Understanding Buzzers

Tangled

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This is an attempt to gather together our collective wisdom, experience and internet borrowings about all things buzzer in one place.

It’s work in progress; please contribute by adding to the discussion below.

Introduction
Buzzers are a very large part of a trout’s diet so it’s not surprising that we try to imitate them. In many waters the buzzer is the go-to method and if you fish in waters that allow catch and kill, spooning fish often reveals stomach contents full of the pupa.

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Buzzer fishing in the UK is predominantly done on stillwaters but this is probably more by convention than efficacy and many of the nymphs used in river fishing are probably taken for buzzers. Chironomids can be found wherever there’s water; lakes, ponds, rivers and even in saltwater.



Entomology
Knowing how chironomids live their lives helps us devise better ways to imitate them.

Buzzers are actually the angler’s term for the pupal stage of the non-biting, Chironomid midge. There are several hundred species of these midges and in Northern European waters there can be over a hundred species in the same water, but for our purposes size and colour is all we really need to know.

Life cycle
The midge has a four-part lifecycle - egg, larva, pupa, adult

1598968296014.png

Factoid: This four-stage life cycle – egg, larva, pupa, adult - is called ‘complete metamorphosis’ and doesn’t include a nymphal stage. The nymph is confined to insects that have a three-stage life cycle - ‘incomplete metamorphosis’ - egg, nymph, adult eg damsel flies.

So if you’re buzzer fishing you’re not ‘nymphing’ you’re ‘puping’. Or something like that.

And for the real nerd, to my mind the damselfly nymph, or naiad, is actually more accurately called a larva as it is not simply a smaller version of the adult, cf. aphids where all the instars are mini-me adults. So none of us nymph. Though that could start an entomological war.

This is a great short video of the full life-cycle


Adult
The adult fly looks like a mosquito but without the biting parts. The male adult has furry antennae used to detect the pheromones of the female.

page2image1095567088


It hatches from the pupa on the surface of the water leaving an empty pupal case – a shuck - behind. These shucks are often seen floating on the water and washed up by their thousands against the bank. An angler spotting these is being given a large clue as to the food item - including its size - recently being consumed by fish.

www.photomacrography.net :: View topic - Emerging midge (With images) | Fly  fishing, Fly tying, Aquatic insects


As the adult fly exits its pupal case it sits on the water for a few seconds and becomes what the angler calls an emerger. In the photo you see that the pupa is just sub-surface while the emerging adult is very proud of the surface, standing on its ‘hackles’.

Once emerged, the adult midge does not interest the angler much as it’s almost entirely airborne, though when the female returns to lay her eggs on the water, fish will often take an interest.

The male and female midge mate usually in the air, in swarms. This is why trout suddenly switch on to buzzers - tens of thousands of buzzer pupa ascend in the water at the same time in order to hatch and mate. The term 'buzzer' comes from the noise these swarms make in the air. But not all buzzer hatches form these giant swarms and subsequent trout obsessional activity, hatches come off in small quantities all day.

The female lays her eggs on the water. From there the eggs sink and stick to weeds, rocks and floor of the lake, eventually hatching into the larval stage.

Lavae
This larval stage is usually referred to as the bloodworm by anglers because it’s often a red colour containing haemoglobin, the molecule used for oxygen absorption found in human blood. But the larvae can also be beige, tan or translucent.

Chironomid


The larva can vary in size from 1mm to 25mm:

Midge larva (bloodworms!)

Looks a bit like a squirmy wormy doesn’t it?
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The larvae can be free moving on the bottom but more usually makes mud cases or debris cases like caddis larvae and sticks it's body out of them to freed. It goes through several stages called instars where it grows larger and sheds its skin finally turning into the pupa.

Pupa
The pupal stage is the one most anglers associate with buzzer fishing.

Fly Fishing Chironomids Larva Pupa - Methods & Entomology


It has a distinctly segmented abdomen and a pretty chunky thorax that forms the wing covers. Breathers are very noticeable at the head and also at the tail. It’s often curved – as above - or straight, and of course, all shapes in between as it wriggles up to the surface.

