How To Fish Stillwaters

May 31st, 2004

Stillwaters, lakes, ponds and reservoirs are the most underutilized fisheries in the North America. Why? Because the average fly fisher doesn't know how to fish them, or where to start. Stay tuned, you too can master stillwaters! ~ LadyFisher


By Philip Rowley

A Chironomid pupa hangs at the surface prior to emergence
Chironomids are the most important food item within productive stillwaters. From personal observation, these insects form 40% of the rout's diet during the open water season. Chironomids are the first and most prolonged hatch of the fishing season. Emergence begins soon after ice off and continues through the fall. Peak emergence in northern latitudes takes place during the months of May and June with secondary hatches in September and October. Chironomids can hatch year-round in the warmer climates of North America, such as California. Hatches are subject to variances in water temperature and lake elevation. Owing to their small size it takes a lot of these insects to stuff a trout. Accustomed to seeing Chironomids, trout will take a well-presented pattern regardless of the season. Trout prefer to key upon the pupae and the larvae, but at times focus upon emerging pupae and adults. Floating lines, long leaders, slender patterns and painstakingly slow retrieves are all characteristics of Chironomid pupa and larva fishing. Patience, finding the feeding depth and confidence are all keys to success. For those willing to hurdle the obstacles, fishing Chironomids offers year-round success, not only in numbers of fish but size too. Many anglers have caught fish in excess of 10 pounds fishing Chironomid patterns.

There are over 2500 species of Chironomids found in North America. Chironomids belong to the order Diptera meaning two winged. Diptera or true flies include craneflies, mosquitoes, Chironomids and Chaoborus (phantom midge). Insects from this order are some of the most highly evolved of all. The Chironomid family has more species than all other species of Diptera combined. Chironomids are prolific in both still and moving waters.

The segmented worm-like
larvae are commonly called bloodworms Chironomids have a complete life cycle or metamorphosis. Except for the egg, all stages are of interest to the fly-fisher. The larvae are slender worm-like creatures consisting of a segmented body with short prolegs at the anterior and posterior end of the body. Many species from this family utilize hemoglobin for oxygen uptake. A rarity among insects. This enables the larvae to live in oxygen-poor waters. Chironomid larvae are capable of living in waters in excess of 200 feet deep, although depths of less than 20 feet are common. The hemoglobin gives the larvae a distinct red or maroon coloration, hence the nickname, "bloodworms." Red and maroon are popular colors, but other colors include green, olive and combinations of red and green. The red and green larvae look like miniature barber poles. The majority of Chironomid larvae live in tubes they construct along the bottom between the mud water interface. Other species are completely free living, while still others spend their first molts or instars as free-living larvae then settle down in a permanent tube home. Larvae feed upon detritus and other vegetative matter. Chironomid larvae thrive in lakes with mud bottoms, but are adaptable to other environments. Moving about with a vigorous head to tail lashing motion coupled with rests in the fully extended position; the larvae are feeble swimmers. During turnover or windstorms Chironomid larvae are often swept off the bottom, and become easy prey for trout. Some Chironomid larvae go through two seasonal migrations. Moving from deep water to shallow during the spring and vice versa during the fall. These are prime times to fish larvae imitations. Chironomid larvae are active during low-light conditions as they leave the protection of their tubes to forage. I have had good success fishing larvae imitations early in the morning and into the evening. Depending upon the species, Chironomids can remain in the larval stage for up to two years. These species reach large sizes, up to 1 1/8 inches in length. Fly patterns typically range from #16 2 -XL to #8 3-XL. ~ PR

More from Phil Rowley's excellent book, Fly Patterns for Stillwaters next time.

Credits: Excerpt from Fly Patterns for Stillwaters By Philip Rowley, published by Frank Amato Publications. We appreciate use permission.

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