EP18. The Orange Cheeked Brown Buzzer Midge Nymph
BUZZER MIDGE FLY PATTERNS. Hook size 12 14 16 18 20 24 - $US each
Tiny Chironomid flies that inhabit lakes and slow-flowing rivers are more commonly known as midges or buzzers. They appear in vast swarms on most still-waters towards the evenings. They can tolerate relatively high levels of pollution. Where they congregate on the windward side of a lake their tiny larvae and pupae are scooped up in large numbers by surface feeding trout. They are at their most vulnerable when they make their journey to the surface. The midge pupae drift gently up to the surface where the survivors struggle to break through the surface film. Many do not make it, especially if the water is very choppy or if a flat calm has allowed oily film to form. At this stage trout patrol the surface sipping in huge quantities of hatching midges.
It wasn't long ago that that to fish with anything other than a streamer lure for the first month or two of the fishing season was considered madness. What changed was the increasing number of reservoir and lake fly fishers who began to realize that even during the early months trout feed heavily on large dark midge pupae in relatively deep water. This understanding lead to the development of the slim epoxy buzzers imitations that sink quickly. The most popular predecessor of this type of fly was Arthur Cove's Pheasant Tail Nymph. Brown in color its midge pupae like shape and the fact that it is fished deep and slow on a long leader made it extremely effective. Skinny buzzers had been around for sometime before the Pheasant Tail but had not gained the same popularity. In the 1920's Dr Howard Alexander Bell developed some extremely good slim buzzers as an imitation of the midge pupa for fishing on Blagdon water, Central England. They have been developed over the years to to a general shape that has moved away from the straight shanked hook to a more natural looking curved hook. Wing buds were added to the side on some patterns and on others the white breathing filaments.
One of the best indicators of recent buzzer activity is to look for floating shucks or adult buzzers on or near the water. Certain areas will hold fish and buzzers, these being the obvious places to start. It is important to find the right spot. Small tree lined waters are rarely a problem. Mud or silted areas with a reasonable depth of eight to fifteen feet of water are usually good places for buzzer fishing. On a large lake or reservoir try to find a point or headland where a depth of eight to ten feet is within casting range. Try and choose a location where the wind is behind or if from the side it is light. If there is too strong a crosswind then I find it difficult to keep the flies moving nice and slow. Long leaders and headwinds are a recipe for disaster. Your leader will be turned into a tangled ball. On breezy days, selecting areas with some shelter can produce well. They warm up first and thus encourage insects to hatch. Cold winds always slow down hatches.
A strong breeze will push the middle of the fly line around quickly and thus keep the buzzers high in the water. This is okay on an overcast day when the trout are feeding in the upper layers but not on a sunny day when they are feeding in the cooler depths. This problem can be overcome if the cast is made at a much shallower angle to the wind. The wind has less effect on the line and the team of buzzers will fish much deeper and more slowly
The single buzzers can be fished just bellow the surface by greasing all but the last three inches of the leader. If there is a single ripple, an occasional twitch of the fly line is enough to attract attention. In flat calm conditions it is usually better to fish the buzzer static in the surface film. An alternative tactic is to degrease the leader and allow the buzzer to sink very slowly. Using this technique you should be ready for takes 'on the drop', as a trout seizes the buzzer some distance below the surface. I have had many takes sitting this buzzer 2-4 feet below a dry fly used as an indicator and fished close to weed beds in shallow water. In winter this fly has excelled for me when trout are still taking buzzers as part of their diet.
Whether from boat or bank I try a floating line first thing in the morning. Over night many buzzers will have been on the water overnight and some may have even emerge in the early hours. Opportunist fish will often be close to the shore or river bank feeding high in the water after their surface activity. You will be sight fishing for moving fish as they cruise around the margins. A floating line with a team of epoxy buzzer nymphs imitating the pupae, with maybe a suspender buzzer or Shipman's buzzer on the top dropper. I use a larger heavier epoxy buzzer on the point. The top dropper can entice interest from any surface movement and attract any fish looking upwards. As soon as the fish stop showing in any numbers on the surface, and the buzzers have been plentiful, then the epoxy subsurface patterns come into play. (A 'Dropper' is a length of leader tied to the main leader on which other flies are added.)
