Introduction to Buzzers

by Jonathan

Buzzer is a common name given to the larval stage of the midge which spends the greatest part of its life in the water. To a great extent this stage was ignored by the early fly fishers. They tended to concentrate their efforts on fishing the dry fly, probably unaware of the existence of the larval stage of the flies they were fishing.
 Frank Sawyer, the renowned river keeper on the River Itchen was one of the first to break with tradition. His Sawyer Nymph tied with copper wire and wool was the first to be deliberately fished sub surface to stalk trout and grayling. This practice was frowned upon by the traditionalists of the day and was banned, and still is, on some waters.
Oliver Kite became famous for his upstream nymphing with the weighted Pheasant Tail Nymph with a copper wire rib and was probably responsible for the practice being generally   accepted in the south country rivers.
  I can remember the opening season at Chew Valley Reservoir in the early 1960s. Prior to that I had only fly fished rivers and streams with wet flies. In my first two days there I had stumbled on buzzer fishing, without realising it, and did not appreciate it until several years later.
 My first visit to Chew was a blank and the locals were having a field day. After trying to match their casting distance with my 10ft. Hardy Palakona split cane rod and a badly cracked level fly line I was absolutely shattered and demoralised. The following day I tried again and initially had no success. One of the locals took pity on me and asked to have a look at my tackle and flies. He had a look in my fly box and picked out a size 10 Teal and Red wet fly. He took out his scissors and cut off the teal wing. He handed me my mutilated fly and told me to give it a try on the point.
 It was with little confidence that I cast that fly into the wind, but after a couple of takes that nearly took the rod out of my hand, I did eventually net a brown trout well over 2lbs. It was the biggest brownie I had ever caught. When I got home I checked the stomach contents. It was full of reddish wriggling larvae up to half an inch long plus an odd earthworm.
 I was hooked on Stillwater trout fishing and it was time for a tackle change. I went into Bristol and bought a ‘state of the art’ glass fibre rod and a Cortland double taper fly line.  The flies were a different issue. I had already decided that I would try to copy some of the larvae. I took a size 8 wet fly hook and wound claret wool well round the bend with about a quarter of an inch  hanging over as the tail and ribbed it with silver wire.
After years of tying traditional wet flies I felt guilty for using this monstrosity. I dread to think what my old mentor, Wilf. Proud, would have said. In the following weeks I caught a fair few fish but never dared show anyone the ’fly’ in case I got banned. Compared to the lures and other ‘flies’, which suddenly appeared with the opening of the Midland Reservoirs, my ‘Claret Buzzer’ was positively mundane.

Dave Cammiss

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

andythebusdriver October 2, 2012 at 10:47 am

Hi dave,
Just started to fish the fly ,and part of the joy of fishing the fly i find, is the tying and preperaton of any trip.
I would just like to say how informative and straightforward your lessons are. Keep up the good work. How about some bass flies for saltwater bass.

DaveC December 3, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Hi Caitlin,
Thanks for your comments. There are numerous fly tying kits on the market available for trout to salmon flies and a wide range of prices. First you have to decide on what you will be fishing for. Most probably it will be trout. These days most trout anglers fish reservoirs and still waters. The flies for these vary from nymphs to lures. Should you be lucky enough to have the opportunity to fish rivers or streams the best flies to start with would be wet flies and nymphs. I will assume that you most probably would learn on stillwaters. I get several catalogues every year and I think that Glasgow angling centre probably have best choices.Their Turral flytying kit @£39.99 or the Complete flytying kit @£49.99 would be most suitable.I was lucky enough to be taught by a Mr. Proud when I was 11 yrs old. No vices or bobbin holders in those days. Most of these kits do have a selection of materials which you will rarely use. I started with the bare necessities and built up my collection over the years.
If you get the Glasgow Angling Centre catalogue I will gladly advise you on what you should buy to get started if you know what fly fishing you intend doing.
If your father would like to contact me on camfly@ntlworld .com I will advise you in any way I can.
Regards Dave Cammiss

Caitlin November 28, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Hello Mr Cammiss

My name is Caitlin and I am 10 years old and I would to start fishing and flytying. As it is coming up to christmas could you recommend a beginner’s kit that my Dad can buy for me and some easy beginners flytying patterns that you would think suitable for a very beginner.

