How to fish the static buzzer: The ultimate fly fishing tactic for fussy small water trout?

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.

Gary Pearson fly fishing South West UK
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…

Best buzzer fly patterns Turrall

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.

Gary Pearson fly fishing in Devon

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.

red buzzer fly fishing

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.

Dominic Garnett fly fishing
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.

Copy cats!

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.

Simpson Valley fly fishing

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?

Simpson Valley Skylark Lake

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

Turrall UV buzzer
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

 

 

 

 

River Fly Fishing Tips for Coloured Water

All winter, fly fishers tend to day dream about sunny, crystal clear rivers. But once the season arrives, the British climate can paint a very different picture. This month, fishing author Dominic Garnett reflects on some lessons to tackle rising or dropping rivers for trout:

“Like most other anglers, I am a sucker for the promise of the spring and summer months. It only takes a couple of pleasant, sunny days for me to dress in short sleeves and start thinking about rising fish and dry flies. But the truth is that for much of the season, especially in the spring, a better idea would be to focus the fly box and attention on how to fish in coloured water. This season has been no exception so far, with a dose of pragmatism often required! Here are some pointers for that tricky session when conditions won’t cooperate:

South Yeo Brown Trout Westcountry AnglingBrown from troubled water: A pale but pretty trout from a less-than-clear stream.

Water, beer or coffee?!

Exactly how coloured your chosen river is will have a crucial bearing on whether it is worth fishing. If it is totally muddy or coffee-coloured, forget it. “Stained” water, on the other hand, or that which is partially clouded is not always the kiss of death. Remember that even if you can only see a mere few inches beneath the surface, the fish are in their element and can still feed on fairly tiny prey in these conditions. But my usual attitude is not to get too disheartened too early. Be positive and you may be pleasantly surprised!

Location, location, location…

Another key factor in getting the best from your day when rivers are less than spot on is picking your location carefully. Rivers and streams in the high ground are almost always clearer than lowland waters because they get less run off from fields and roads. In my home region, the streams of Dartmoor and Exmoor are often a safer bet than those lower down, for example. Don’t be afraid to call the tackle shop or ask a local expert to see which spots are fishable!

Confluence, DevonA confluence: head upstream to find clearer water, or try the feeder stream itself!

Even on a single watercourse, however, water clarity can vary a great deal. One classic example of this is where side streams converge on the river. These streams themselves can often yield clearer water and the fish will move into them for shelter. Failing that, you’ll often find the main river less murky if you use your feet and travel upstream of inflows or run-offs that are colouring the water. Cutting out one or two of these confluences, you’ll quite regularly find clearer water than you dared hope for.

Best flies for fishing coloured rivers?

For obvious reasons, fish in coloured waters have a harder time picking out artificial flies. The mixed blessing is that they are also likely to be a bit less wary than usual. So in simple terms, you would often be well advised to pick flies that are slightly bigger than your standard patterns, or more colourful, or both! If you usually tackle up with a 16 or 18, pack some flies in the size 12 or 14 stamp. On  recent trips, my two standouts have been a Pink Shrimp in a size 16, or Chris Ogborne’s Barbless Shellback Nymph in a 12 (below).

River flies for coloured waterGo brighter or a little bigger to beat the murk.

Other winners include favourite nymphs such as the Copper John, dressed in brighter livery (Turrall produce these with a dash of red and chartreuse, for example). Last but not least, it is no sin to try casting streamers in such conditions; indeed, something large and mobile might just save you a blank or produce that bigger fish that wouldn’t budge for anything else.

Useful Indicators

For much of my stream fishing in Devon, I use the beautifully simple dry and nymph combo of the New Zealand method. But when the river level is higher and the fishing is iffy I have absolutely no qualms about switching to an indicator and nymph set up, simply because it’s far more efficient and versatile. You could use any indicator system- but our smaller Thingamabobbers are especially durable and handy for this style of fishing.

Strike indicatorsDon’t get me wrong, I love those days where a few risers will surprise you and defy the dodgy conditions. It’s just that when very little (or nothing whatsoever!) rises and you’re faced with deeper swims and the need for heavier flies, the indicator wins hands down. You can change depths instantly, for one thing. Nor is it “cheating” – and much of the time, high sticking or Czech Nymph type methods are not especially well suited to the cramped confines of our small West Country streams. Call me a heathen, but I actually want to catch fish, not demonstrate my purity as a fisherman.

What goes up…

Unless you’re fishing for migratory fish, anglers all too often tend to think of full and swollen rivers as a negative. But there are other, more positive twists. One is how much closer you can get to certain parts of the river that are usually tricky. With extra water and colour to hide your tracks, the angler can sometimes get closer to the fish with less risk of spooking. Some swims that were bordering on impossible just might produce now that you are less obvious to the fish! In several ways, this is the total opposite scenario to those low water summer days where you must make longer, riskier casts to avoid the fish spotting you.

Westcountry Angling Passport Dom GarnettDom Garnett chooses flies carefully on a rain-hit Devon stream

Rivers in a state of change can also provide opportunities in other ways. For example, if there has been an extended period of iffy weather and high water, the fish are likely to be hungrier than ever as the level drops and they suddenly find dinner easier to locate again. There is no shortcut to local experience and getting to know how quickly a particular river clears, but time it right and you might just enjoy a sensational days fishing.

Above all, be adventurous with your feet and fly selections. Don’t be put off, mix things up a little and you can still catch fish!”

Further Info: Dom was fishing on the Westcountry Angling Passport scheme, where wild fly fishing on the idyllic streams of Devon and Cornwall is available from just £6 per day. CLICK HERE FOR MORE DETAILS