The heavier buzzer on the point helps to get the flies down straight in the water as well as aiding turnover in the cast. I find it helpful to present a cast in a straight line. If the flies land in a heap they can often tangle and rarely fish well. Should this happen, in the breeze for example, then a long pull to straighten the leader can be tried. In deep water I use a floating line and a fast sinking Fluorocarbon type of leader material which is nearly invisible under the water. Sometimes the flies end up under the fish so I fish with a buoyant pattern like a Booby Nymph on the point to suspend the remaining flies higher in the water. I count the nymphs down for about 20 seconds before starting the retrieve. If I hit the bottom I do not immediately pull the line in and recast. If you are fishing more than one fly those still on the dropper are still available to tempt the trout. In these situations I just carry on retrieving slowly. In clear water I use leaders up to 18 foot long with thee flies spread about 6 foot apart. If they are too close together the trout may become suspicious. If you are a beginner I suggest that you start off with a 12 foot leader with one fly on the point and another placed 6ft up from there on a dropper. Some fishermen like to place a brash bright fly as 'disturbance' fly on the top dropper with epoxy buzzers behind. The fish often follow the top dropper but as they get near the boat or river bank see the more natural looking buzzer and reject the attraction of the top fly. If it is really windy just use one fly because the more flies you use the more tangles your risk
I like to use a plummet to gauge the depth of the water. Do not buy one. Make one out of a lead weight and a marked line. Once I know how deep the water is I adjust the leader accordingly so that the point fly settles in the correct depth on every cast. If the trout start taking the droppers then this indicates that the fish are moving up away from the bottom to feed. Simply decrease the length of your leader so all you flies are fishing at the correct depth. If when you are casting the one of the buzzers are intercepted before the point fly has reached its correct depth then this will indicate that the fish have changed the depth at which they are fishing again (normally because of a change in water temperature or the weather). It is time to adjust the length of the leader to catch the fish feeding nearer the surface.
What about the theory that trout are quick to reject flies with a hard fell to them I hear some of you saying? Any nagging worries disappeared when I first used them on stillwater. I retrieved them extremely slowly, inched back, and these iron hard flies were taken with conviction.
Generally black is the most effective color during the early season with olive more effective later on in the season. The buzzers tend to be larger in the warmer months so choose your hook size to match the natural insects. On the river fish a single buzzer nymph upstream using the tip of your fly line to register takes.
CASTING WITH DROPPERS
For beginners always learn to cast with a single fly tied on and only move on to a multi-fly rig having mastered your own casting technique. To achieve a balanced cast space your droppers evenly. If using flies of similar weight and size I try and space them evenly apart. If using flies of different weight and size I try to grade them with the heaviest on the point (end). Using two weighted flies can cause problems as they start pulling in their own direction causing snagging and problems when casting.
Nymphs represent insects in their under water aquatic life stage. This stage comes before the adult stage where the insects emerge out of the water and fly away, normally to mate and lay eggs (dry fly). Technically the term 'Nymph' means the juvenile stage of a Mayfly but it is commonly used to refer to any insect in it's aquatic life stage. Nymphs are, perhaps one of the most deadliest ways of taking most species of freshwater fish. In a river or stream, they can be fished anywhere from just beneath the surface to imitate emerging or drowned flies to right to the bottom to imitate the unhatched larvae. These flies weigh a little more than a dry fly, and weight is often added to them in order for them to achieve the proper depth. This additional weight makes them a little harder to cast but the good news is that there is almost no wind resistance. Generally fish nymph flies along the bottom, move them slowly and smoothly. Every now and then dart the fly forward as if it is attacking its prey or trying to escape from the advances of a predatory large fish. Such movements hopefully may induce a following trout to take your fly.
All fly fishing men and women dream of being on the water during a hatch or a spinner fall and watching our fly being gently sipped under the surface of the water by a large trout. This is one of the most exciting times in our sport but what about the other 90% of the time when there is not and action on the surface? The fish are still feeding. Yes you can keep casting away at likely spots with dry flies but you would have more success if you placed your fly where the fish were feeding and that is under water.
If the water is not clear and you cannot see your target fish you will have to read the water to try and find out the best place to cast your fly. Large areas of the river will hold no trout at all. Trout are usually solitary feeders and can normally be found next to something solid like a big boulder, patch of weeds, or the river bank. They lie up in stretches of the river where there is a high concentration of food. Look for creases on the water surface. These are lines that normally run downstream. They are caused by bodies of water, flowing at different rates, colliding. Trout food is concentrated in and around these creases. Food is carried by the current and concentrated where the current is funneled in the fast water of runs, riffles, creases plus the heads and tails of pools.