Thank you

Caitlin Jones

DaveC May 26, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Hi marabou
I fished Chew the first year it opened. As far as I could see I was the only guy breaking his wrist fishing with a split cane rod …. a Hardy palakona Pope. It had served me well for seatrout but just baout broke my wrist and heart trying to cast a beat up level line at the big rainbows. Most of the guys were fishing the new glass fibre rods with a DT line. It was only after I was ‘converted ‘ that I started to catch. There were some older guys fishing with split cane rods on the Barrows catching the odd fish but the guys really catching were using their converted shooting heads.
I am in the process of having an old split cane rod , a Walker from Alnwick, tidied up to use on the Derwent.
Thanks for the Memories.


marabou May 26, 2011 at 8:18 pm

I wonder what cane rods they cast with at Chew in those days?

Anyone heard of the “Chew” rod B.James made specifically for the water?

DaveC August 17, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Hi Strensteve
Thanks for your e-mail. Next week they are planning on bending my fingers straight. These trigger fingers and carpul tunnel have been the bane of my life for the last 5 years and dont look like going away. The heart op. was a success and the rest is down to wear and tear of the joints due to a lively life.
I now have the extra room to the bunker and just as soon as I can sort out this collection of stamps I will have all the room I want( not need).
Thanks for your good wishes and interest in my well being.
Dave C.

sternsteven August 17, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Delighted to hear from Steve P that you have new tyings planned now that you have (nearly) satiated yourself on medical care!
Power to your elbow and look forward to the words of wisdom

regards s

JOHN GOLLAND August 13, 2010 at 11:27 am

If anyone with arthritis in their fingers,as I have,and has not tried a whip finishing tool when fly tying-then they should do.Those who use their fingers are very lucky,but I think Dave C and his excellent team should give my comments a bit of publicity to help those in need.I usually use an old biro tube for a half hitch,wrapping the silk around the smooth end a couple of times before placing it over the hook eye and then tightening. John Golland.

DaveC August 12, 2010 at 11:38 am

Hi Ron,
It is a good job we are not all made the same way! I was taught the double half hitch when I was 11yrs. and whip finish was not even in the equation. Old habits die hard and if it works dont change it and as a practicing geriatric learning new tricks does not come easy.Your name rings bells in my tiny head. Do you live in Notts/Derbys area and does DCAC mean anything to you?
Happy Fishing
DaveC and the Team

Ron Clay August 11, 2010 at 9:16 am

Isn’t it strange, I can tie a whip finish with my fingers in seconds and do it all the time, even when the dressing calls for a half hitch.

And to tell the truth, I CANNOT tie a half hitch to save my life.

I must admit that I can do a whip finish with a tool a lot quick and neater these days.


Ron Clay

Ni Rogers July 24, 2010 at 11:21 pm

I agree – why change after 60 years, BUT, I have started to learn the art of fly tying because I am sick of these cheap chinese things that fall apart after a few casts. I am also being mentored for my Game Angling Instructors Certificate – so you see old dogs can learn new tricks. Incidently I am nearly 70.

Tightlines and all the best

DaveC March 15, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Hi Ron
Far be it from me to disagree with your words of wisdom. In purely biological terms the pupa is in a cocoon stage prior to hatching into the adult.( think caster from maggot) This stage does not occur in most aquatic insects as the transition from larva to adult usually occurs on its way to the surface when they wriggle about to free themselves from their skin. But who cares anyway….a bloodworm is larvae stuffing itself to develop into an adult and when the time is right and it feels like a teenager it breaks free and struggles to be an adult. All purely academic and the fish dont care one little jot.
You were 100% right about the Jersey Herd. I did not start tying flies for stillwaters until the 70s and Jim Sharpe of Watsons gave me the correct dressing to do for him because of the 99% abortions being sold as Jersey Herd. I had not heard of it prior to that time.
Steve has already tried and failed to get me to tie a whip finish with fingers only or tool. Why should I chang after 60 years?
Kindest Regards
Dave C.

Ron Clay March 11, 2010 at 10:31 am

Oh and my mate Steve says he will show you how to tie a whip finish when you are next in the Long Eaton area!


Ron Clay March 11, 2010 at 10:09 am

Hi Dave,

I would like to take you up on a couple of things:

1: “Buzzers” (so called because they don’t buzz), are not generally known as the larval stage of the chronomid. They are the pupal stage which swim from the bed of the lake to emerge on the water’s surface. The larval stage is more commonly termed a bloodworm.

2: Tom Ivens’ Jersey Herd was most likely invented in the late 40s, not the early 70s as you have stated. I was certainly using the dressing in the early 60s. The pattern is fully described in Tom’s groundbreaking book: “Still Water Fly Fishing” which was published in 1952 if I remember right.

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