Getting Started with Chironomid Fishing

Getting Started with Chironomid Fishing

Want to really up your lake fishing game, especially in the first part of the season?  Getting your chironomid fishing skills dialled in will help increase your angling success.

Chironomids can make up a large part of a trout’s diet (25%-50%) so matching the hatch and using what they are eating the most of would be a smart move towards improving your productivity while out on the lake. 

There are a couple ways to approach fishing this insect. The depth of the water can be a determining factor on the style of fishing you use. In this blog post we will look at the floating line and sinking line methods for fishing chironomids. First, we’ll cover some of the equipment basics. 

Fly Rods

Greys GR80 Streamflex Fly Rod Review

Echo Stillwater Review

Fly rods for this fishery typically range from 9’-10’ in length and in line weights of 4wt-6wt. Suggested rods:

Fly Reels

Fly reels

Reels should be sized to match the rod and loaded with the appropriate amount of backing.

Fly Selection

As far as fly selection goes, some chironomids are good, but more is better.  Chironomids come in a wide variety of sizes (#8-#22) and colours. Here are some of the most common ones you’ll want to have in your fly box: black, brown, bright green, endless shades of olives, maroon, red and chrome/silver colours.

It can be amazing how dialed into a certain colour or size of chironomid the fish can be and then like the flick of a light switch they can change to another.  All of this leads to another very useful piece of equipment, a stomach pump with some glass vials.

Stomach/Throat Pumps

A stomach pump (more of a throat pump actually) can be used to extract the most recently eaten insects from the fish without causing harm. Once a sample has been extracted you squirt the contents into a glass vial for a quick inspection and then hopefully match the hatch. 

Now, obviously to get this sample one must first catch a fish. So, which fly to start with? While the array of colours is extensive, there are some pretty standard colours that you can start with. Black or chrome/silver would be good ones to tie on first to try and give a fish a little sample.


Anchors are another important piece to the chironomid fishing puzzle. When anchoring your boat, no matter what type of boat it is, you'll want to keep it stationary, so double anchors are commonplace.

Depth Sounders

Another important piece of equipment is a depth sounder. Knowing how deep the water is, is imperative to properly fish chironomids. We want to set up our gear a foot or two feet off the bottom and this is a challenge when the depth is unknown. Your depth sounder should also display the temperature, another important piece of the puzzle.

Chironomid Fishing with a Floating Line

Fishing chironomids with a floating fly line is one of the most popular and effective ways to fish for trout.  First off, let us look at the full equipment set up.

Floating Fly Lines for Fishing with Strike Indicators


There are some options for fly lines that are specific to fishing chironomids, such as the RIO Elite Extreme Indicator Fly Line, RIO InTouch Stillwater Floating Fly Line and Scientific Anglers Andro Stillwater Indicator Fly Line. Other fly lines can definitely be used but these ones are designed specifically to help make casting with strike indicators easier.

Strike Indicators

Strike indicators are basically a small float for fly fishing. They are very popular when fishing chironomids as they allow an angler to hang his fly at a specific depth and allows one to see even the softest of bites.

There are many styles of indicators on the market for this type of fishing. The quick-release style indicators are the most popular. The indicator is attached by running the leader line through a hollow peg that runs through the indicator. Once the line has run through, the peg is pulled out and a loop of leader line gets placed inside the indicator and the peg is returned. By doing this, the loop pulls out and the indicator slides down the leader line when a fish strikes.

This set-up has a huge advantage when fishing deeper water as leader lengths can sometimes be quite long.  Indicators are available in many sizes, but we recommend a decent sized one as it makes it easier to see, especially if there is a bit of a chop on the water. 

Indicators come in several colours such as red, orange, pink, green and yellow. Indicator colour is a personal preference and really boils down to which colour is most visible to your eye. Everyone is different and there is no right or wrong choice.

Leader Set-Up

There are many ways to attack your leader set-up and they can all work.  Here’s our favourite way to set up this rig.

It’s commonplace to set your gear up to fish a foot or two off the bottom. There can be exceptions to this, but this range is most common. 

So let us say we are in 16’ of water. We would start with 10’ of regular mono or tippet material in the 6lb-10lb range and then attach a small swivel and tie on another 4’ of line. This time we would use fluorocarbon 4lb-10lb.