There is often slack water by the river bank and fast flowing water a few inches away. This is why a lot of trout can be found near the bank. Boulders and weedbeds cause the water to speed up to as they get past them. A crease is formed between the fast and slow water that traps floating aquatic insects in the eddies. Fish the crease and providing the trout are feeding you will catch fish. Fish like to conserve energy and hold in slower moving slack water on the edge of faster water. This enables the food to come to them and they are close enough to nip out into the faster water to intercept their target food as it drifts past. Look for seams of foaming turbulent water as it pass over submerged boulders. Even though there is a current of fast moving water on the surface there is a pocket of slower water beneath it and some of these pockets will hold fish.
If the nymph does not drift naturally the trout will refuse it. Try to keep as much of the line off the water as possible and follow the end of the line as it travels down stream with my rod tip. Set the hook at any tightening or unnatural movement or flutter of the strike indicator. Some of these will be the snagging of the nymph on the bottom but a number will be fish. If you find you are not getting any takes change the nymph to a smaller size. If it is clear water choose natural colored patterns and longer leaders with lighter tippets. If the water is dirty or colored use a more brighter colored and large pattern to help the trout see what is being offered to them.
Over 100 years ago past masters like G.E.M Skues fished his nymph imitations close to the bank. " I am always amazed at how many fly fishermen overlook the large trout lurking close to the bank. I call them 'Bankers'." Just choose a small weighted nymph like this one. It will cut through the surface film and sink to the bottom. Approach your selected spot from down stream without spooking the fish. Caste upstream and drift your fly to a trout feeding in one of these near to the bank spots. Watch the trout strike the fly.
DEEP WATER BOAT FISHING
Chris Reeves is a local guide and active competition fly fisherman. His favorite match fishing deep water boat fishing technique involves having a very long leader the same length as the depth of the water. He ties on four buzzers. Pheasant Tail nymphs or soft hackled 'Spider' wet flies. the trick is to make a long cast down stream, then wait until the boat has floated directly on top of the flies. The flies have had time to sink to the bottom. He then begins the retrieve. The flies move up to the surface vertically mimicking the natural emerging insects as they make their way up to the surface. He keeps his rod tip near the surface above them and makes a stop start gentle retrieve with no slack line. When the fish take they are slightly disorientated at first and move up towards the boat but then hang on as they realize what has happened and try to swim off,
In recent years bung fishing has become popular. A team of flies are suspended beneath a buoyant sight indicator or fly, clearly visible on the surface, holding each fly at a fixed depth. The slightest take can be seen instantly and results in more fish. It dramatically eliminates missed fish.
THE WASHING LINE RIG
I like using this set up of buzzers on droppers when other tactics are not working. Rather than have the point fly at the end of your leader, the largest and heaviest fly to help the leader sink, I tie on a very buoyant booby nymph. This keeps the end of the leader up near the surface. I then tie on three buzzers each on a dropper. They dangle down in the water, off the horizontal leader, just like clothing hanging down from a washing line. It simulates buzzers that are nearing the surface just before they reach the top and emerge into adults. I tie the leader onto an intermediate or slow sinking line.
In August during a heatwave I went to a local fishery in Southern England. Talking to a few of the anglers on the lake they said that the fishing was slow as expected. They were all fishing deep with three buzzers on droppers tied to a long leader. If I did the same I would get the same results. It was too early for a hatch but I believed that the nymphs might be getting ready for the hatch and moving up through the water. I tied on a 'washing line rig' and sent out my first cast. I caught four times the amount of fish as the other fly fishermen.