It rises in the water in wiggling moves, pausing and sometimes slowly sinking down again. Gases build up in the pupal case which help with the ascent and create the silver sheen effect in the image above. This silvery effect increases as the pupa ascends and can be important in imitation - the 'chromie' buzzer is modelled on this. The pupa sometimes carries some of the haemoglobin from the larva with it and can be imitated by a red tag. The pupa eventually reaches the surface where it sheds its skin and the adult fly emerges and flies off to mate and start the cycle again.

The pupa are present all year round though obviously the spring, summer and early autumn are the most prolific. They can be many colours – red, maroon, orange, brown, green, olive and black, with black being perhaps the most common. Trout have colour vision and occasionally this matters to us when they concentrate on one and ignore another. Pupa range in size from 1mm to 25mm. Many species will exist in the same lake and will hatch at different times of year in different sizes and colours. These patterns are often well observed by local anglers so it’s often useful to ask what’s hatching.

If you’re really interested in chironomids, this is the bible, a snip at £350

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chironomidae-Biology-ecology-non-biting-Non-Biting/dp/041245260X

Buzzer fly patterns
There seem to be as many buzzer patterns as there are natural midge pupa and probably more than anglers themselves. The buzzer can be imitated almost exactly, but experience tells us that realism is no more effective than suggestion, and some say less so. In practice the fly can be extremely simple and it seems that simple is also effective.

Before the rise of the reservoirs in the 60’s and 70s which saw the creation of specific buzzer patterns, fish were caught on flies that may have been taken by them as buzzers; the pheasant tail nymph, the hare’s ear, the Black Pennel and Peter Ross. The Diawl Bach is another old fly pattern that will take buzzer feeding fish and can also be taken for a damsel fly larva. These flies still catch fish – probably because fish don’t keep up with fly fashion.

These days we seem to need multiple versions of buzzers in many shapes, sizes and colours, some general patterns and some location and calendar specific. The versions you choose will ultimately be personal preference, but there are four very different life-cycle stages to imitate
  • The bloodworm larva
  • The ascending pupa
  • The emerging adult
  • The returning adult
The bloodworm larva

This fly can be extremely simple – a red rubber band tied to a heavy hook, mackerel fashion – but normally anglers like to do a little more. Two popular ones are

The Apps Bloodworm

Fulling Mill Apps Bloodworm Red – Glasgow Angling Centre


And the Squirmy Wormy

Fulling Mill Barbless Wiggly Worm (TBH)


Neither of which are exactly true to life copies, neither are within the competition 1” rule and both of which fly fishers like to take ethical positions on. But they work.

For a more subtle approach a Graham’s bloodworm feels more appropriate

MOBY Kamloops | Facebook


but a more motile and still imitative fly is a spanflex bloodworm.


GB SPANFLEX BLOODWORM - Flyfishing-Flies : Rod and Reel – Freshwater and  Saltwater Fishing Specialists - New Zealand -



The ascending pupa
The pupa, of course, provides the majority of what we normally understand as buzzer fishing.

There are probably hundreds of buzzer patterns and picking the best is almost arbitrary as all will work on their day. But we can usefully break them down into classes of buzzers

Epoxy buzzers
Named after the glue originally used to make these buzzers. These are slim, shiny and slick; designed to cut through the surface film and sink quickly. These days UV resin is mostly used as it hardens in seconds in a controlled way.

They’re the barbie doll of buzzer imitation, slim with a bulbous top, often made up in non-naturalistic colours, fluorescent greens, oranges and reds which may be more attractive to stockies than wild or naturalised fish. Less gaudy variants seem to work better on wild browns and residents. Hotspots are often used as attractants – coloured wing covers, heads and tail tags.

Popular patterns are the traffic light, hotspot, grey boy, quill, spanflex, lite-bright etc

Buzzer | Fly tying patterns, Fly tying, Fly fishing tips


Traditional buzzers
These are made from more natural materials such as floss bodies and peacock hurl abdomens.


