In late winter, or any tricky day, it can be a tough job to get trout to cooperate. But canny presentation and the right flies can a biteless session into a success! Dom Garnett watched Gary Pearson like a hawk at Devon’s Simpson Valley Fly for a fascinating lesson in how to tempt elusive fish.
Have you ever had one of those days on the bank when the fish just don’t seem interested? It could be a fishery we like and flies we have full confidence in; but what happens when the fish won’t play ball?
This blog article starts with a confession: we’d booked a day on the excellent Simpson Valley Fishery’s Skylark Lake, but the fish hadn’t read the script. This article could have been about using mini lures or even hoofing great snake flies, but that would have required an act of fraud! The truth is that the trout just wouldn’t look at them, and so after forty minutes of biteless head scratching, it was time to a rethink.
With a nice ripple on the water, between spots of hail, my immediate thought was to try gently drifting some buzzers. But with Gary’s background in competitive angling, I was curious to see what his answer would be. To say I was in for a bit of a surprise is a bit of an understatement.
A different take on the indicator and buzzer combo…
While I drifted two buzzers in the ripple, still not getting so much as a nip, I spied Gary setting up a 15ft leader and team of three, along with a conspicuously bright “Thingamabobber” strike indicator. Even more unusually, he was fishing quite close in at the other end of the lake- and not retrieving at all.
Within the next few minutes, the curse word that floated along the bank told me he’d missed a take. Moments later, though, there was no mistake at his second chance as the rod thumped over. What on earth was his trick? And why on earth were my buzzers being flatly refused while he was tempting fish on the same flies?
Setting up for static buzzer fishing
When it comes to fishing buzzers almost at rest, a bit of clarification should perhaps be made first. While fishing these flies with almost no retrieve but letting the breeze do the work is commonplace, here we are talking about a different line of attack: letting the flies settle so that they are not moving at all!
Gary’s set up is a 15ft leader, with a red bead head buzzer on point. This helps to get the leader straightened fairly quickly for a tidy presentation. This fly will be on the bottom much of the time, serving to anchor the rest in place. Some three foot up from this, we have a lighter buzzer pattern (a black size 14 today) with another buzzer above it.
His indicator is not the foam type, but a Thingamabobber. Now, these look quite big and obvious, I’ll grant you, but they are easy to spot and very durable. Faff-free compared to a lot of the alternatives. Yes, some traditionalists will spit (usually while they watch the end of their fly line as a very obvious brightly coloured indicator!) but it does the job beautifully.
The total distance between indicator and point fly can be varied. You could try drifting the flies, but for a completely static presentation you’ll likely need the point fly right on the bottom (about eight feet is about right today).
I should also say something about Gary’s droppers. Now, I am as guilty as the next man of making mine too short and using whatever tippet material I have to hand. Not best practice! By making them around a foot long and using a nice supple, high quality material (Gary is really impressed with the new Cortland Ultra Supple- which is very strong but still quite thin in 7.2lb strength) you get much better presentation.
Blank saving tactics!
Just to prove it’s no fluke, Gary’s soon into his next fish. At about a pound, it’s a typical Skylark rainbow and is released without touching the bank at all. Good practice for these rather fragile fish, which shouldn’t be messed around with if you are to release them safely. I’m now rather relying on my catch and take ticket if we are to get some reasonable photos.
I’m not getting anywhere by drifting flies, so it’s time to follow suit! Generously, Gary lets me pinch a beaded buzzer, while I add another lighter pattern on the dropper. A size 14 or even 16 might look small, but for fussy fish on a lake where some of the fish have been tricked before, subtlety can be a big help.
Fishing only around twelve yards out, as the water deepens, it doesn’t take long to get some interest. The first take is so gentle, however, I wonder if it’s a take at all. I let my flies settle completely still and seconds later, the indicator gives the merest little dip. I tighten up almost out of pure curiosity and am surprised to feel a fish kicking away hard. From almost two hours without a bite, the change of tactics has worked within minutes.
From a pretty lousy day out, the bites now start to come regularly. Mrs Garnett will appreciate a couple of trout to eat, no doubt. Also joining us a bit late are my dad and brother. Tellingly, they have a slow start on their usual favourite flies and tactics before I advise them to shamelessly copy Gary’s static buzzer trick.
Most of the fish seem to want the middle dropper fly, a small black or red buzzer in a size 14, although I seem to be getting most of mine on the point fly. Presumably this must be hard on the bottom most of the time and some bites only arrive after several minutes, perhaps suggesting that the trout are very deep today and not at their most active.
Equally interesting is trying to get John Garnett to catch a fish. It’s not every week I can wrestle him away from the twin horrors of gardening and test match cricket, so I’m eager to see him net something. So far though, in spite of using very similar flies, it’s a blank.
The main difference, however, is that his leader seems a bit (how do you say this to your old man?) thick. It’s constructed from fairly robust Maxima line (which I don’t want to knock because I love this stuff for my coarse fishing) and the droppers are on the short side. While he has a sandwich break, I quickly insist on switching him to the Cortland tippet material and making those droppers and his final tippet longer.
Indications soon follow, but I fancy that he’s not always identifying the quite small nudges as bites. The simple rule here is that you should strike at even a slight sign of a fish; you lose nothing by doing so and if it’s a slow day the fish won’t always rip that line away.
Soon enough, we’re all catching a few fish. Smiles are back on faces and a trout supper is finally on the cards. It’s also a big lesson on the value of this simple but subtle and deadly tactic, however. My strong suspicion is that we Garnetts would have caught absolutely nothing without taking a leaf from Gary’s book and trying the static buzzer.
Granted, it isn’t the most romantic way of fly fishing. It does take some patience and attention to detail, too. But tell me- would you rather blank than do something a bit different? But how many of us would do just that before announcing that stocks are low or that the cormorants have paid a visit?
Out of sheer curiosity, I try a small lure again. It’s fairly bleeding obvious now that there are good numbers of trout in the lake because we’re finally catching them. The result? Not a single pull in the final hour, while the others continue to pick up the odd fish. The moral of the story is duly noted: unless you enjoy a dry net, the static buzzer is a must have plan B for your next tricky day out.
Further info: Top buzzer patterns and great value fly fishing at Simpson Valley, Devon
All the patterns used in this feature are available from Turrall stockists. Particularly deadly on this occasion were smaller flies, beaded patterns and our Holographic and UV buzzers, which blend lots of attraction with a lovely skinny profile. Try your local fly shop or shop online at retailers including www.troutcatchers.co.uk and www.fliesonline.co.uk
Set in a pretty woodland setting in North Devon, Simpson Valley has a welcome variety of coarse and fly fishing lakes. We fished Sky Lark, which offers excellent value at £20 for a C&R ticket or just £10 for two fish at the time of writing. See www.simpsonvalleyfishery.co.uk for full details