Tenkara Chironomid Fishing

What is a Chironomid and why would a Tenkara angler fish for them? Well, actually, we do not fish for chironomids but use chironomid fly patterns to catch fish with in stillwaters. And there is the rub, Tenkara angling is usually thought of as being a running water angling activity, pretty much exclusively. And in running waters, the same types of aquatic insects are called Midges, which as the name implies are quite small, generally being tied on hook sizes starting with 18s and going on down through size 32s.

But Chironomids, on the other hand, range from robust to humongous, with some lake anglers going to size 8s and 6s to make sure their fly patterns stand out in a crowd of chironomids to get noticed by the fish. And for fishing lakes and ponds, and possibly sloughs as well, Chironomids are the #1 candidate for trout to eat through out the whole angling season. The chironomid/midge life cycle starts with the egg, then the larva, pupa, and then on to the breeding adult, which produces more eggs to begin the cycle all over again. But by far the most important angling stage is the Pupa, which is the only stage I imitate and fish. I call them Midge Pupa, because midge pupa is a lot easier to say and spell than Chironomid Pupa.

Rather than going on and on about midge pupa patterns and chironomid fishing, here is a link to pictures of same with good videos as well, with all the information presented in a far better and more interesting way than I can do: Fly Fishing Chironomids Larva Pupa - Methods & Entomology

If the first video is watched, it will quickly become apparent that some tackle adjustments would be needed to fish chironomid patterns on tenkara rods. We can’t cast nearly as far, can’t cast those huge indicators, or weight our flies as heavily as the anglers in BC do. The BC Inland Lakes Region is the prime area on the North American Continent for doing this kind of fishing, and the techniques developed there are especially suited to that environment. In other places, other things will need to be done.

The lakes I fish are small, High Mountiain Lakes, where most of the midge activity takes place close to the surface and not far from shore. As a matter of fact, one of the best ways to tell if you need to put on a midge pupa pattern is determined by looking at the surface of the lake to be fished - if the lake appears to have a light rain falling on its surface, with gentle rings in evidence over an area, that is a sure sign that a midge emergence is in progress. This usually happens on calm mornings and evenings around dawn and dusk, but can also take place in the middle of the day in the early spring and late autumn periods, and is always temperature driven no matter when it happens. And any significant wind activity will shut the emergence down, which if the wind is gusting, the emergence can start and stop off an on until it blows steadily or the temperature rises to shut things down, midge wise.

Seeing all the rings, most anglers assume dry fly activity is taking place and, consequently, put on a dry fly, which will seldom get any action at all. The fish are causing the rings on the water as they take the midge pupa just under the surface. It is not unusual to see their dorsal and tail fins breaking the surface in porpoising-like rise forums continully.

Whether you are T-fishing or Western fly fishing, the best line to use in this situation is a Floating PVC coated fly line with a tapered slow sinking leader. The fish will often hit the knots on your leader or the tippet to line joining knot on tenkara tackle, which, again, is an indication that fish are taking midge pupa. The main triggering anatomical characteristic for midge pupa is the greatly enlarged thorax and head area, which a knot imitates quite well. There is no need to Match the Hatch, seeing as how a knot in your line will effectively fool the fish.

In the BC Lakes, most of the fish are caught close to the bottom, so weighted patterns are quite popular there. Early on I also tried weighted midge pupa patterns, but they had to be fished too fast to keep them from snagging, and the fish were not willing to swim that fast to take the fly. The only weight I use now is copper ribbing wire to imitate the segmentation of the pupa’s abdomen - Always, Light on Dark or Dark on Light for the wire over wrapping the wool yarn body, and pick a body color that contrasts with the water color and fishing background or the sky color.

There isn’t really all that much to it. Sometimes, the fly will be taken just as it enters the water. If not, let the fly sink for a little while. Then, start a slow, twitching retrieve with your rod motion moving the fly. For the twitching action, press on the grip repeatedly with your little finger tip. You don’t want to move the rod much! A very small movement at the butt is greatly magnified when it gets 11 to 14 feet out there, at the rod’s tip. A lot of the time the fish will hook themselves, but a hook set usually doesn’t hurt either. And except for landing the fish, that is about all there is to fishing midge pupa patterns.