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Cove Pheasant-tail ‘nymph’

Bead-headed buzzers
These flies are intended to sink the buzzer quickly and can use plastic, brass or tungsten beads of varying weights and sizes.


bead head buzzers


Emerger buzzers
These imitate the floating or just sub-surface adult midge as it emerges from the shuck and there’s a wealth of designs using foams, feathers and fur.

The cdc shuttlecock emerger

3 CDC SHUTTLECOCK Emerger Flies Dry MIDGE Pupa Trout Fly Fishing Size  10,12,14 | eBay


The suspender buzzer

Tying Foam Midge Emerger - Buzzer, Chironomid, Blae, Black (Dry Flies) by  BK - YouTube


Shipman’s buzzer


Shipman's Buzzer - Flycasting Knowledgebase


Parachute emerger (Adams Klinkhammer)

Adams Klinkhammer Trout Fly Dry Fly fishing flies brand quality

Gold Ribbed Hairs Ear Emerger

Adult buzzer patterns

In practice almost any small floating fly is representative of the adult midge but again there are many patterns.

Bobs bits

Duck fly

Fishing Bloodworms
The international angler in this article tells us how he fishes his bloodworm patterns, which, by-the-way, are not all red.

https://www.troutandsalmon.com/fishing-tips/fly-tying-help/articles/how-to-fish-a-bloodworm-pattern

There doesn’t seem much imitation going on here, the flies are exaggerations of the natural and the retrieve and depth of fishing has nothing to do with the natural’s behaviour. But it works.

It’s probably impossible to fish a bloodworm entirely naturally because it would require the fly to be on the bottom barely moving which is not easily achieved unless heavily weighted and fished on a sinking line. For this reason, the bloodworm is often used as a weighted point fly in a team of three buzzers each fly fishing at different depths with the bloodworm on or near the bottom. [discussed later].


Fishing Buzzers (pupa)
The general idea in buzzer fishing is to imitate the natural to a greater or lessor degree. This means fishing very, very slowly, often with no retrieve at all. Convection currents, waves and surface wind are often enough to give the buzzers natural-looking life.

Although buzzers can be fished solo (particularly in small still waters) it’s more usual to fish them in teams of 2, 3 or even 4 using the spacing between them to search different depths. Logically, the heaviest buzzer is the point fly and the lightest the top. Different colours and sizes are used to find the day’s preference.

Leader length varies according to depth, technique used and your ability to cast long leaders with multiple droppers; 12’ to 18’ is normal with droppers separated by 3’ to 6’.

The classic bank fishing buzzer method is to use a floating line and find a bank where the breeze is coming from the left (assuming a right-handed angler) then cast the team straight out. The flies are allowed to drift slowly to the right. Mending the line – that is throwing the line upwind while it drifts – slows down the drift as necessary. The buzzers are fished right into the bank and naturally rise in the water as the line straightens. Often takes are felt at this point.

Retrieves can be none at all, very slow figure of eight or slow sink and draw – slowly pulling for 12” to 18” to make the buzzers rise in the water then pausing for several seconds to allow them to fall again.

Sometimes fish can be caught with a fast, lure-like retrieve. But we don’t talk about that.

There are many other methods:

The Washing Line and variants
Named because you’re hanging your flies - in this case buzzers – off a leader that is suspended between two floating points – a floating point fly and the floating line. Often a booby or a FAB is the point fly but if you need to stick to imitation a suspender buzzer or a daddy with a lot of foam will do the job. A very slow retrieve is used or the flies left to drift naturally.

These methods are used from boat or bank when the fish are known to be in the top 3’ or so of the water allowing at least two flies to be in the correct zone. If a slow sinking line is used the flies fish deeper eventually sinking the point fly but keeping the bow in the leader allowing the buzzers to fish at different depths.

Excellent video of buzzer fishing on Bristol Waters

Bungs, Indicators and Bollox
Takes to buzzers can be violent and obvious - or not. If you keep in tight contact with your flies you will often feel the takes, more often you will see the line move away and lifting the rod hooks the fish. Here we’re using the end of the fly line as an indicator. The purists will tell you that this is the way it should be done.

