer bodied midge pupa patterns will be held. I went through the use of similar materials more than 20 years ago but I have returned to using herl, marabou and dubbing blends for the bodies on my midge pupa patterns because these materials are far more forgiving with the fish.

On alpine lakes there are not the numbers of birds of prey that we have in the lower, richer environments. Alpine lake fish concentrate their feeding to midge pupa near the surface of alpine lakes, where the emerging pupa stall out and stack up while trying to break through the rubbery surface tension of the water to emerge. If it is cold, which happens a lot on lakes that are between 9,000 and 12,000 feet in elevation, it can take an individual midge pupa 20 minuets or longer to break through the water's surface, while untold thousands of other midge pupa are arriving and trying to do the same thing. So this is not a good place to use the bead head type patterns because they sink too fast to imitate the sink rate of a midge pupa that stops swimming to rest, and because it is hard to fish a pattern with that much weight built into it in the most productive water.

Brian Chan is the fisheries biologist responsible for the Lakes Region of BC, and he has probably done more successful work on Chironomid patterns than anyone else out there in North America. And many of his patterns still use the more traditional, natural soft body type, materials.

The sizes of stillwater midges are considerably larger than the midges that hatch out of running waters are, that's because the lake midges are on a 2 year or longer life cycle and can not hatch in the winter like Tailwater midges do. Lake midges emerge in the spring, summer and fall of the year. Running water midges have their peak emergence during the winter months, and they mature in a period of a few weeks to a few months at the longest, so they are not very big. When the high lakes are covered over with ice, nothing can hatch. Going up in elevation is equivalent to going farther north in latitude, that's why we have some elevations classified as the Hudsonian Zone, named after Hudson Bay, and Arctic Zones. If you were to take a look at the Chironomid patterns offered on the Still-Water Flies page of the Cabela's 2012 Fly Fishing Catalog, page 95, you would find 9 midge larva and pupa patterns offered for sale. Of the 9 patterns offered, 6 start out at size 10 and go down through size 14. The other 3 midge patterns offered start with size 12s and go down through size 16s, which is considerably bigger than what a lot of anglers are using on lakes, mostly because the anglers carry over the patterns they are using on running waters and do not know any better. Do said anglers catch fish on their tiny size 20 through 28 midge patterns in lakes as well as streams? You bet that they do but, they could catch more and bigger fish by using appropriately sized midge patterns for the midges that live in the stillwaters they are fishing.
Karl Klavon
Posts: 664
Joined: Wed Mar 02, 2011 10:01 am

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