An Englishman’s favorite skinny, subtle, midgelike patterns, often known simply as “buzzers,” have a deadliness that belies their modest appearance.
[by Dominic Garnett]
IF THERE IS A PATTERN THAT SCREMS, PICK ME! in the fly boxes of every angler, the humble buzzer, or midge if you’re in the United States, is rarely one of them. The simplest are little more than a thread-covered hook, bare-bones nymphs that look like they’re on a diet. So why exactly do trout and angler alike have such a fascination with buzzers?
The sheer universality of the life-forms buzzers represent is the first part of that answer. The term buzzer itself refers to a huge family of nonbiting midgelike insects, the chironomid family (which emits a high-pitched buzzing sound when flying, hence the name). Widespread is hardly the word for these insects; found in waters the world over from giant reservoirs to tiny farm ponds, hatches occur not only through the warmest months but also on the chilliest days of the season. In short, buzzers are not so much a seasonal diversion, but a mainstay that accounts for up to 90 percent of a stillwater trout’s diet.
On that basis, it should come as little surprise that fly fishermen start to become as cued-up on buzzers as the fish are, which is trickier than you might think. As common as the real insect larvae are, imitating them can be a test of subtlety and intuition. The fish could be anywhere—from sipping at the surface to several feet down, for one thing—while the natural larvae might be tiny and red or large and black.
HOOK: Daiichi 1130, sizes 10 to 16.
THREAD: Black UTC 70 or red 6/0.
TAG: Red thread.
BODY: Black thread.
RIB: Fine silver wire or oval tinsel.
ANTENNAE: Two sections of red Flexi Floss.
HEAD: Red thread.
Your own locale is bound to have buzzers in various guises, which the fish will know all too well. I’ve even heard regional hatches earning curious slang names in respective locales, from lake flies in Wisconsin to the rather delightful chizzywinks in Florida. Why do we spend so little time studying these insects compared to mayflies and sedges? I don’t have an honest answer, but in spite of their less glamorous or obvious appearance, the buzzer is far more common and less temperamental in terms of hatch times.
Buzzers can hatch by the thousands throughout most of the year. In my part of the world, bugs mainly hatch beginning in the late morning and through the rest of the day during summer, but even in the cold months of the year, daily hatches will occur, albeit only later in the day, when things have warmed up marginally.
One of the other great things about buzzers is they don’t require any specialized water conditions, as some other aquatic insects do. They will thrive on muddy-bottomed lakes too grubby for more celebrated hatches like upwinged flies as well as in crystal clear water. However, acidic or nutrient-poor waters tend to produce smaller insects (matched by hook sizes down to16 or 18), whereas more fertile lakes can produce much larger individuals (up to a size 10). If you are in any doubt of how to match a buzzer pattern to the real thing, look for clues close to shore where the breeze pushes the small, semitransparent buzzer shucks or skins.
The good news for fly anglers is you needn’t have a vast knowledge of the countless insects that make up the buzzer family, or any superhuman skills. Granted, buzzer fishing can demand some finesse and a little attention to detail, but fishing with buzzers can be refreshingly simple. Here are a few straightforward ideas on buzzer presentations and patterns to help you make effective use of these splendid little flies.
Teamwork and Tentative Retrieves
What is the best way to represent the real deal to trout feeding on buzzers? My first recommendation is to be ready to make a gentle retrieve using a long leader, often of 15 feet or more. Why such a long leader? It helps you to achieve a subtle presentation and helps keep the flies working at the correct depth whether you’re targeting a few feet down or just under the surface. The longer the leader, the better you can persuade small flies to get down to the fish, even when using a floating line.
You can fish a buzzer pattern by itself, but they work even better as a team. Using two, three, or even four nymphs (where regulations allow) is a great way to search the different water layers for trout that could be lying deep down or cruising just below the surface. Heavier, well-varnished buzzer patterns make ideal point flies, while lighter and subtler variants hang better in the upper layer of the water.
The way you present buzzer flies is critical to success. Natural buzzers ascend quite gently, so the ideal retrieve is certainly no hell-for-leather affair. My advice is go slow and gentle, doing little more than barely picking up line to keep in touch with the flies. The most common mistake is bringing the buzzers in too quickly. Most often the best retrieve is no retrieve.
If you’re lucky, try to fish buzzers where there’s a slight breeze; not a gale, blowing across the water. Just enough air movement to shuffle your line across the water and enticingly drift the flies to the fish. A 9- to 10-foot-long 6- or 7-weight rod offers the best line control. With a consistent ripple on the water, the fly fisher can simply let the wind do the work, employing virtually no retrieve whatsoever. (continued on page 2)