While going through some old flyboxes recently I came upon a box with some 15 year old patterns inside. The first chironomid I ever remember tying on was Brian Chan’s RedButt which, by today’s standards, was a very fragile pattern utilizing floss, pheasanttail, gold tinsel and peacock herl to create a very effective pattern but one that would not stand up to the gnashing teeth of aggressive trout.
I first starting tying chironomids back in the mid ’90′s and the choice of materials available was very limited and if my memory serves me well the only durable material was V-Rib. Other options included Phentex yarn, rayon floss, tying thread and natural feathers like pheasanttail and peacock herl. Wingcases were created using either pheasanttail or mottled turkey tails, both good for one solid chomp of a trout’s tiny teeth.
The advancements since those days to today are nothing short of amazing. We graduated to scudback, frostbite, larva lace, liquid lace, stretch tubing, flashabou, krystal flash and one of the most popular products that originally had nothing to do with fly tying, anti-static bags.
Incorporating wire ribs over top of fragile materials has prolonged the life of many, otherwise, disabled patterns and now with the coatings available, these patterns are rendered indestructive. Sally Hansen’s, brushable Loctite, Hard as Hull, two ton epoxy, Tuffleye, Clear Cure Goo and Bug Bond are several of the more popular coatings with the last three being instrumental in cutting down the curing time with the use of UV lights. Loon Outdoors also has a product with multiple uses called Knot Sense which is also cured with UV rays or lights. It is no wonder with these latest advancements that tying English style buzzers has become so popular once again.
Hooks are now being developed with the chironomid tyer in mind with Mustad leading the way with the C49S which, in my opinion, is the premium chironomid hook manufactured today. There are threads being introduced that make chironomid tying a lesson in simplicity. Flat lying threads and fine diameters make tying chironomids in the smaller sizes much easier today than in years past.
When I think of fly fishing pioneers I think of none other than Jack Shaw when it comes to chironomids and when it comes to development of today’s patterns I think of none other than the two authorities on chironomid pattern originality, Brian Chan and Phil Rowley. I approached Brian to get his views on the differences in chironomid development between the Jack Shaw era and today.
“I was very fortunate to have Jack Shaw as my mentor when I moved to Kamloops and started my stillwater fly fishing career in earnest. This was back in the mid-1970’s and the chironomid pupal patterns that Jack and others were pioneering and tying were very simple and plain when compared to what we are tying today. Back then we were using body materials of threads, embroidery threads, peacock herl, stripped peacock herl, moose hair, pheasant tail fibres, all natural materials. Ribbings back then were white thread, wire, tinsel and stripped peacock herl. Imitating the white gills of the pupa was typically achieved with ostrich herl. We did use beads of any kind back then. Then, synthetic materials such as Citation and Phentex yarns appeared in sewing stores and soon we were using them for body materials as one could get a very slender body. We typically tied shellbacks using pheasant tail and the thorax was often made of peacock herl. Jack developed a roller tool out of bearings that allowed us to make tinsels out of fine copper, silver and gold wire. The wingbuds of the pupa were imitated using neck feathers from starlings. Each pair of feathers were lacquered and carefully tied in place. They made these flies look very realistic.
Fast forward to today and the plethora of synthetic materials, holographic ribbings, anti-static bag and glues to coat flies. I often wonder how much better the catching would have been way back then if we had the flies we have today. But when I think back to those early days of chironomid fishing, we did pretty good, as good as the best days we have now. The fish of those days had not seen any imitations of these flies either so it kind of equals out.”
Phil Rowley, along with Brian, developed a line of fly tying materials under the name, Stillwater Solutions, with many of the materials enabling the tyer to imitate the naturals commonly found in the waters of Western Canada. Being the originator of The Chromie, one of the most original and productive patterns in several years, it was only natural that I approach Phil on his views of material evolution.
“When I first began tying and fishing chironomid patterns most featured sombre bodies of floss, yarn, Phentex and peacock herl and Mylar ribbing. Although I obtained reasonable results it wasn’t until I learned how to properly use a throat pump did my material considerations for chironomid pupa change.
For the first time throat pumps revealed the distinct glow the trapped air and gases pupa use to both elevate to the surface and assist in their transformation to winged adult. Life like qualities that most of the patterns we were using did not accurately imitate but were a key trigger for foraging trout. In particular, the silver sheen of a fully ‘inflated’ pupa led to the use of silver Flashabou as a body material. Silver Flashabou was a non-traditional body material, that when first blended into the body of a pattern, caused me to wonder what I was doing. But, in short order, the results spoke for themselves and the Chromie was born. The Chromie concept has become a fly box staple for close to 15 years.
My initial successes with the Chromie and other similar patterns created a shift to bright synthetic materials including Frostbite, Angel Hair, holographic Mylar and Crystal Hair. Anti-static bag material has also become a favoured material. It does a wonderful job imitating the subtle glow of staging pupa that have not quite generated the trapped air and gases to the bright ready to emerge Chromie stage.
The desire to duplicate chironomid pupa lead to the many of the materials long-time friend Brian Chan and I developed for the Stillwater Solutions product line. Translucent materials such as Midge Stretch Floss, Midge Braid, and Midge Flex when blended with the bright Flashabou and Mylar type materials create vibrant unique combinations.
Beads have also had an influence. Providing additional flash, suggesting the stark white gills in some instances and complimenting the natural profile of a chironomid pupa beads allowed us to weight patterns while maintaining the slender profile common to all successful chironomid pupa patterns.
In recent years I have also be influenced by the epoxy style ‘buzzers’ common to the European and British stillwater scene in particular. These slender, translucent, realistic patterns are fun to tie and best of all catch fish, especially in clear waters or stillwaters that receive a lot of angler attention. “
So, as you can see, materials continue to evolve and be developed and in the case of chironomids enables the tyer to be more precise in their creations which does no more than enhance their fly fishing experiences enabling the fisher to spend more productive time on the water and continue to hone their craft to near perfection. As our patterns become more developed, we as tyers, fish those patterns with much more confidence which is a key to finding success.
For more detailed information you can visit Fly Craft Angling and check out Stillwater Solutions Recipes by Phil Rowley and Brian Chan.