Most fly fishermen will know of the San Juan Worm pattern. This is a very effective pattern, and one that is widely used around the world.
My Earthworm pattern is a slight adaption of the traditional San Juan Worm pattern. The traditional San Juan Worm has the worm body tied onto the middle of the hook with ends sticking out the front and the back of the fly.
I prefer to tie my Earthworms with a bead at the eye of the hook and worm body tied in behind the bead. This is a quicker tie and allows me to reuse the worm body material if the hook gets blunt.
Being colour blind I find it hard to see flies unless they are in a colour that is a real contrast to the river or lake bottom. Using Earthworm coloured chenille creates an exceptionally visible fly that can be spotted from a long way away. Until fish start spooking regularly I use an Earthworm as a bomb to get my size #16 Hare & Copper down to fish sitting on drop offs or in runs. It is surprising how often the fish will take the worm, not the hare and copper.
In low flows the worm is less successful and spooks more fish. It appears that the fish do not believe a worm will be drifting past them without a reason for it to have been washed into the river. The worm will still take fish, but will spook too many fish to be worth fishing.
The great advantage of using Earthworm coloured chenille is the visibility of the fly. I can see it from a good way back, and can see where it is in relation to the fish. This lets me see whether my flies are getting down in the water column to the fish.
Over the years I have fished to a large number of fish that appear to be asleep. They are sitting in a comfortable lie barely moving. A well presented fly make wake them up, but the tolerances are fine. Drift the fly a few inches above the fish or to either side and it might continue dozing. Get the fly to drive almost into the fish’s mouth and it will take.
Sometimes a dozing fish will see a high energy food source like an earth worm. The fish in the photo is a big brown I found asleep next to a log in a deep hole in the Tongariro. I was using the worm under a heavy green caddis to get it down, and was surprised at how quickly it managed to get down. The fish woke up and inhaled the worm as soon it drifted past.
Hook: Kamasan B175 #14, #10
Thread: Whatever is handy, I like brown and red
Body: Ultra Chenille Standard or Medium Earth Worm
Weight: 2.7mm, 3mm, 3.3mm or 3.5mm tungsten bead, I use all sorts of colours but would pick either natural or coffee as my favourites. I do not think the bead colour or thread colour matters much.
Materials ready to tie in. Note the chenille that is twisted has been recycled off a fly with a blunt hook.
- Tie in the chenille behind the bead and wrap the thread around the chenille to build up a nice tapered thread dam behind the bead, tie off and glue.
- This fly is incredibly simple to tie, and the spin function of the Nor-Vice means that these can be turned out in vast numbers very quickly.
- I favour this tie over the standard San Juan worm pattern as it is far quicker to tie and I can reuse the chenille if the hook point gets blunt. The chenille twists up almost as soon as it hits the water, so looks like a twisting earth worm.
- The colour of the bead does not seem to matter too much. Nor does the thread colour. As a preference I tie this fly with red thread and a coffee or natural tungsten bead, but it does not seem to matter.
- I use my kitchen torch to sear the end of the chenille.
- Earthworm colour is very, very visible. I can see this fly from a long way away, meaning I can tell the depth of the fly and whether it is getting down to the level the fish is at. This makes it an exceptionally useful fly, and I use this colour exclusively, rather than a dark brown or a red which I cannot see as well in the water.
The Earthworm is ideally suited to slightly coloured water. Fish absolutely hammer it, especially in rising or slightly dirty water. Even when the water is not dirty they seem to find it hard to resist if presented close enough to them. I have had seemingly dormant fish take this fly as they cannot resist snapping at it.
I have used the worm in all manner of different water, and it usually results in a take or a fish spooking almost instantly. It is a rare fish that does not react to the worm one way or the other.
When fishing lake edges I scale down the worm to half the size of the worm I use in fast water. The response may not be quite as dramatic as when a fish sees a full size worm but the fish still will attack the fly pretty aggressively.
The pattern I use for the worm is about as simple a fly there is to tie. I gave some flies and fly tying material to Gareth’s five year old son Tom, who tied up about five worms before he got bored. The next day Gareth had a fish hammer a worm in a Taupo river, and Tom was so excited he wanted to ring me immediately. Gareth’s comment was “the response was better than how fish respond to the leech”.