Seaguar Blue Label Fluorocarbon Leader

Here is the method to the madness in this leader set-up. The straight mono is thinner in diameter than a tapered leader, thus letting it cut through the water column faster and getting your fly to the desired depth faster. The small swivel helps add a bit more weight and it’s easier to tie your fluorocarbon to, rather than using a blood knot or surgeon’s knot.

Chironomid Fishing with a Floating Line with No Indicator (Naked)

 Some anglers fish the floating line method without an indicator. This is known as fishing “naked”. This can also be a productive way to fish so don’t be afraid to give it a try but please keep your clothes on.

Floating Line Fishing Strategies

Chironomids are not a fast-travelling insect by any means. They rise up from the bottom of the lake and hatch into an adult at a very slow pace. Sometimes the best way to mimic the action of a chironomid is to just let your fly sit there motionlessly suspended in the water.

Sit and Wait

When fishing a floating line, make your cast and then keep nice and tight to the line. By this we mean avoid having slack in your line and let it sit.

Retrieve, Pause, Retrieve, Pause…

Some days retrieving the fly with little bumps can be the ticket. Having your fly move a bit in amongst all the real flies can be enough to grab a fish’s attention and have it bite your fly. 

Slow and Steady

Another tried, tested and proven method is a slow steady retrieve.

Don’t hesitate to try different methods during the day as switching it up can help you increase your odds of hook-ups. 

Chironomid Fishing with a Sinking Line

Once we get into water depths of over 25’, the sinking line method of chironomid fishing should be considered. It becomes a challenge to cast the long leaders needed to fish at these depths using the floating line method.  Instead, you should switch to a full sinking fly line without an indicator. Your leader set-up will be the same as discussed above.

Sinking Line Fishing Strategies

A good way to approach the sinking line method is to first anchor your boat and attach a weight to the end of your leader, strip out line and then lower the weight to the bottom of the lake. Reel in the excess line and strip the weight back to the surface. Remove the weight and replace it with your fly and then cast your line out.

 Allow the line to sink vertically below you and then bring it up a foot or two and the rod can either be placed in a rod holder or held onto awaiting a bite.

If you place the rod in a rod holder and you are in a boat by yourself on a lake, you are allowed to fish two rods. If there are two of you fishing in the boat, two rods per angler are no longer allowed so this is a great opportunity to try some other patterns such as casting and retrieving a leech or dragonfly nymph.

You can also do a slow retrieve with the sinking line method. This method can help locate fish at different depths in the water column as the fly is being brought up. The key to this method is slow, slow, slow and when you think you’re going slow, go even slower. 

Time of Day and Time of Year

The prime time for chironomid fishing is usually just after ice-off as well as into the first few weeks of June. This timing can be affected by the weather as a warmer spring will shorten the window for most lakes. There are some exceptions to this rule as well. Tunkwa Lake, for example, has a great fishery in August when the bomber chironomids hatch (big chironomids) and there can be a Fall fishery as well. Spring is the most common time for the best fishing.

The nice thing about Chironomid fishing is that it’s not usually a first thing in the morning fishery so being up in the dark to be out on the lake isn’t really necessary. There can be exceptions to this but usually most of your hatches are going to be from later morning 10am to the afternoon to 3:00pm or 4:00pm.

“Chironomid Fishing is Boring”

This is something we hear sometimes and yes, if you anchor up in a spot all day and sit there with no bites it’s not exactly going to be exhilarating. There are days where the bite’s just not on. Unsettled weather and cooler temps can all lead to slower days on the water.

 To be successful at chironomid fishing you still must “fish”.  This means we don’t stay in the same spot all day. If it’s not happening in an area, move. Sometimes it doesn’t take much of a move to be on the fish so try casting to different areas around your boat, moving the fly instead of letting it sit or changing flies. Be active and find the fish.

When you get chironomid fishing dialled in, it can truly be a fish every cast. Those days are far from boring, so give chironomid fishing a try this spring. It can be highly productive and a lot of fun.

If you have any questions, please give us a call at 604-931-5044 or send us an email at or stop by the shop #110-1140 Austin Ave in Coquitlam, BC.

Good luck on the water.

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