Fishmail: Buzzers

May 3rd, 2003

There was a buzzer hatch in my car this morning.

Now, you may think I am joking. But I can assure you that when I got out of the car after last night's curry, there were no insects flying around in it. When I got back in it this morning, there were several, grey, small, bi-winged creatures flying around, doing that very distinctive hover-and-dive thing that buzzers do. I had not left any windows open, before you ask, and anyone who has ever been in my car will tell you that no living creature would willingly venture inside it for fun. QED: they must have hatched there overnight.

I'm actually not terribly surprised by this. My car has been the breeding ground for all sorts of things over the years, perhaps due to its unique microclimate caused by (among other things) a malfunctioning air-conditioning system, the occasional box of maggots forgotten in the boot, various open but uneaten packets of crisps left there by various fishing friends over the years, the odd piece of fruit that rolled under the passenger seat and, above all, the inextinguishable aroma of Paul's socks. But this is the first time that I have experienced a cloud of dipteran insects hovering over the rear-view mirror, and as such it represents an unmissable opportunity for a column.

Buzzers – or chironomid dipterans, to give them their proper name – are pretty important things to trout fishermen. In the UK alone, we have 430 different species or so, many of which breed in or around water. Nobody seems to know exactly which ones. They are found in their billions in every waterway in every other country, on every continent. (The wingless Belgica antarctica – all half an inch of it - is, improbably, the largest land animal in Antarctica). Americans call them midges, and in the Unites States midge fishing is considered something of a black art – for many, it is something you do only when there isn't something a lot more interesting to try first. To normal human beings, they all look very similar – the larvae and pupae being small, thread-like things that are in some cases no bigger than this comma, the adults being small, buzzy things that are often mistaken for mosquitos. None of the chironomid midges bite; but all of them (at least, all the aquatic ones) are regularly bitten by fish. And boy, do they bite them. In some waters, chironomids account for over 50% of a trout's diet – just one of the reasons why I fish with buzzers at least 50% of the time (see below for more on why I do this). More or less every trout I have ever killed has been stuffed with a mass of small, sometimes wriggling things that are indubitably buzzer pupae. And so it is that we have hundreds of fly patterns that claim to represent some aspect of this ubiquitous insect's lifestyle.

Even I can catch fish on buzzers.

No, really, I can. I think I'm actually quite good at it, partly because I am nothing if not lazy, and the best way to fish imitations of these insects' larva and pupae is to do it incredibly slowly. If you can fish them completely static (and believe me, completely static is my greatly preferred state of existence) so much the better; a gentle breeze helps, to impart some of the natural movement that the currents give the real thing. If you fish them on a very long greased leader, you can slooooooowly draw them up towards the surface in imitation of the way that the naturals rise from the bottom, aided by gas-filled cavities – but that seems far too much like exercise to me. Much better to just leave them and see what happens, really – and if you do this, you will catch fish. Add to this the fact that buzzers are incredibly easy to tie – just a swirl of seal's fur on a hook will often do, or even just a couple of layers of thread – and you can see why I like buzzer fishing so much.

Most of the time, anyway. It is, of course, like everything else, a lot more tortuous than that. Buzzer fishing can be as complicated as you care to make it, and many people have tried to make it very complicated indeed. Remember those 430 species? They all do different things, at different times, at different depths. While it is a pretty safe bet that as long as there isn't ice on the water buzzers will be hatching somewhere, you never really know which ones, or how deep they are. The problem is aided and abetted by the fact that fishermen are not exactly sticklers for nomenclature. The big, gingery buzzers that hatch in deep-water lakes in summer are generally referred to as “those big gingery ones”. This is actually fine, because there aren't that many candidates that fit that particular bill – just throw a size 10 or 12 Cove on the line and you will probably catch a fish or two. It's the little black ones (otherwise known as “those little black ones”) that cause more problems, it seems. Many of them are not in fact black, but are instead one of myriad shades of grey or dark green or brown – some of them have orange bits, and a silvery sheen caused by those gas pockets, and almost anything else that you can think of too – and if it is one of those that the trout want that day, nothing else will do. This is why when it comes to tying buzzer imitations, people use everything from crisp packets to epoxy glue tie something that might eventually look like one of the things swirling around under the surface. And we haven't even talked about emerging or adult buzzers yet.

You probably know all this. But I am writing it down anyway, because I went fishing recently to a nearby stillwater and I asked a couple of the blokes what they were catching their fish on. “Buzzers”, they said. “Those little black ones”. And sure enough, there were some little black insects flying around, and both of these chaps had caught fish, so I tied on a size 16 imitation that has often worked in the past. Black thread body, tiny peacock herl thorax, nothing else. And of course, I didn't catch a fish. So I tied on a bigger one, and then a smaller one, and then a black-and-red one, and then anything else in my flybox that had any black in it. Eventually, I caught a fish on a shrimp pattern – and, as observant Sexyloops readers will notice, freshwater shrimps are distinctly unlike flying insects.

Maybe I'm not so good at buzzer fishing after all.

 
Sean Geer (sean@fishmail.co.uk) is a writer, Zen origamist and scoundrel. He currently holds the world record for the longest journey in search of fish without actually catching one, at 12,242 miles. He is still writing a novel about sex, bagels and silicon flyline lubricants

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