Don’t write off the humble Buzzer in winter. We find out why at Scotland’s Bangour fishery
IF there was a TroutFisherman award for The Biggest Gamble in Flyfishing, Bangour Trout Fishery would be the last place we’d go in search of a winner. Big gambles among fisheries would have certain giveaway clues about them – like scaffolding and ApologiesforInconvenience notices, penned in felt-tip by what seems a slightly desperate hand. And there’s none of that at Bangour. Just an L-shaped loch, handsomely embraced by mature woodland and serviced by numerous casting platforms. An artificial turf walkway along the dam and a solid metal bridge across the spillway speak to some genuine TLC being lavished on this West Lothian water, whose crowning touches are a lodge slightly more comfortable than my living room and the palatial sandy-coloured owners’ house next door, overlooking the loch. Gamble? Factor in the hubbub of contented punters and Bangour looks like a sure thing. Only when you meet its latest owners does the spectre of what speculators would call ‘a proper punt’ raise its alarming head. This time last year, Jason and Karen Smith’s world revolved around cybersecurity and personal fitness, in the horse racing hub of Newbury. With the rat race weighing more heavily on their minds, they headed to Scotland in search of clear heads
and new business opportunities, happened upon For Sale ads regarding Bangour and thought what the hell? Enthusiasm total. Experience zero. A proper punt.
It’s occurred to me since that I might have come across as a little forward when I learnt of their gamble, but as the man who proof-reads Peter Cockwill’s column for each month, I’ve effectively sat a master’s degree course in the pitfalls of running a fishery. The Smiths, what’s more, are the kind of people you like within minutes of meeting them. If I sounded like a combination of anxious parent and local busybody in suggesting that they burn no bridges and keep their former day-jobs ticking over at least, it stemmed only from that. Bobby Watson has fished here for more than a decade and well remembers the loch’s ‘wilderness years’, once it was no longer required as a reservoir for the local hospital. It became a poacher’s playground, the surrounding woods a place where heavyduty garbage went to die. “It was fallow for about three years, before a man called Steven Reid turned it around,” Bobby tells me. “He built the lodge, the house, tidied the place up; did an amazing job.” Reid’s legacy is a trout loch where most
flies have their day and fish are catchable at all depths. Just under the surface suffices for Bobby today, fishing a pair of Buzzers from a long leader. As we head deep into autumn and towards winter, don’t write off this humble pattern in favour of the popular coldweather predilection for big fluffy flies. With water fining down to high levels of clarity during calm spells at this time of year, minimal patterns are less likely to spook fish and it only takes a modest rise in temperature for small buzzers to start hatching. Have a selection of Buzzer sizes with you, for while sizes 16 to 18 reflect the smaller size of natural found in late-autumn/ winter, sizes 10 to 12 can be required to make your offering visible, should bad weather have tinted the water. Bobby is fishing an Olive Buzzer today, another effective shade once the clocks go back, as olive hatches persist on rivers at this time of year, so are well worth mimicking on stillwaters, using olive, washed-out yellow, gold or amber shades. Bobby is one of those tyers who regards a selection of permanent-marker pens as an integral part of his tying kit, allowing him to fine-tune the pattern’s colour, as he has here, embellishing the Buzzer’s Krystal Flash body with an olive pen colouring, for a natural tone that he believes is the fly’s strength. His other Buzzer is a Hatching Buzzer pattern; the standard Buzzer ‘J’ shape tweaked so as to hint at the tail fins and breathing filaments of the natural. The normal domain of this pattern is mid-water, during the pupa’s journey towards the water’s surface, rather than at the surface, when Suspender Buzzer patterns are preferred.
There are varying degrees of impressionism where this pattern is concerned. The late John Goddard is attributed with having devised the original Hatching Buzzer, topped and tailed with white hen hackle fibres to suggest the natural’s tail fins and filaments (for an example, visit our Flytying page on Pinterest - www. pinterest.co.uk/ troutfisherman/ flytying/). He stressed that the head fibres should be tied into the thorax so as to lean forward over the hook’s eye. Writing on the subject almost 50 years ago, he bemoaned the fact that midge pupa imitations of that time were commonly tied minus any tail fins and with the ‘filament’ fibres tilted away from the hook’s eye. The latter, he felt, would give the pattern a highly unnatural silhouette. Which brings us to Bobby’s variant, which, like some commercial versions of the Hatching Buzzer I’ve seen, hints at the natural’s principal
“As we head towards winter, don’t write off this pattern in favour of big, fluffy flies.”
elements without slavishly copying them. The tail fibres are black, not white, and while small clusters of white and orange fibres, tied into the thorax, hint respectively at the breathing filaments and wingbuds of the natural, they both point away from the eye, rather than towards it.
One of each?
If the flydressers among you fancy fishing one of each version on the same set-up to see whether ‘going the extra mile’ with the attention to detail reaps dividends, I’d be interested to know how you get on, but Bangour’s trout, it must be said, show little reluctance towards Bobby’s ‘Hatching Buzzer Lite’.
He fishes his Buzzers with a gentle retrieve today but there is an alternative way to fish Buzzers that could come into its own on breezy days which put a ripple on the water. Simply suspend the Buzzers beneath a heavily-ginked dry fly on the top dropper. The latter may be nothing more than a glorified indicator at this time of year but as it bobs up and down on the ripple, it gives the Buzzers below it all the movement they need to be enticing. Should conditions be unseasonably calm, then employ a very slow sink-and-draw retrieve instead. Given the journey involved in their life-cycle, there is an understandable misconception concerning buzzers that they only ever move upwards. This might be true if surface conditions are perfect for a hatch (ie breezy enough to break the surface film but not so blowy as to jeopardise the
hatch) but the pupae generally make several sorties before completing the entire journey, so there’s nothing unusual about entire colonies moving up and down the water column. The novice angler can therefore be assured that his or her Buzzers are working just as much when being allowed to fall through the water under a sink-and-draw as when they are being fished static or slowly retrieved. Other flies taking fish during my visit were a Yellow Apps’ Bloodworm, Viva Cat and a small Black Rabbit lure but what really caught my eye was the consistently good stamp of fish they produced. I don’t recall seeing a tired or battle-scarred trout emerge all day long – great looking fish indeed. Call it shrewdness or beginners’ luck, but Karen and Jason Smith have chosen well in their new life north of the Border. Bangour is one of those fisheries that will stick in my memory but the worrier in me means that when it’s time to leave, I’m cheered rather than disappointed to hear Karen say that Jason can’t say goodbye in person because he’s stuck in a conference call with two people on opposite sides of the world. The cyber-security business would appear to be booming. If they indirectly help buy time and a safety-net for places like Bangour, maybe even those infernal computer hackers have their uses.
“Given the journey involved, there is an understandable misconception that buzzers only ever move upwards...”
Bobby Watson used Buzzers to good effect at Bangour.
Alec Weir’s Viva Cat accounted for this chunky rainbow. Time-out and postmortems in the comfortable lodge.
The lodge and owners’ house combine for an elegant backdrop .
Alec Weir leans into another fish. All the fish caught during our visit were in great nick.
Another Bangour regular, Alex Britton, took this fish on a Yellow Apps’ Bloodworm.
Anglers wait out a brief lull between fish.
A useful raised platform juts out from the dam.
No fishing on the top part of the lake, it’s used for conservation .
A local church-going angler devised this red copper-wire Buzzer variant, hence its name, the Minister.
Colin Stewart casts from one of the numerous platforms.