Dave Shipman's buzzer trout fly fishing pattern is extraordinarily versatile. He invented this 'damp' dry fly pattern in the late Seventies for surface feeding trout on Rutland Water reservoir in Eastern England, when the fish were preoccupied with taking adult buzzers struggling in the surface film.
SHIPMAN'S BUZZER (CHIRONOMIDS) MIDGE EMERGER NYMPHS FLY PATTERNS. Hook size 10 12 14 - $US each
The original was a combination of teased out fiery brown or green seal's fur and white breathers that proved so deadly. The great thing about this pattern is that it does not normally need floatant. It is a pattern that will seduce the most suspicious of fish. The scruffier the pattern the better it seems to fish. Once it has caught a few trout do not discard the fly if it has been chewed try it again and wait for more hits. On one of my evening fishing sessions on a fishery last summer I weighed in 10 fish for 36lbs. 6ozs all taken on Shipman's buzzers. The best fish was a beauty at 13lbs 2oz
Years of experimenting have resulted in the general rule that a shaggy, scruffy hairy nymph is better at catching trout near the surface than a slim sleek nymph. Why is this so I hear you ask? Just think about what happens to a slim sleek bottom dwelling nymph as it floats to the surface just before it hatches. The water pressure decreases as the insect gets near the surface. Gases within the body expand. They bulk out its body inside its last nymph skin. This is the skin that it is about to shed. It looks bigger to the predatory trout. To increase the flies surface area, the body can be roughed up on a piece of waterproof fishing jacket velcro before floatant is applied. The thin rib of pearl lurex or tinsel is used to suggest the sparkling gases trapped under the skin of the hatching midge pupa. The white hair at the front and back of the fly help it float an are meant to imitate the midge pupa's breathers.
As the pressure of the water reduces its legs, gills, tail and head all swell. It's limbs are not capable of bending like they used to and now stick out. On the water surface it will have to fight to get through the surface tension to survive. The struggling and wriggling movement takes place inside the gas filled skin. Imagine that you are wearing a heavy diving suit the wrong way around and the zip was on your back. You are in the sea and you only had a couple of seconds to get out of the suit before you drowned. That is the sort of thing a hatching inset has to endure. As the emerging insect thrashes and wriggles out of its skin the hungry trout see a fuzzy knotted disjointed bulky moving mass. When the insect is standing on the water surface near it's old skin waiting for its blood to pump up it's wings and the sun to dry them out the view from under the surface is still of a tangled mess of old skin and legs. You can now see why a fish will take a scruffy shaggy mess of hair tied to a hook rather than a slim neat nymph near the water surface.
Dave Shipman was born in Bermuda in 1959, moved to Miami when he was four but then returned to Peterborough, England where his mother came from. He developed his love of fly fishing at the age of 14 and stared entering and winning competitions back in 1977. He has fished for England four times and won the Commonwealth Championships. Dave now runs a rod and gun shop in Whittlesey, in the flat Fenlands of Eastern England.
When the mayflies have stopped emerging and the surface action has died down. The fishing is not over if you know where to look. Go for a walk down the riverbank and look for bankside eddies, areas of slow slack pockets of water near faster moving water. A lot of mayflies do not successfully emerge during the hatch. They are referred to as cripples or stillborn. Others are flipped over, capsized in choppy water. They seem to collect in these eddies. You will find trout rising to them long after the original hatch has finished. Cast a Shipman's buzzer into these pockets and let it drift. It is a great way to extend your surface fishing time.
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.
Buzzers, midges, diptera or Chironomids are the names given to tiny flies that inhabit lakes and slow-flowing rivers. 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. The life cycle of the buzzer is egg, larva, pupa, adult. They are at their most vulnerable when they make their journey to the surface. The 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.
You should carry in your fly box a good selection of buzzer pupae, and emerges, in various colors and sizes. You can then virtually guarantee good sport at any time of the year on stillwater. Fish feeding on buzzer pupae just beneath the surface do so with the characteristic head and tail rise. Emergers are taken extremely gently by being sipped. A good tip is if you are close enough to a rise and you see an air bubble left on the surface then the fish has taken a fly from the surface. The air is sucked in with the fly and expelled through the gills, leaving that bubble as a sort of clue.
If I am fishing very early in the morning on stillwater I start extremely cautiously. If I arrive on a breathless morning, I like to keep close to the surface during the first few hours. I normally find fish right beside the bank cruising around - perhaps even with their backs out of the water. I kneel well back and start with a shipman's buzzer or two. It is always a good bet. The trout's early morning diet can often consists of leftovers from the previous nights feeding. Semi-drowned sedges, spent spinners and of course the ever-present buzzer should all be quite literally hanging around. You may also get a hatch. Buzzers, caenis and sedges can hatch in those early morning hours. If it is a windy morning this will often put the fish down and perhaps off altogether.
On my most recent trip to our local fishery my last hook up of the day was on the north shoreline, where the water was shallow. I connected with a very lively trout on a Shipman's buzzer. It leaped clear of the water a number of times before he got it close to the net but it took off again when it saw it. This time it rolled several times. The hook came out. How frustrating but what an enjoyable fight. When out fishing have you ever been covered in a cloud of Anglers Curse, those small white Caenis flies. The flies that hatch out of the water, immediately land on you and shed their skin. They get in your nose, mouth, down your shirt - everywhere. They don't bite but they tickle a lot. Fish love them - anglers hate them. I think I have found an answer to the caenis. Instead of trying to fish a small size 20 imitation, try using a light colored Shipman's buzzer like the Gold Ribbed Hares Ear Shipman's Buzzer on a size 14 hook. This seems to imitate a clump of caenis . Because the fish are so high in the water and swimming randomly instead of in a straight line, keep lifting and casting so that the fly lands on the fish's nose. You can use the same technique for clumps of tiny black midges. Just use a black Shipman's Buzzer.