However, it’s now very clear that many, if not most, takes to buzzers are very gentle and go unnoticed to the angler. This is because the fish are moving slowly, vacuuming pupa into their throat by opening their gill covers to suck in the fly. If they sense anything wrong they simply close the gill covers which spits the fly out. The angler will not feel a thing or know anything about it unless the outgoing fly snags the fish. So indicator fishing comes into play, the direct connection between bung and fly and the movement of the fish allows us to see more of those gentle takes.

There are several types of indicators, the commonest being the clownish Thingamabobber, the erotic Fish Pimp and commonplace yarn – naturally oiled wool plucked at dawn from the barbed wire restraining wayward Herdwick ewes and attached to the leader with gossamer threads spun from fairly dust.

Thingamabobblers (with a jam lock to prevent sliding)

Fish Pimps

Yarn indicators - here's homemade one

All work but the trick is to use the type of indicator that can be slid up and down the leader to establish the correct depth and also be removed without needing to cut off the flies. The advantage of yarn over all others is that it can be pulled through rod rings – necessary if using long leaders, otherwise the indicator hinders getting the fish into the net.

Americans use a bung that can slide freely down the line when striking into a fish so that it does not interfere with the rod rings. These are difficult to find here in the UK but one source is European.


For those morally disturbed by ‘float fishing,’ a large buoyant fly can be substituted for the bung which also has the advantage of catching the occasional fish eg the ‘klink and dink’. Some even have a tippet ring tied in, though it’s not actually necessary, as the ‘dink’ can be tied directly onto the bend of the hook,

Indicator Klink

As we know that fish can take flies very gently, any slight unnatural movement of the indicator should be lifted into.

Generally, indicators are fished without a retrieve allowing the waves to make the flies rise and fall and the wind to drift them. But they can also be fished perfectly static by attaching a weighted buzzer (often bloodworm) on the point which anchors the cast, or with a slow retrieve.

Flies are moved up and down the leader to find the fish.


Lines
By far the most popular line for buzzer fishing is the floater, it allows the flies to drift and the tip makes a good indicator. Some years ago the midge tip was introduced as a way of making more money allowing buzzers to fish a little deeper and, possibly more importantly, slowing down the line drift by providing a water anchor.

These days, there’s no need to buy a separate line, if this is how you want to fish you can attach a short intermediate or slow sink polyleader to the floating line. Airflo do a good range.

Sinking lines are used less often but can be a way of getting buzzers down low
particularly in drifting boat fishing, takes here are felt rather than seen. A booby on the point and a buzzer tied in a foot or so below creates a deep fished fly that hangs vertically in the water that sinks when pulled and rises when left alone. This works from both bank and boat.

This is an excellent video about buzzer fishing by Brian Chan. It's American but it covers most of the ground.

Interesting video of American indicator fishing using release indicators
 

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BobP

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At last! Someone has woken up to what I have been writing on here for the last 20 years. Trout feeding on buzzers do not always try to pull you into the water with them when they take the artificial. Very often the take is very subtle and the fish can and will eject it faster than the angler can react. The deeper down the fish the more subtle the takes become and the more essential is the need for that indicator.

tangled has done a decent job here though I would correct him when he talks about fishing deep later in the season. Actually, it is early in the season when the water is cold, the fish are deep - 10' is the general target depth - and the fish are just mooching along picking off the ascending pupae that the indicator really scores. The pupae are slow moving and the trout have no need to waste energy chasing around so that artificial in the right size just drifting slowly along on the subsurface flow is just another easy bite to eat.

i was pleased to note that tangled refers to the need for a yarn indicator that will pass through the rod rings when fishing deep with a long leader. That was something that became very apparent back in 1980 or thereabouts when I and friends were fishing at Farmoor. It is not possible to get a 1.25" length of painted peacock quill through the rod rings!

Winter on small stillwaters is also a good time to employ an indicator when using small buzzers in the 16-18 size range. As JohnH has pointed out elsewhere on this forum, trout in those waters behave differently to those in big lakes and reservoirs and can often be found only 2-3' down even in very cold conditions. Then a small buzzer fished static under an inconspicuous indicator will often outscore other more active methods.

