HERE’S one part of the season I look forward to more than most and that’s the cream of the buzzer fishing.
Although buzzer hatches occur all year if conditions are right, it is April, May and early June when they are most prolific. During winter, buzzers are much smaller and mostly black. In late April and May they can be almost dragonfly-like as buzzers over an inch appear in the thousands.
SIGNS AND OMENS
En route to the fishery look for telltale signs of a buzzer hatch. One of the most mysterious is the clouds of buzzers rising like smoke from the bushes. They swarm and sway in the lightest of breezes above treetops and hedges.
The other and often best indication is to watch the migratory swifts and swallows. When fishing up the top of Rutland Water’s south arm, arguably one of the best and vastest buzzer fishing areas in the country, the swifts and swallows tell me when and where the hatch is happening. The birds majestically cover the skies, often hundreds of feet up, then within minutes they glide inches above the surface at incredible speeds and turning like high-speed bikes on a double chicane. The hatch has started…
But buzzer hatches don’t happen all over the lake. You can spit them out your mouth up Rutland’s South Arm and at the same time count them on one hand in parts of Rutland’s basin. This is because they need a soft, shallow bed to lay their eggs and, while the South Arm offers this, the basin is mostly too deep and has a rocky or clay bed.
The birds are feeding on the hatched and hatching buzzers – the last stage of a perilous journey through the water. It is the journey through the water layers that we are interested in. How do we best imitate this important food source?
As buzzers can make up 90 per cent of the trout’s natural diet, there’s no more important method to perfect than this – and it truly is the most exciting method to fish. There’s such stimulation at your finger tips as the line tends to slowly tighten sometimes taking you off-guard - and it tempts quality grown-on fish.
SIZE AND COLOUR
So once you arrive at your chosen venue how do you know what colour, weight and size of buzzer to use?
First, take a look in the margins where you will often find the remnants of the evening before’s hatch. Look for the buzzer ‘shucks’ which are the cases from which they emerge. This tells you the size of the pupae currently hatching in the lake. You need to see the adults to spot the possible colours.
SPOON YOUR FISH
Spooning fish will give you the latest food item on the menu and more often than not the buzzer pupae will still be wriggling. Look for the coloured cheeks or possible blood stained abdomens. Imitate these with a Crisp Packet or a Red Butt Buzzer to increase your catch rate. Not only are you imitating the natural, but the crisp packet and red butt give the trout that ‘target zone’ they often find irresistible.
Size is not as critical as the colour - and I tend to offer a larger mouthful to appeal to their greedy nature. Be careful, though, because if the buzzers are very small, for example a size 14 or 16 and you try a grub hook size 8 then they are likely to ignore it. Stock fish may readily snap it up, but buzzer fishing tends to catch the smarter, grown-on fish.
FISH THE CORRECT DEPTH
Being a competition angler, none of my buzzers are artificially weighted but simply tied on various hooks with differing amounts of varnish to get the weights I need. This is because depth is critical.
The buzzers start their precarious life in the lakebed and slowly ascend to the surface before reaching maturity. The fish follow the hatch through the layers.
I’ve often caught fish on heavy buzzers only to take them on adult dry fly imitations an hour or so later. It’s vital to change the depth of the flies as the hatch progresses.
In late April and early May, when the larger waters are still cold, I start with four heavy buzzers. These are tied on size 8 or 10 heavy wire grub hooks or a Kamasan B175 size 10 or equivalent. They are varnished with three layers to give the natural gloss of the pupae and the weight.
The depth you fish your buzzers at will be controlled by the weight of your flies. If it is early season and water temperatures are low, try using heavy wire hook buzzers coated with varnish. Their slim profile ensures they sink fast.
This also applies in hot summers. As the fish follow the hatch nearer the surface, change the dropper flies to lighter patterns.
If I don’t use lighter wire buzzers I use my Cruncher or a new pattern, my gold rib Diawl Bach.
Keeping the heavy buzzer on the point helps angle the flies through the various layers with the heavy fly acting as an anchor. You now catch fish on the droppers up the leader and can almost predict the movement of the fish as they take the point fly, then your middle dropper then your top dropper fly as they rise in the water.
Once you catch two or three on the top dropper, remove the heavy buzzer off the point. This can be a wasted sacrificial fly as it is fishing too deep, whereas a change to a lighter pattern will keep all three or four flies in the fish zone.
On Rutland and Grafham the grown-on fish tend to feed below the fresher stock fish. This was obvious last year when fishing with a client up the top of Rutland’s south arm. He fished a bung and caught all stock fish on his dropper 3ft down and caught all overwintered fish between 3 and 4lb on a dropper 10ft down. This happens time and time again.
Adjusting your leader length controls the depth you are fishing. When fishing a leader shorter than 15ft, your flies will not sink as deep as someone fishing a 20ft leader.
If you find long leaders hard to handle just fish a heavier fly on the point. Many competitors fish the same flies as me and I even give them my flies but they fail to catch at the same rate as the leader lengths are different. Next time you see someone catching well, don’t just look at the flies but look at the leader length too as this can make a massive difference to the depths you are fishing at.
I’m often puzzled why anglers throw a long line when buzzer fishing, especially from a boat. It can sometimes be needed when fishing from the bank but not when afloat. I catch fish on the drop just after casting out. If you are casting to the horizon you could miss the take. Short lining of no more than 15-18 yards gives you more control.
Grease up the last two or three feet of fly line with Mucilin and watch this as an indicator. You can’t do this at 25-30 yards but rest assured you will see more takes before you feel them.
Buzzers are best fished with a crosswind and allowed to drift round naturally. So when bank fishing choose a crosswind or when boat fishing cast across the wind.
One of my favourite buzzer methods is to give them a slow pull - then pause for 8-10 seconds - then repeat. This allows the flies to ascend and descend just like the naturals. It gives fantastic coverage of the depths and is one of my most effective methods, especially in water over 8-10 feet.
Don’t retrieve too fast. Even a steady figure-of-eight is too fast. Just keep your line tight and if your floating line is causing ripples on the surface, you are fishing too fast.
Many anglers associate this with just lure fishing - but it’s deadly with the buzzer. The slow lift of the rod and pause imitates the natural perfectly as it wriggles its way to the surface, then pauses for a rest.
Very slowly lift your rod and pause much longer than you would with the lures. Keep the line tight and watch for it moving – fish are hooked in the roof of the mouth.
The hang method can be fished several times throughout the retrieve and not just at the end.
During your retrieve simply lift the rod and hold it there and do this several times throughout the retrieve for extra bonus fish.
STRAIGHT OR GRUB HOOK?
I use both. Watch the naturals on their ascent, when they wriggle they are very much curved, but when they pause or descend back down the layers they are dead straight.
This is why my pull and pause technique is so deadly with my set up of two grub hook and two straight hook buzzers.