The Midge Larva - (Bloodworm)
The four stages of the midge's life cycle include egg, larva, pupa and the adult. Also known as chironomids, (from the word chironomidae, meaning non-biting midge) there are many anglers who believe the two flies are different but they are indeed one in the same. As fly fishers, when we speak of the chironomid, we are usually referring to the pupa stag of the midge which is more than likely what causes this confusion. To add to this misconception, we have yet another name for the midge when in it‘s larva stag. Commonly known as a bloodworm, the midge larva is not a true worm due to it's exoskeleton and small clawed legs. It's appearance however, does have a resemblance to a worm and do to a large percentage of the larva having a blood red coloration, explains easily how it got it's name.
The bloodworm can be found in several colors. Different shades of tan, brown and green can often be found and even combinations of these colors. But it's the red bloodworm that is most prevalent. This blood red appearance is due to a protein called haemoglobin within the blood of the midge. Like us, a midge's blood is iron based and because a lot of bloodworms make their home in anoxic environments, need this haemoglobin to store oxygen which in turn maintain the viability of it's cells when little oxygen is available.
Non-biting midges can be found in pretty much every fresh water lake and stream in the northern hemisphere. Warmer climates will usually see midges in smaller sizes but the further you travel into cooler climates the larger they get. On stillwaters, midges can be seen from ice-off to ice-on and where waters stay open all year, the midge will continue to hatch. The larva, like some species of caddis, will build their homes in tubes. These tube-like homes can be found at the bottom of lakes and ponds where they will go through several moults becoming larger each time. Through-out this process, they will leave their tubes to forage for fleas, algae and decaying matter known as detritus. Because they can't swim but rather squirm or wriggle through the water, they become easy targets for hungry fish. They are also known to migrate in the spring to warmer, shallower waters and then back to deeper waters in the fall where temperatures will remained around 4 degrees Celsius over the winter. Eventually, the bloodworm will transform into a midge pupa where it will then slowly ascend to the surface.
Midges decline in size from larva, to pupa and finally to adult. Generally, the bloodworm will be two fly sizes longer than adults and one fly size longer than the pupa seen on the surface of the water. According to what body of water you are fishing, sizes can vary with some bloodworms reaching up to two inches in length. The bloodworm is quite slender with a very distinct segmented abdomen that should be mimicked when tying patterns. The larva's slender appearance should also be taken into consideration when at the vice as the bloodworm has little for girth. Colors of red and green are most common and an almost transparent or high sheen material will produce well.
Fishing The Bloodworm
When fishing bloodworms in stillwaters, the set-up should be similar to that of fishing the pupa (see article 'Finding The Strike Zone') whether with a strike indicator or fished naked. For stillwaters that allow a two fly set-up, a pupa pattern tied on as your dropper fly with a larva pattern tied onto the hook bend as your point fly is a great way to target deeper fish while the dropper fly targets fish foraging higher up in the water column. Keeping your bloodworm pattern within a foot or two off any bottom structure is good strategy as bloodworms will not stray to far from home accept on windier days when wave action can force them up higher into the water column. Because midge larva get around by squirming through the water, anglers should give good animation when retrieving their flies. An excellent retrieve when using an indicator is two very short but quick strips, then leaving the fly alone to settle back down for a period. This action seems to draw the attention of nearby feeding trout and will often result in hook-ups once the fly is either dropping back down or has settled back to a resting state. With that said, at times no movement is required at all and just leaving your presentation catatonic can produce well. The use of a non-slip loop knot will further add animation to your fly when tied to the eye of the hook. This knot will have the fly moving freely as apposed to a clinch knot tied tightly up to the eye hindering movement. When choosing the size of fly, choose one size larger than what you believe the naturals will be in order to help your pattern stand out from the crowd. This also plays on the greed factor of hungry trout.
Because the chironomid pupa receives so much attention (and for good reason), the bloodworm gets overlooked for the most part. A mistake by stillwater fly anglers to be sure, as they certainly don't get overlooked by hungry fish.
Mike (Doc) Monteith is the owner of Alberta Stillwater Adventures, specializing in one-on-one introductory to stillwater fly fishing clinics.