There are several Youtube videos featuring Brian Chan buzzer fishing on lakes in BC. Every one I have seen has been from an anchored boat targetting the drop off into deeper water and using quite large thingy indicators. Obviously yarn indicators haven't yet crossed the great divide.
 

speytime

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My experience with fishing buzzers is limited but I've found most takes are really soft, when boat fishing buzzers I hold my line loosely between my thumb and forefinger if pops out I lift.


Totally irelevant but it's on my mind..
The biggest rainbow I've seen was hooked on buzzers with my son, he was only a 5/6 y/o kid at the time unfortunately the fish was lost at bank, I've since wondered would that have given him a life long interest in fishing, between the two sons neither are interested in fishing.

Al
 

Tangled

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While I wait to see if I can get more space for images I'm intrigued by something I heard years ago and was mentioned in Spey's video. The idea that the pupa is helped to the surface by gas inside its case and that the gas gives the pupa a silver appearance, particularly near the surface. The image of the pupa above seems to show this too. If true, it seems important.
 

speytime

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The chromie simply makes sense and it coming from him sets it in stone I think, since seeing that I look at the underside/dubbing of a fly in a different light, I want the likes of Shipman to trap air.

Al
 

eddleston123

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That's a great explanatory thread Tangled - Lots and lots of detail - Well done, I enjoyed that.

Just a simple question (for anyone) ---- Up in Scotland, I have witnessed large chironomid hatches - but I have never heard this legendary 'Buzzing' noise. - Perhaps this is because my hearing has somewhat deteriorated over the years.

I am told that this can be heard when these midges swarm in large numbers.
Has anyone heard this?



Douglas
 
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mackiia1

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That's a great explanatory thread Tangled - Lots and lots of detail - Well done, I enjoyed that.

Just a simple question (for anyone) ---- Up in Scotland, I have witnessed large chironomid hatches - but I have never heard this legendary 'Buzzing' noise. - Perhaps this is because my hearing has somewhat deteriorated over the years.

I am told that this can be heard when these midges swarm in large numbers.
Has anyone heard this?



Douglas
I have heard it numerous times on Corrib - The Duckfly swarming over the Islands look like smoke - from a distance . Get close enough and you will hear the smoke 'Buzzing' .
Buzzers.jpg
Duckfly.jpg
 

speytime

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I seen a thing on TV about lake Victoria fly hatches, they referred to it as the smoking water and that's what it looked like, anyway during the hatches the locals put cooking oil onto basins and swing it back and fourth to coat it in flies, once they have enough they pat them together and make burgers out of them
A buzzer burger 🍔 anyone?

Al
 

wobbly face

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Not So Greater Manchester.
I've heard them when kicked up out of the grass, a case of hold your breath, close your eyes, cover your ears and close your mouth.
When it comes to buzzer patterns, little subtleties can make a big difference, had good success with a black body and narrow silver rib, the year later the fish didn't want to know so changed to silver body with a black rib.
When it come to checking stomach contents, I've seen the odd anomaly. Body being third/tail black with khaki for rest. Some appear very segmented whilst others not. I've seen buzzers under a microscope and the gas silver effect really stands out as it also does with other aquatic insects.
 

raphael

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Yes buzzers are a go-to for ponds. I do not have large reservoirs like you here, but I occasionally have a try to a local quality fishery. Water is very clear and fish can be spooky, so I use a thin leader (12%) with two flies: one chiro pupa at the bottom, usually black silk with copper wire wrapped around #12 and 0.7 to 1.5m above a floating chiro emerger, made of CDC #14/16. When fish are cruising actively they can pay interest to both flies, when necessary the top one works as an indicator. Interestingly, it is just sometimes a weak shiver that indicates the take.
On windy days, when water is warming up (march/april), I just let the line drift under tension into the wind and make the job, (with no indicating fly), and it works a bit like salmon fishing. There it is advised to increase the leader strength!

R
 

Trollmoose

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Enjoyable read as a coarse angler just looking at trying the fly method of angling, it is helpful to go through articles like this while assembling the tackle to go for my first trip.
almost certainly going to be Farnham trout fishery as it is not far from home.
thank you
 

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