The cliché holds there are only two things in life that you can count on: death and taxes. Yet, if you’re an angler in Colorado, there are actually three. The third is that you can catch a lot of fish on chironomids.
What is a chironomid you ask? While it sounds like an evil character from a science-fiction movie, chironomids (pronounced “KYRO-nomids”) are actually members of the Chironomidae midge family. Midges are tiny flies that resemble gnats or mosquitos. They are the most prevalent aquatic insects in Colorado, making up more than 50 percent of a fish’s diet in some waters. While tricky to pronounce, fishing with chironomids is quite easy.
Without getting overly technical or geeky about midge entomology, a chironomid fly pattern imitates a midge during its pupa state. The midge pupa dislodges from the lake bottom, floats to the surface, hatches and then flies away. Trout feast on midges during this ascension from the lake bottom to the water’s surface, which is why chironomids are so effective.
One of the best methods to fish chironomids is with a floating fly line, a strike indicator and a 7- to 9-foot leader. The goal is to suspend the fly just off the lake bottom. You may need to use a longer or shorter leader/tippet depending on water depth.
On windy days, the strike indicator will bob up and down in the waves. This gives the fly the appearance that it’s ascending off the lake bottom–just like the real insect. This subtle motion is all that’s required to trigger a strike. On calm days, a snail-like retrieve is all it takes to entice fish. When a fish takes the fly, the strike indicator will dive beneath the surface and you’ll shout “fish on!”
If you don’t own a fly rod, no worries. Chironomids work well on a spinning rod with a fly and bubble rig. Be sure to reel slowly to imitate the fly’s subtle movement.
Midges hatch year-round and are found at nearly all waters in Colorado. Some of my favorite lakes and reservoirs to fish with chironomids are the Delaney Buttes State Wildlife Area, Antero Reservoir, Eleven Mile and Spinney Mountain state parks. Check out CPW’s Fishing Atlas for directions to these locations or give chironomids a try at your favorite fishing hole.
TIP: Watch for swallows or other birds dive-bombing the water’s surface. This is a sure-fire sign that a midge hatch is underway, and it’s the perfect time to get your line in the water. I’ve watched kamikaze swallows for hours as they pluck midges off the Delaney Buttes Lakes–all while I’m catching fish, one after another, on chironomids.
If you tie your own flies, the chironomid is one of the easiest DIY patterns. All you need to tie a basic chironomid is a bead for the head, black thread and some wire for the ribbing. Popular colors and variations include black, green, red and purple.
Story and photos by Jerry Neal. Neal is an information specialist, senior videographer and editor of Colorado Outdoors Online.