There is a trout feeding pattern that you should always be on the look out for. The tell tale sign is when you see a fish tail popping out of the water. The fish is head down in the weed, sometimes ripping out the weed with its mouth, trying to disturb all the shrimp, nymphs, pupa and scuds that have sort refuge in the weed. This is where they live and feed. This is the only way trout and grayling can get at weed imbedded insects and crustaceans. The fish dive aggressively head long into the weed mass with the object of panicking the residents to make a dash to an alternative place of safety. This is what the fish are after. They start to feed on all the fleeing food forms. Do not cast when you see tailing trout. Wait until the tails have disappeared and the fish are hunting. The harvesting of panicked insect phase is when the fly fisher can make the most impact. Place your fly in the feeding zone and let it let it drift at the mercy of the current and to tumble about just like the naturals. Give a short sharp strip to imitate them fleeing to escape.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF NYMPH FISHING
Many of the very early flies fished below the surface were being used in the North of England and Scotland. Many of these wet fly techniques were being developed into a fine art. Down in the South of England , during the Victorian era, on the clear chalk streams of Hampshire and Wiltshire it was the floating or Dry Fly technique that became popular in fly fishing circles. It was considered the most sporting method of tempting trout. By the end of the nineteenth century the rule of 'dry fly only' had become entrenched on most rivers. this was despite knowing fact that large river fish rarely feed on the surface. These values were transported around the British Empire.
However this dogma was challenged by one G.E.M. Skues, who fished on the famous River Itchen. Skues made himself very unpopular with the Victorian dry fly traditionalists, by singing the praises of a nymph pattern fished just beneath the surface to represent a hatching fly. Eventually Skues' arguments won the day and on most chalk streams the rules were changed so Gentlemen could fish either a floating fly or a nymph.
With the 'rot' having set in, Frank Sawyer, a South England, Hampshire Avon river keeper, publicized his new 'induced take' method of fishing a heavily weighted nymph from near the river bottom. A method still widely used on both chalk and rough water streams.
With the building of reservoirs for public water supplies the opportunity for trout fishing increased in areas that previously had poor fishing resources. Many of the reservoirs are extremely deep and new nymph fishing techniques and lures have been developed to tempt the huge trout that live at the bottom. The growing popularity of stillwater trout fishing has led to many farmers and landowners digging trout pools as an extra source of revenue. These small stillwater lakes and ponds make fly fishing accessible to more people.
DIRTY COLORED FLOODED RIVER FISHING
If the river is in spate after heavy rainfall and is a milk chocolate or a muddy green color do not pack up your fishing rod and go home. You will be missing out on a lot of fun fishing if you do. Stronger flows are associated with colored water and they flush out aquatic nymphs and larvae. The trout are very aware of this but seek out calmer water to ride out the spate. They are not silly. They will not waste energy swimming in the fastest sections of water. Fly color is important. Do not choose flies that match the color of the water. Brighter shades like red, orange and pink are a great choice but do not forget that black stands out surprisingly well in colored water.
It is the fly fishermen that get put off in these conditions not the fish. They know that if they wait, fast food will speed past them. All they have to do is grab lunch when it comes within range. I fish with a short fixed line. The fish cannot see you. Yes you can only cover a small part of the river at a time but by picking your locations carefully you can have great success. Look for the slack water and try there. If you have no luck walk along the bank to the next zone of slack water. When currents hit riverbanks the friction reduces the flow rate and can create pockets of more comfortable slack water for the trout. The fish could be right near your feet without you knowing it. The lee of water obstructions like large rocks, bridge pillars or tree roots are also great slack water locations. Keep your droppers close together. If the trout can see one he will soon be able to see one of the others. This should tempt him to make a grab for one of them. I keep the heaviest fly on the point and lighter flies further up the line. I make short casts and watch the joint between leader and line for indication as to movement. If you prefer you could add a strike indicator. Finally remember to take care when wading in a river in flood.
WINTER STILLWATER FISHING WITH BUZZERS
During the cold winter months the water is very often clear and the fish will have a greater opportunity to examine your fly. It is therefore even more important to closely imitate the natural food. One of the most important winter foods of a trout's diet is the midge. It is one of the few things that are going to be active this time of the year at the bottom of a lake, pond or reservoir. As previously mentioned it starts its life as a bloodworm larva and then changes into a buzzer pupa. The buzzer can swim and can be found anywhere in the water column. For my winter rig I like to fish with a bloodworm pattern as my point fly and buzzer patterns on droppers. I like to keep my droppers close to the lake bed and the bottom feeding trout so I keep them only two to three feet apart. As the temperature of the water rises, if you are lucky to be blessed with a sunny winters day, I move the droppers further apart and higher in the water column to the height where I think the naturals are swimming and therefore the hungry trout. The buzzers are a lot smaller then in the summer. A size 10 buzzer just will not do. Put on the smallest buzzer you have and choose a black or olive pattern.
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