The San Juan Worm

The presence of terrestrial and aquatic worms literally everywhere, super easy to tie, and the killer effectiveness of the San Juan Worm make it one you always want to have as a staple in your box.

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1. About The San Juan Worm

This pattern emulates an aquatic worm which is a staple food for many fish including trout. It is also tied to emulate terrestrial worms.  It is used any season, but especially during the spring as its simple construction makes it perfect for fishing during spring rains which wash many worms into the stream where they become easy targets for feeding fish.

As worms are a slow moving food source, swollen with water and soft in texture, trout love to munch on them, thus making The San Juan Juan a perfect choice for fly anglers.  As a high-calories-per-bite fish food, San Juan worms can be used to lure larger trout out of their hiding places where they are normally hard to entire.  They are also effective for use with bass, panfish, and we’ve even seen them take Kokanee after Kokanee when other flies weren’t working.

Named after the San Juan river in New Mexico, this pattern is now a staple in many anglers boxes.  While it used to create some controversy in the fly fishing world – is it really an insect imitation or not, as part attractor part natural – those concerns have subsided as it is fished much like a wooly bugger and is truly a natural food imitation.  A newer rubber version has emerged, called the Squirmy Wormy, which has again ignited the “is this really a fly” debate, but this pattern is also deadly so it is widely used.

It’s also good to note that the San Juan Worm is that it is very easy to make, thus it is a great pattern for beginner fly tiers. 

Related Article: 101 Proven Patterns – Best Flies For Trout

2. When And How To Fish It

As we previously mentioned, perhaps the best time to use the San Juan worm is during the spring as that is the time which is the best suited for fly fishing with this type of pattern. Aquatic worms are  prevalent all over the world, so the San Juan worm can be used both in large water surfaces and in small creeks and brooks, year round actually.

Here are a few tips on how to fly fish with this pattern:

  • Set up your fly rod and dead drift it like using a trailing nymph along the bottom column.
  • Use an indicator or add a split shot so you can get the perfect depth, it is important to have a perfect weight split especially if you are fishing in the fast flowing waters.
  • This pattern works great with low light fishing.
  • Using it as a worm and trying to imitate the real life conditions will yield the best result while using the San Juan Worm.

3. Tie It, or Buy It?

The San Juan worm is as easy as it gets to ties as it will take you only ten minutes to get it done. It doesn’t require any special skills or materials which makes it a great choice for a person who had just started with this type of angling. Many fly anglers had also learned this pattern first as it is the simplest one. This is why we recommend that it is great to tie as step towards learning how to make other more difficult patterns.

4. Basic Recipe Card

Along with Griffith’s Gnat, this may be the shortest recipe card you’ll ever see!

Hook: standard nymph or wet fly hook in sizes 12 to 14, but really nearly any hook will work fine

Thread: color to match body, in weight 6/0.  May also contrast body

Body: red ultra-Chenille, or other color you may choose (brown, tan, pink are the most common besides red, but other such as yellow, purple and fluorescent colors work too), ok to get creative here


Related Article: Beginner Fly Tying – 14 Easy Patterns

5. Variations

The pink San Juan Worm is great for catching trout and many other species, with glistening highlights make it look more natural, you can use chenille and make it look like two clusters which will be more attractive to the fish. Common variations include:

  • Different colors including red, brown, purple, yellow, green or color of your choice
  • Some people tie these to be as realistic as possible, others as total attractor patterns
  • Using a brass or plastic bead head to emulate the thicker mid-section of the worm
  • Tying the shape more like an inchworm with a tall hump
  • Singing the ends with a lighter to make them look more pointy and darker tips like a real worm
  • Dual-colored, e.g. red on one end, brown on the other
  • Contrasting color chenille vs. bead to stand out in murky water
  • Using rubber instead of chenille to create the Squirmy Wormy
  • Articulated 2nd hook longer version (think nightcrawler sized)
  • Tungsten jig version that basically has a long worm as a tail, body ending in a bead head
  • Fuzzy or psycho mid-section (even with hackle)

6. How To Tie A San Juan Worm

How about this 3-pattern-variations in 1 video by David’s Passage:


7. If You Prefer To Buy It

Here’s an option for an economical pack of these for you:


Next Article: Fly Tying For Beginners – 3 Steps To Start Under $100