Catch More Trout – It’s Buzzer Time!
England International angler and full-time guide Nick Dunn reveals his tactics for catching buzzer-feeding trout.
With the start of every new trout season, I can barely wait for the spring to warm up a degree or two, just enough to start the Chironomid midge hatch, warmly known to us fly anglers as buzzer hatches. Aptly named due to the high-pitched buzzing noise they make when they inevitably fly straight into our ears when there is a good hatch. The arrival of these flies signals the start of serious feeding for the trout and some seriously good sport for fly anglers. This is a time in the season when I can get very giddy and overexcited about the sport we have on offer at our Midlands reservoirs like Rutland, Grafham and Draycote not to mention many others.
I want to avoid this to turning into a lesson in Entomology, and I am no teacher on the subject; that said, it is worth understanding a little about the Chironomid midge’s lifecycle as it is a super important part of the stillwater trout’s diet and knowledge is power for fly fishing success, so bear with me for a very concise overview.
Early in the lifecycle, the midge pupa metamorphosises from the larval stage, which we generally know as bloodworm, imitating these can be deadly and there are some great patterns for this. The adult midge emerges from the pupa, which rises to the surface to hatch. It is this pupa that we imitate and call “buzzers.” Trout feed voraciously on all three stages of the Chironomid midge life cycle but I am going to concentrate on fishing tactics with the midge pupa or “buzzer” in this article.
It can still be pretty cold when the buzzers arrive in good numbers so you still need to wrap up and fend off the cold when you venture out in early April and even May.
It can still be pretty cold when the buzzers arrive in good numbers so you still need to wrap up and fend off the cold when you venture out in early April and even May. Initially, hatches tend to be fairly prolific and the adult flies will be relatively small, in the 12-14 hook size range. As the weather warms up, they will get bigger until some of them reach big fat juicy size 8 proportions. They will usually be dark to black in colour in early spring and as the weather warms with the progressing season, we see grey, ginger, green, and later in the season around September, the big red variety.
Somewhere in the middle of the summer, the midges we see hatching are very small and often a very vivid green colour. When the fish are feeding on these tiny buzzers they can often be tricky to catch on imitative patterns and other tactics have to be deployed to tempt them. That’s another story.
On the subject of buzzer pattern colours, I am a big advocate of keeping it simple. I will certainly attempt to match the colour of the naturals observed on the water, but not to the extent that I am obsessive about it. It is my view that regardless of the colour of the naturals occurring on the day, a trout will always take a well-presented buzzer that is at the right depth and is generally the correct hue. My patterns are generally black, with an appropriate rib to offer up the colour whether it is olive, bright green, red or ginger. I will also strive to match the size of the naturals I observe, unless they are minute in which case I will simply deploy size 12 or 14 patterns as the fish will still readily take them.
Getting The Right Depth
There are several ways to effectively present buzzer patterns to the trout, and they all depend on how deep the fish are feeding. There will be fish feeding at several different levels on a given day and the level will often change as the conditions change throughout the day. Getting the right depth is the key to success and it is a matter of trial and error on the day. Lets say, you’ve just set off on Rutland Water, you have been pointed at a few good areas by the good folks in the lodge and the air is buzzing with a good midge hatch. This is exciting stuff and the anticipation of great sport is palpable!
“Where do I start to find the right fishing depth?” My advice is fairly straightforward; if it is a dull day, start fishing your flies from the top down to mid-water and try to work out when during the cast you are getting the most takes to find the fish’s feeding level. If it’s bright, start fishing your flies with a deep setup and heavy glue buzzers to get them down deep. Obviously on the way down to their deepest, they may get intercepted by the trout and this will tell you at what depth they are feeding. Eventually, sometimes immediately if you guessed correctly, you will find the fishes level and start to get regular takes. This is the “Killing Zone.” Please remember, these are great rules of thumb to go by, but often the trout have read a different handbook to us and do not follow the rules. Some days may look perfect for fishing in the upper layers of the lake but you find the fish are 15 feet down, and vice versa.
Three Tactics To Try
“OK, sounds great, but how do I get my flies to fish at these different depths?” The methods I use to present these deadly little patterns are; “Straight-Lining,” “Washing Line” and the much discussed and controversial “Bung” method. Let’s cover each one and why you would deploy them:
The ‘Bung’ is a good way to fish your flies at three different depths as the flies are hanging directly under the buoyant top dropper at say, three, seven and 11 feet down. The takes are often un-missable. If you get all your fish on the fly that is 11 feet down, you have found the “Killing Zone.” That said, wouldn’t it be better to have more of your flies swimming at that depth, giving the fish more choice from the menu you have offered up at their feeding depth, and therefore a better percentage chance you will catch more trout. Enter, the “Washing Line” method.
The washing line, so called due to the way it sits in the water like a clothes line with washing hanging on it, the washing being our flies. This is a really effective way to get more flies in the “killing zone” and keep them there for longer. Typically the set up is fished from a floater or midge tip, has a Booby or Foamed Arsed Blob (FAB) on the point for buoyancy, the first dropper will have a heavy Buzzer, next dropper, a slightly lighter weight Buzzer and the top dropper will present another buzzer or a lighter fly like a Diawl Bach.
When prospecting with this method, cast it out and make sure it turns over properly, give it all a straightening pull and leave it STATIC. There is no need to move the flies and you want them to slowly sink down through the levels you have set based on the heaviness or lightness of the flies you are using. The speed of decent this method swims at depends entirely on what flies you tie on. If you use three heavyweights, it will go down more quickly than three light patterns. You determine this and over time you’ll instinctively know how to set it up for the conditions you are fishing.
The beauty of this method is that by replacing the point Booby or FAB with a buzzer or other slim non buoyant pattern, you immediately turn this into “Straight Lining” which is when you want the flies to go expressly deep to seek out fish in the 15-20 foot zone. This is great for when the day has cloudy and sunny intervals. When it is cloudy, I will fish a buoyant fly on the point and when the sun comes out, immediately change it for a buzzer to get the flies down to the fish that will move downwards to avoid the strong sunlight.
In summary, the key to success with Buzzers in my mind, is to fish them static, try different leader setups with heavy and light flies until you have found the “Killing Zone.” Once you have established that, try to keep as many of the flies on your leader in that zone for as long as possible.
Nick Dunn is a fanatical reservoir trout angler, earning six England Loch Style caps over the past 13 years. In 2016 he captained the England team to a resounding victory at the Spring International in Southern Ireland. Nick is now a full time professional guide on the Midlands reservoirs.