Monday, February 4, 2013

Soft-Hackle Chironomid Emergers

Soft-Hackle Midges tied by Steven Bird

For those of us fishing winter water, midges are often the only game in town. Peacock herl has long been known as a good material for imitating adult midges, & there’s no denying the effectiveness of the Griffith’s Gnat. And I’m certainly far from the first to experiment with wet versions of that old standby, seeking imitations for the chironomid’s emergent stage. That is water already covered, & with some good patterns. Yet it is nice to discover things for yourself, as I did one late afternoon years ago when I encountered a blood midge hatch at a Washington lake right after ice-out. Cutthroat were ringing the surface everywhere, I had no clue what they were eating & nothing I was trying would bring a strike. So of course I started throwing everything I had in the box, which in those days wasn’t much of a variety. Included in the meager collection was a couple of #16 Gray Hackle Peacocks, the old-timey kind with tails of red hackle. I tied one on, casted it & was immediately onto a fish. Then another one, & so on.  Not being one to leave well enough alone (damn near a fish a cast) I decided the fly might work even better minus the ridiculous red tail. Wrong. The catch rate immediately dropped off. I clipped it off & tied on the one remaining unaltered version & was back into fish again. I couldn’t figure it out. The trout were acting very selective, yet were willing to eat an imitation with a red tail, that looked like no insect I knew of. I kept a couple fish for the table, & when I cleaned them at home I checked the stomachs & found them chokablock full of blood-red, wormlike larvae of varying lengths, from a quarter to over an inch long. I later learned that these were blood midge larvae, & that the old Gray Hackle Peacock is a fine imitation of the emerger. Since then, I’ve had good success with variations suitable to different species of midges simply by altering the tailing material to simulate the various nymphal shucks. The tail-less version pictured is a Sylvester Nemes creation, which he describes as a sort of soft-hackle version of the Griffith Gnat.

Soft-Hackle Midge Emerger/Stillborn

Hook: #16-#20 (I tie a lot of my midge imitations on caddis-style hooks, the shorter shank allowing for a larger hook.)

Thread: Black

Tailing (Shuck): Red hackle fibers for blood midge, or natural mallard flank fibers or pearl midge flash for the rest

Ribbing: Fine wire

Body: Peacock herl

Hackle: One turn of gray partridge or grizzly hen hackle, stripped on one side (For smaller sizes, I’ll often clip some fibers from a feather & arrange them around the hook shank as a collar), & finish

Flyfish the Upper Columbia/NE Washington with Steven Bird: 


  1. A little bit of red can be a magic color. Just a touch of red seals fur in your dry fly dubbing mimics the extra blood flow needed to inflate those new wings on a mayfly emerger or dun pattern.

  2. Interesting tip about the red seal fur. I want to try that with some black quill imitations, the duns of which have a decidedly red undertone that is tricky to approximate. Do you mean a natural red, or dyed? Nothing like a little blood flow to inflate things, Bert.

  3. Dyed red or claret. Because seals fur can be thick and wiry it doesn't blend very well with the typical fine dubbing. This is a good thing because it looks like discrete blood vessels distributed through the thorax. A few fibers is all that is needed. On the other hand, this may not be the best technique if you are looking for blended colors.

    I don't have any pictures of my own so I will pimp a link to another forum with ssome good pictures of a wet Tups Indispensable. Hans Weilenmann won't mind a bit.

    BTW, get your mind out of the gutter, you perv. ;-)

  4. Hey yer the one that got me goin - & yer still writing stuff like 'discreet blood vessels'... ya maniac.

    Gonna dye some seal fur. Yes. I like the notion of not blending (too muddy) but rather, mixing, for a more blotchy effect. The Tups is a really good example. I tie a killer PMD nymph, similar to a Pheasant Tail nymph, except mixing reddish brown & black dubbing for the abdomen, instead of pheasant tail. I'll post that pattern down the road in the Spring edition.

  5. Hey Bert, send me an email. I have something I'd like to send along to you.