Seeing a fish take a pattern is one of the great joys of buzzer fishing. Watch the tip of your fly line like a hawk. For every time a fish pulls it out of your fingers, another two takes will be far more subtle, often little more than a gentle draw. You will see, rather than feel, the majority of takes. A floating fly line is most often used, with a good smear of floatant applied judiciously to the last three feet so it crisply sits on the surface, where you can detect delicate bites. Fluorocarbon tends to work better for teams of buzzers because the material’s somewhat stiff nature reduces tangles when it comes to using leaders that are frequently double the length of the fly rod.
A little detective work is essential to get the best from buzzer fishing. You might be lucky enough to see fish cruising, or rolling as they take in a hatch. But on another day, it could require a heavy buzzer and a supremely patient retrieve to intercept fish picking off nymphs much deeper.
Keeping a close eye on the water and noting when takes occur can yield useful clues with buzzers. For example, if the strikes tend to occur quite a while after casting, it could be a sign that the fish are taking the naturals deep—and you’d be wise to switch to heavier variants. If there are signs of rising fish, or you are connecting just seconds after making a cast, it could be time to use light buzzer patterns or switch to a single, emerger-style fly. Quite often, the fish will start intercepting nymphs deeper, but move up in the water column as a hatch builds.
British Buzzers from Top to Bottom
The ever-changing (some would say treacherous!) nature of the British climate is one reason anglers across the pond arrive on any given trip well prepared in terms of fly choices. From well-sunk nymphs to surface-film emergers, there is a fly for every level in the water.
Buzzer designs reflect the quirks of the British as well as the vagaries of their climate. When it comes to realism, perhaps the most convincing copies of the real thing are those incredibly skinny versions. If it were not for the use of hot spots or “cheeks,” you would struggle to pick these out at all. The little dashes of orange might look loud, but many chironomids have reddish or orange “gills” at the head, which are prominent as they hatch.These can be fashioned from tiny jungle cock sections, a stroke of paint, or any number of improvised materials. Even a little slip of orange cut from a classic Doritos packet is an effective solution for the cheapskates.
HOOK: Daiichi 1310, sizes 12 to 16.
THREAD: Black 6/0.
BREATHERS: White Antron or yarn.
RIB: Flat silver tinsel.
BODY: Claret or black seal fur dubbing, or substitute.
Another notable feature of the lightly dressed buzzers is the inclusion of “breathers” fashioned from yarn or Antron, to mimic the protrusions of the real insects as they try to hatch. I use the word mimic here, but you might easily argue that the value of little embellishments is not so much to make the fly more realistic but to make it stand out from the crowd. In a hatch that could easily number tens of thousands of larvae, standing out a little is not necessarily a bad thing.
Is it truly important to “match the hatch” with buzzers? Getting a rough idea of the real bug’s color and size on your local waters is the first sensible step. While there is some margin for interpretation, naturals can vary greatly in size and shade. As you’ll see from our British buzzer samples, you can achieve a range of effects with different hooks and materials. Buzzers in general tend to be relatively skinny, though, and tapered. Curved hooks appeal most to anglers, but straight-hook versions seem to work just as well. A simple thread plus rib body will work, but materials like stripped quill, goose biot, or Flexi Floss give a nice segmented finish that instills confidence in both trout and angler.
HOOK: Daiichi 1130, sizes 12 to 18.
THREAD: Olive 6/0.
BODY: Stripped peacock herl.
THORAX: Olive Glister dubbing.
BREATHERS: A small tuft of CDC.
However, perhaps even more important than matching the hatch is matching the level at which the trout are intercepting the hatch. In the upper layers, the fish will sometimes betray their presence, but deeper presentations call for heavier buzzers. This is the reason you’ll see such well varnished versions in British fly boxes, designed to descend through the water layers even on a breezy day. Three coats of fly varnish is fairly standard practice with these weighted buzzers, but other popular options include a thin layer of epoxy or even nail varnish; a habit that often annoys the wives and girlfriends of British fishermen when their little bottles go missing.
Even the cutest buzzers in our boxes are less than spectacular-looking flies. But I believe once you give them a try and begin catching fish, you might find these skinny devils stick with you like a bad habit. Just remember, let the breeze do the work and keep your eyes glued to the end of the fly line. Buzzer fishing is simply a subtle, addictive component of this sport, whichever side of the pond you’re standing on.
Dominic Garnett is a writer and guide based in Southwest England. He has written four books on fly fishing, appeared on several television shows and on the National Geographic Channel, and is a consultant for Britain’s oldest fly maker, Turrall.