Monday, November 12, 2012

Bloodworms-The Underrated Staple

This past October proved to be one of my busiest.  I spent time in Manitoba, Idaho and California providing seminars and hosted trips.  With each trip I was fortunate to spend time on the water chasing the last stillwater trout of my 2012 season.
Staples such as bloodworm are an excellent fall pattern choice

Fall is one of my favorite seasons when it comes to stillwater fly fishing.  As frost begins to predominate the daily fall forecasts, trout prowl the shallows continuing to build the fat reserves that will carry them through the long cold winter ahead.  At this time use pattern and presentation techniques to suggest staple food items such as leeches, forage fish, scuds, immature dragon and damsel fly nymphs and perhaps the most underrated stillwater staple, chironomid larva (bloodworm).
Sheridan sample

Bloodworm patterns are one of my favorite stillwater staples to imitate.  During the fall months this bread and butter prey item is often on the menu.  When I was down in Idaho I spent time on both Henry’s Lake and Sheridan Lake.  Sheridan is a private fishery known for its large rainbow trout.  I had the pleasure of fishing Sheridan last year and I was looking forward to fishing it once again.
The weather was perfect, bright clear skies and crisp just below zero temperatures to start the day, my favorite combination for fall fishing.  Water levels were low and fish were rolling on the surface.  It seemed to take forever to get my gear ready and my Yamaha G3 1756 VBW into the water.  I loaded my first two students, Dustin and Jared into the boat.  Off we went in search of trophy trout.

Large trout love chironomid larvae
Thankfully we didn’t have to go far.  The water was clear as the frigid overnight temperatures caused the algae to clump and sink.  Fish were moving at the opening to a large shallow bay that sloped gently into deeper water.  As there was no definite structural transition such as drop off I chose to take advantage of another form of transition, light to dark.  Trout love to prowl in the cover of shadow or shade.  In low light conditions they hunt confidently and aren’t as spooky as if they were in shallow clear water.  With this approach in mind we anchored the bow of the boat just where it was difficult to make out the bottom.  We anchored the stern in dark, deep water.  This placed us in roughly 10-12 feet of water. 
Floating lines and indicators were the order of the day.  Experience taught me that a leech or bloodworm pattern on the bottom with a chironomid pupa on a dropper would be a good place to start. 

As three of us were in the boat we all positioned our flies at different depths to quickly eliminate non-productive water.   Dustin was into fish in short order.  A healthy plump Sheridan rainbow took his small black and red Ice Cream Cone roughly nine feet down.  After a spirited fight the rainbow soon lay in the net.

A quick throat pump confirmed I was on the right track.  Dustin’s rainbow was stuffed with #12-#10 bloodworm.  The 5/8th’s to ¾’s inch bloodworm were writhing like mad.  Just a few seconds ago they were moving just above the bottom or within the tube-like homes they construct along the bottom.  Trout have no issue vacuuming larvae right from the relative safety of the their homes and if the bloodworm are free and moving about their feeble head to tail swimming motion offers zero resistance to a foraging trout.

Regurgitated bloodworm
Based on this information we soon changed flies to represent bloodworm.  Jared and Dustin each tied on Vernille or Plush Chenille San Juan Worm and I swapped to a #10 Bionic Worm on the point and a straight shank Holo Worm on the point.   I wanted to see which shank profile trout preferred.  If trout favor wriggling bloodworm then a curved shank pattern is the better choice.  Conversely, if trout are taking the bloodworm as they rest after wriggling about, which they tend to do in an extended position, then a straight shank pattern is the wiser option.  If I am fishing a long leader without an indicator I often start with straight shank patterns as with this method the flies are pulled through the water more than when using indicators.  Some days it doesn’t matter and either philosophy works.

Jerry McBride's Bionic Worm
Bloodworm patterns don’t inspire angler confidence.  To some they are nothing more than a slender red or maroon stick.  Successful patterns need to be slender, just like the naturals.  If you want some tips on bloodworm patterns please check out Bloodworm Basics in the Fly Patterns section of my website.

Bloodworm patterns need to be slender to match the naturals
As bloodworm are found on or just above the bottom I left my point fly hanging about one foot off the bottom and wasn’t having much success.  Dustin had three or four takes in a row with his flies at nine feet.  That was enough information for me and I slid my indicator down towards my flies and hung my Bionic Worm at nine feet.  This tactical change was the ticket and we had a great couple of hours.  Rainbows show a particular affinity for Jerry McBride’s Bionic Worm.  Make sure you have more than a few rows in your fly box ready to go.

Sheridan rainbow loved Bionic Worms
This approach continued throughout the day with each pair of students that joined me in my boat.  I went back to the same spot each time and took fish.  To quote an old guide’s adage, “Don’t leave fish to find fish.”   One large fish we caught regurgitated over 20 bloodworm in the landing net.  They were definitely the priority food that day on Sheridan.

Sam, with one of Sheridan's trophy rainbows taken on using a chironomid larva (bloodworm) pattern
The next time you aren’t sure what pattern to tie on consider something that imitates a staple prey item and bloodworm in particular. Chances are you won’t be disappointed with the results.

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