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Bug of the Month: Chironomids

In the world of fly fishing, where anglers seek the perfect fly to trick stillwater trout, few bugs can be as effective as chironomids. These tiny, aquatic insects, play a significant role in the diet of trout in lakes and reservoirs. Let’s dig into the world of chironomids and uncover their value in fly fishing.

Understanding Chironomids

Chironomids, commonly known as non-biting midges, belong to the family Chironomidae and are found in freshwater environments worldwide. Despite their small size, ranging from a few millimeters to over a centimeter in length, chironomids form a crucial part of a stillwater trout’s diet throughout their life cycle.

Chironomids are often confused with midges, but while they belong to the same family, they exhibit distinct characteristics. Both chironomids and midges are small, delicate insects with slender bodies and long antennae. However, chironomids lack the biting mouthparts of some midge species, making them harmless to humans. Another physical difference is the presence of very obvious white gills on the head of the emerging pupa. In terms of fly fishing, both chironomids and midges play vital roles as food sources for trout, but anglers must differentiate between the two to effectively match the hatch.

These delicate insects undergo a complete metamorphosis, progressing through four distinct life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Chironomid larvae typically inhabit the bottom sediments of lakes and ponds, where they play vital roles in nutrient recycling and ecosystem dynamics. Larvae either build protective tubes or burrow into the substrate, feeding on organic matter and algae. As they mature, chironomid larvae ascend through the water column to pupate, often congregating near the surface before emerging as winged adults.

While chironomids are often mistaken for mosquitoes due to their similar appearance, they lack biting mouthparts and do not pose a nuisance to humans. However, they serve as essential food sources for a variety of aquatic organisms, including fish, making them a prime target for fly anglers seeking to imitate their life stages and exploit their importance in trout diets.

Timing and Temperature

In Colorado lakes, chironomids can be active throughout the year, but their peak activity typically occurs during the warmer months, from late spring, (ice-off), through summer and into early fall. As temperatures rise, chironomid larvae become more active in the water column, ascending towards the surface to pupate and eventually emerge as adults. This emergence phase often triggers feeding frenzies among trout, as they key in on the abundance of chironomids available to them.

Early to mid-summer tends to be a particularly productive time for chironomid fishing in our area, as water temperatures rise (from 50-70 degrees), and insect activity intensifies. This is especially true for Spinney and Elevenmile Reservoirs. However, anglers can encounter chironomid hatches during other times of the year as well in lakes where water temperatures remain relatively stable or where chironomid populations are particularly abundant.

How to Fish with Chironomids

Trout feeding on chironomids are typically found either just a few feet off the lake bottom or cruising just below the surface, requiring anglers to use techniques like indicator fishing with either floating or sinking lines to present their flies at the appropriate depth. Because many chironomid species actively swim in a wiggling motion to the surface when emerging rather than passively moving to the surface in current, slow, subtle retrieves that mimic the natural movements of chironomid pupae are typically more effective than aggressive stripping or jerking motions. Patience and precision are paramount, as subtle movements and variations in retrieve can make all the difference in enticing a cautious trout to strike.

An indication a hatch is happening is a large number of cast shucks, still with the white gills attached, floating in the surface film. You can also look for a concentration of bird activity over a section of lake, or pods of sipping and porpoising trout. When fishing, you’ll be most successful fishing pupae patterns at least 70% of the time, however dry fly fishing with chironomids can also be rewarding.

Adult chironomids are weak flyers and may engage in short, erratic flights over the water’s surface, often in swarms, before returning to rest on vegetation or other structures near the water. These swarms of ten look like small clouds hovering above the surface and create a “buzzing” noise, thus their nickname, “buzzers”. Like trout behavior during trico hatches, you’ll often find fish gorging on emerging chironomids and adults on the surface, and subsequently not eating for a little while. To take advantage of this, tie a dry adult chironomid to nylon 3-5x tippet and cast into the swarms or actively surfacing fish. If it isn’t taken after 30seconds or so, recast. Make sure your fly is floating well and use a quality dry-shake floatant, such as Shimazaki, every several casts to keep it realistic.

How to Tie Chironomids

Before you begin tying a chironomid pattern, you should first decide what stage of the life cycle you are aiming to imitate. Larvae have primarily opaque bodies, as seen in the popular pattern the Ice Cream Cone Chironomid fly pattern, and look very similar to midge larvae patterns such as the zebra midge. This can be one of the easiest life stages to tie, as their are very few techniques and materials required to make a perfect representation

The pupae then have translucent bodies when they are in their emergent stage. An example of a pattern with this translucence is the Tak’s Crystal Chironomid. Using UV resin or clear tubing are quick and easy ways to achieve that translucence and take your fly to the next level. You’ll also notice on chironomid pupa, their prominent white gills. This is often imitated using white ostrich herl, white antron, or simply a white bead. When tying the body you want to focus on colors like brown, black, and red. Check out our video below to learn to tie the popular Frenchie Chironomid.

Adult dry flies look very similar to many adult midge or mosquito flies, have larger more delicate bodies. Because of this you can tie those same dry patterns, just size up to a #14-#18.


  1. David Merz on April 15, 2024 at 12:07 pm

    Thanks Hans, I enjoyed making this fly.

  2. Roger Plank on April 18, 2024 at 1:43 pm

    I have fly fished since moving to Colorado Springs 54 years ago. Chironomid have been a mainstay for me the entire time. I drift fish them from my kayak on high elevation lakes with consistent results.

    Anglers Covey has introduced me too many, many versions of this great fly. But I consistently return to some form of zebra midge, usually red, black or olive green in color. Typically with a bead head. Easy to tie and easy to fish.

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