In my case
Use size # 18 ~ 20
・・・Ultra fine copper wire only


Old book but I also read

Micro Patterns by Darrel Martin

Japanese Micro Patterns & Small Kebari
・・・This was donated to Montana State University


I do not use an Indicator at all but, others, obviously, like using them. Its your 10 Colors choice as to what you want to do. Indicators hinder casting with a T-rod to a considerable degree, and are unpleasant to cast in my view, and that’s also your shot to call, as well. The leader to fly line juncture is usually all the strike indicator that you need, but its usually better to keep your eye on the fish. And the real take away here is that you should not be just fishing the water blindly. This is Spot and Stalk Fishing at its best, where you always cast to a previously sighted and Targeted fish.

Much of the time, while you may not be able to actually see your fly in the water at fishing distances, you will usually be able to see the fish take your fly, and then raise the rod. If resistance is felt, set! If not, continue your fishing retrieve. Stop retrieving frequently from time to time to let the fly sink again, which is what the real pupa do when they get tired of trying to wiggle their way to the surface, they take a rest. Thus, two to three ascent presentations can be made for each cast, doubling or tripling your fishing efficiency per cast.

I use a Floating line about equal to the rod’s length. With the leader being about half again as long as the line is long, and a 3 foot or so long tippet, making the total reach about 35+ feet. As you can see the total line length combined with the rod’s length gives a considerable range and reach. With the relatively heavy Floating T-line, the line is not usually held up and off of the water, so you can usually use 100% of your total line length and rod reach lengths in your fishing.

For imparting a pulsing action to the fly while maintaining a constant fly depth, draw an imaginary oval with your rod tip, as you move the rod tip parallel to the water surface to retrieve the fly. Using these techniques will also enable you to get drag free drifts in wind generated surface currents by casting into the wind, which the Floating PVC Lines do a lot better than Fluorocarbon Lines can, because the sinking FC line will cause drag on the Floating Midge Emerger Pattern. And these same techniques also work well for fishing with wet flies, nymphs, and other dry flies, not just chironomid emergers.

Obviously, with the line and leader lengths we are talking about here, landing and releasing a fish presents some obvious problems, and there is a better way of handling them than using the usual Hand-Over-Hand line technique usually advocated, which I call the Stripping-In-Line-Technique. Both techniques begin in the same way - getting a hold of your fishing line and transferring the line over to your rod hand. But instead of alternating the line accumulation back and forth between your two hands, you form a pinch/ring with your first finger and thumb of your rod hand, and strip the line in with your off hand, pinching the line to control it when you reach up behind your rod hand to take in another length of line, by relaxing the line control pinch. Giving line to the fish when needed is also accomplished by relaxing the pinch, with the line ring keeping the line in your control and possession and under control at all times, until when you may have to put the fish back on the rod. When that happens, you just have to start anew, all over again, which you would also have to do with the Hand-Over-Hand method as well.

I like your “stripping in” technique. Will have to try it.

While I’ve not tried Chironomids with a fixed line rod, when I was out on the Front Range in CO, there was a nearby lake that had a pretty good hatch of them every evening. I started using some and did well. Of course these were peanut trout, but it was still fun.

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	**My Chironomid Patterns - 4 Pupa and 2 Midge Emergers**

The White Midge Pupa:

Hook:…. FireHole Sticks #12 413 BL

Thread:… 70 D Black UT

Gills:…… White UNI-Glo Yarn

Rib:……. Med. Black Wire

Body:…… Wool - Rye color - an off white

Thorax:… Natural, Dyed Black Peacock Herl

Head:… Thread

This pattern is primarily for Low Light conditions, so there is no need for color as the fish will be using their Rod Cell vision. However, it is also productive in all daylight and water color conditions.

The Orange Midge Pupa:

Hook:…. FireHole Sticks #12 413 BL

Thread:. 70 D Burnt Orange UT

Gills:…… FL-White Antron Yarn

Rib:…… Med. Copper Wire

Body:…. Wool - Pumpkin color

Thorax:… Natural Dyed Orange Peacock Herl

Head:… Thread

This pattern is mostly for day time, sunny, bright conditions but is especially good in
green colors waters.

The Red Butt Zebra Midge:

Hook:…. FireHole Sticks #14 413 BL

Thread:. 70 D Black UT

Rib:…… BR. Silver Wire

Gills:…. FL-White Antron Yarn

Butt:…. Red Holographic Tinsel

Body:… Wool - Black - Shetland

Thorax:. Natural Dyed Black Peacock Herl

Head:… Thread

This pattern works well in the shadows on sunny days, and under low light conditions as well.

