The squirmy worm is a basic yet very effective fly. Also known as the “squirmy wormy,” this fly is a sort of modern take on the San Juan Worm. Constructed of just a piece of stretchy rubber tied on a hook, the fly consistently catches fish throughout the United States and even around the world.
These days the squirmy worm comes in a variety of colors and styles. The basic version is fantastic for all sorts of fish. Other versions use things like estaz yarn for the body. This adds flash and a little durability to the fly, but I don’t know that it makes the pattern any more effective. This is one of those flies that works fine “as is.” I always carry a few in my fly box. I’ve caught everything from mountain whitefish in Montana to wild brown trout in the Great Smoky Mountains on squirmy worms.
Obviously the squirmy worm is meant to look like a worm. It’s a little too big to realistically resemble a blood worm. But it does look something like a small earth worm. Everyone knows that fish eat worms. So it’s no surprise that fish also hit the squirmy worm. The fact that this fly looks like a worm and is so easy to tie seems to upset some people who fly fish. I pay that no regard. This is a fly that works in a wide variety of situations. I am happy to fish with it, and the fish are eager to hit the fly. That’s good enough for me.
How to fish the Squirmy Worm
Anyone who has fished with a live red worm or soft plastic worm can tell you how good they worm. The same principle applies here. The squirmy worm looks like a fish and even moves around in the water. It catches all sorts of fish. The fly is usually tied in sizes 8, 10 and 12. The material size doesn’t change. So you don’t see these flies tied in huge or tiny sizes very often. The bead head variant can be good when you are fishing fast current or otherwise want to get the fly down deep.
This Montana cutthroat took a pink squirmy worm
Red squirmy worms are common and effective. Pink squirmy worms are also common and arguably even more effective. Other colors include purple, chartreuse and brown. I usually start out with a pink squirmy worm. If that doesn’t work, I may change to another color. But it is not very often that a squirmy worm fails to catch fish.
The squirmy worm can be fished on fly gear, spinning gear, or tenkara gear. No matter how you fish it, the goal is to make it drift naturally with the current. Or more precisely, to let the fly drift naturally. You want the fly to move through the water at the same speed as the current. If the fly moves faster than the water, or drags slowly leaving a wake, you are unlikely to catch any fish. Yet when the fly dead drifts along at a natural pace it is irresistible to a lot of fish.
This Kentucky rainbow trout hit a bead head squirmy worm
On fly gear you fish the squirmy worm like any other nymph. Dead drift it though likely holding spots and watch your line or strike indicator for takes. The same goes for tenkara gear. In that case you can try to watch the fly itself or simply watch the line for movement. With spinning gear you normally need something else on the line to give you casting weight. You can use some split shot then feel the line for bites. Better still, attach a strike indicator like the EZ Float a few feet up the line from your squirmy worm. Watch the float for indication of a take. If the float stops moving or goes under, set the hook!
Squirmy Worm tactics and applications
Since the squirmy worm looks like an earth worm it only makes sense that it would work well in the spring and summer. Especially during periods or rain or high water when more worms show up in front of the fish. That is definitely true. On the other hand this fly can also catch fish when the number of real earth worms in the water is negligible or entirely non-existent.
For example, I have caught arctic char, whitefish and cutthroat trout from extremely cold waters with pink squirmy worms. I have also caught steelhead in Pennsylvania tributaries like Elk Creek on squirmy worms in the dead of winter. So I don’t hesitate to use squirmy worms even when there is snow on the ground or glaciers upstream. This is the kind of fly that draws a strike from salmonids in all sorts of conditions.
Mountain whitefish take squirmy worms too
Don’t be afraid to use squirmy worms in still waters either. You can catch everything from the aforementioned grayling to panfish and bass on squirmy worms in lakes and ponds. You may have to impart a little action onto the flies in still waters, but that is easy enough to do. Just give the rod tip a little twitch here and there and wait for the bite. Don’t overlook the margins close to shore. I’ve caught a lot of fish just off the bank with the squirmy worm.
As you can see the squirmy worm catches fish in all sorts of situations. Yet it is not perfect. The biggest issue with the squirmy worm is its fragility. While you can catch dozens of fish on a single San Juan Worm, a squirmy worm is unlikely to withstand even a handful of fish without breaking down. The pieces that hang off the front or back of the hook rip and tear off easily. The soft plastic used on these flies is delicate enough to rip off when the flies are being tied. So some care is needed with these things, though the results can be worth it. I would also say that damaged squirmy worms can still catch fish. I’ve used them in a pinch when I had no squirmy worms left and still continued to catch fish.
Where to buy Squirmy Worms
Although it is often written off as a “junk fly” the squirmy worm is pretty easy to find. It is also pretty easy to tie, though you have to be careful when using the squirmy worm material. Sometimes it’s easier just to buy the flies ready made. Sometimes you have no choice. The abundance of this fly ought to tell you how many people use it. Fly shops like River’s Edge in Cherokee and Smoky Mountain Angler in Gatlinburg, North Carolina always seem to have the squirmy worm available in a number of colors and sizes. Yet some other fly shops don’t carry the fly at all.
The squirmy worm is probably not as easy to find as the San Juan Worm. I see San Juan Worms in more shops than squirmies. San Juans are also more common in the big box retailers that sell flies. So if you’re looking for squirmy worms be prepared to make some effort. They might not be available at the very first place you stop. You’ll want to make sure you have some with you before any fishing trip to avoid disappointment.
These days it’s easy to order a mess of squirmy worm flies online. You can even find a squirmy worm assortment on Amazon and have it shipped right to your door in no time. The amount of money you spend can vary. You would hope that more expensive flies would be tied on better hooks since the same material is used by everyone. Unfortunately that is not always the case. Still, even the cheap flies out there can be decent. I can’t say I’ve run into many problems with them. You can always tie your worms too. All you need is the squirmy worm material, hooks and tying thread. There’s really nothing else to it.
Whatever the case, the squirmy worm is a real fish catcher that works all over the place. Whether or not this is your favorite fly, you should seriously consider carrying a couple with you at all times. You never know when the old squirmy worm will save the day. It can also start the out fine as a great searching pattern that picks up fish. This is the kind of fly you can throw out into water with no signs of activity and still come up with a fish. That’s one of the reasons it is so good.