Is this your year to fish Colorado’s stillwaters?
Waters high and muddy? Might be a problem unless you like to catch large trout feeding on massive hatches of large midges! Temperatures on our gold medal fisheries in South and North Park are finally stabilizing in the mid fifties, and with that comes the first of the great hatches, and lake fisherman’s best friend the Chironomid. If you haven’t fished lakes before, don’t panic, this hatch is very beginner friendly, utilizing the same gear you use on our rivers. In this blog we’ll look in depth at this midge hatch and try to answer the many questions we hear at the shop when getting started in lake fishing, Callibaetis are coming off now as well- but we’ll save that for next time.
Any rod in the 5-7 weight range in med fast to fast action, and of at least 9 foot in length will work great. The faster action will accommodate casting in the notoriously windy conditions found on these impoundments as well as recover any slack line on hook sets. My personal favorite is a 9 1/2 foot fast action six weight Sage. The longer rods available now can assist the float tuber sitting low in the water attain a little extra leverage. A weight forward floating line matched with a nine foot leader tapered to 3x or 4x and completed with the same size fluorocarbon tippet to fly will finish the set up. A cork indicator set to suspend your fly or flies a foot or so off the bottom and large enough to support the weight of the flies in windy conditions completes the basic rig.
There are as in most fly fishing situations other techniques that will work well for this hatch. I personally enjoy slow crawling pupa without an indicator, counting down the flies after casting using a short Rio Midge intermediate tip fly-line, and certainly if you become a lake enthusiast looking at some of these specialized tapers to maximize presentation will make sense, but for the sake of the beginner, I’d recommend the suspension method as this is without a doubt the easiest way to consistently catch fish during this hatch.
Understanding the bug
Chironomids are the single most important food item found within a still-water’s biomass. It has been estimated that this bug within its various life stages can represent ½ of a trout’s total diet throughout the year. Hatches start shortly after ice off and will continue until ice covers the lake again in late fall. Peak emergence in Colorado starts in May or early June but strong secondary hatches can appear again all the way through September. Chironomids belong to the order of insects known as Diptera meaning two winged. Other bugs of this family include mosquitoes and crane flies, but rest assured these wont’ bite. There are well over 2000 species of Chironomids, all of them with their unique size, color and hatch timing. As with all Diptera, Chironomids have a complete life cycle, meaning it has larval, pupal, and adult stages that should all be considered by the fisherman. However unless fish are showing themselves on the surface, it is the larvae and pupa that can provide Colorado anglers the most consistent action on our South and North Park waters.
Sizes on these lake midges can vary and Lake Fisherman should come prepared with imitations ranging from a size 18 to a size 8. The glory months of May and June provide several species between 14 and 10 and if you are to start tying or stocking a box for this hatch I find I use more 12 and 14s for the pupa and 10s and 12 for larvae imitations. Popular colors for pupa Chironomids include red, olive, brown and black. The solid red “blood worm” is the overwhelming favorite for the larvae. Many naturals utilize hemoglobin for oxygen intake and this quality gives the larvae a blood red appearance and enables it to thrive in oxygen poor muddy bottoms. Some pupae retain this quality from the larvae stage in the tip of their abdomen; this red butt quality should be associated with some of your imitations. It is important to note as well that during emergence the pupae will often have a silver cast due to trapped air and gases necessary to help it swim towards the water’s surface. This quality again should be taken into account when experimenting with patterns.
As I noted earlier, adults will be present during strong hatches but it is very infrequent that the angler can take advantage of this dry fly bite. The windy conditions conducive to Colorado promote rippled conditions that allow adults to crawl out of their pupal shuck without much hesitation. Perhaps more importantly, the sheer number of pupae ascending in depths of 5-15 feet allows fish to efficiently feed without worry of predation. Dry fly windows can literally be at first light or just before dark on adults.
As Chironomids are the same species whether in lakes or rivers (although in rivers they are referred to only as midges and for whatever reason thought of as a separate bug) larger imitations of the same patters you use in the South Platte or Big Thompson can be effective. It doesn’t hurt to tie in gills on these larger imitations as they can become a trigger for fish while searching them out. Many patterns incorporate a white glass or brass bead to imitate this quality with success. Keep in mind that even in size 8, it is still a midge and should be slender in profile respectively. Both straight and continuous bend hooks (scud bend) are used with success concurring with the ideal look desired by the tier or fisherman.
Popular commercial imitations include larger Black Beauties, Rojo Midges, Chironocones, Chromies, Juju Chironomids, Kalidescope Chironomids and my favorite, the Yankee Buzzer (you’ll have to look for this one next year!). The Bipolar Chironomids is another imitation that has proven itself over the years and is available in our custom lake assortment. As mentioned before, Callibaetis are hatching now as well, and damsels are on deck to start in the next couple of weeks- so check back in on particulars to address these hatches in following weeks. Good fishing!!!