The Blond Midge Pupa:

Hook:…. FireHole Sticks #16 413 BL

Thread:. 70 D FL-White UT

Gills:…… FL-White Antron Yarn

Rib:…… BR. Copper Brown

Body:…. Wool - Scotch Broom color

Thorax:. Bleached/Dyed Dark Tan Peacock Herl

Head:… Thread

This one is good under all conditions but especially in turbid colored water conditions.

The Chironomid Midge Emergers:

#1 The Orange Midge Emerger:

Hook:……… #14 Daiichi 1222

Thread:…….70D Burnt Orange UT

Shuck:……. Grizzly Flutter Leg - Black-Bar FL- Fire Orange

Gills:……… FL- White Antron Yarn

Shell-Back: Cream 2 mm Foam

Body:……… Wool - Pumpkin color

Head:……… Foam Stub

To be used under the same conditions as the Orange Midge Pupa would be used under.

#2 The Black Midge Emerger:

Hook:… #14 DAIICHI 1222

Thread:… 70D Black UT

Shuck:… Grizzly Flutter Leg - Black-Bar FL-GR Chartreuse

Gills:… Glo-White Yarn

Shell-Back:… Black 2mm Foam

Body:… Wool - Black - Shetland

Head:… Foam Stub

The Black Midge Emerger is for low light conditions of overcast, rain, snow, dawn and
dusk. In the past I have used Krystal Flash and TEAL FLANK strips for the shucks,
which did well enough, but I am trying to get better results with the Fluorescent Flutter-
Leg materials. We shall see how it goes this next season……


Red Butt Zebra Midge Caution: Midge larva live in oxygen deprived environments, so they utilize hemoglobin (the same stuff that makes our blood red) to extract oxygen from the waters they live in. And that’s why they are called Blood Worms, because they are the same red color blood is. As the larva Pupate, they can and usually do change color, but some times some of the hemoglobin is retained in some individual’s anterior body portions - hence the Red Butt included on some midge pupa patterns, which are said to have better fish catching abilities than non-red-butt patterns do.

On the first Red Butts I tied, the red butt was tied with #3 Glo-Brite Crimson floss, which is a highly Fluorescent material that yielded positive but inconsistent results for me compared to the standard Zebra Midge Pupa patterns. Both patterns were tied as identical as I could make them, with the exception of the Red Butt: white breathing gills, black bodies with silver ribs, and dyed black peacock herl thoraxes.

Doing a little research, I found that Red Holographic Tinsel was an alternative material recommended for this purpose, so I acquired a spool to give it a try. The Red Holographic Tinsel did not light up at all under a Black Light like the Glo-Brite Floss did - the red butt was just as black under the Black Light as the black body material was. And my Blood was just as Black under a Black Light as the Red Holographic Tinsel was, so we have a match there in that regard.

In fishing both patterns - back-to-back - against each other, both seemed to have equally attractive pulling powers for the fish (and not just on trout) but the Holographic Red Butts didn’t cause the last instant refusals the way the FL-Red Butts did (at times but not all the time) on the FL-Butted Zebra Midge Pupa, so I would not recommend using FL-Red Butts on Zebra Midge Pupa.

I also tried the Red Butt Holographic Tinsel on the Orange Midge Pupa, but in that case I did not get the same degree of increased performance realized with the Zebra Midge Pupa Patterns - so it was not worth going to the extra trouble of adding Red Butts to the Orange Midge Pupa patterns in my view.

While the study of aquatic insects and their importance to trout as food has never been important in Tenkara Fly Fishing in the past, that does not mean its significance should be overlooked in the present, especially with reference to the Chironomids as they compose 39% of what trout eat in stillwaters on a yearly basis. Notice how small a percentage most of the other (more well represented pattern types like mayflies and caddis fies) make up OF THE TOTAL YEARLY INTAKE. Please click on the symbol below to see the magnified chart photo. Here is a picture of Phil Rowley’s Stillwater Yearly Food Distribution Chart:

Phil Rowley’s Spring, Summer, and Fall Trout Stillwater Diet Charts. By clicking on the chart you are interested in seeing, you will get a big enough imiage that all the words can be very easily read.

Here is a short video section of Ralph Cutter’s filming on the importance of midges, their life cycles, and how they behave in the water that every fly fishing Stillwater Angler should watch.


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The trout lakes, such as Eliguk in B.C., love these insects. Near sunset they will skim the surface or subsurface and load up on these insects. It is an awesome sight to witness. This is when the big boys come out to feed; they look like submarines gliding through the lake with the water flowing over their backs. I became so mesmerized from the sight I forgot to cast the rod until the glide yelled, “Mike, what the hell are you doing, throw that fly out there.”

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