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Ben Bangham reveals the secrets that help him catch when the going gets tough. His Little Buggers prove to be a success when other, more conventional flies fail.

It is staggering just how many people become obsessed with stripping lures back during cold spells, while being totally blinkered to the devastating results that ultra-small nymphs can provide. The period before spring tends to be one of the trickiest on many fisheries because a lot of anglers mothball their gear to wait for the better weather, which means fewer rods taking less fish from a venue. The knock-on effect is that fishery owners don’t need to stock so many new fish, resulting in the resident trout becoming extremely clued up – especially on lakes that allow catch and release.

It seems that the default setting for many anglers at this time of year is to put on a sinking line, a big bright and weighty lure, cast it as far as possible and strip it back, then repeat the process ALL day long, irrespective of results! This tactic can bring results, but on some of the lakes I’ve been fishing recently an all-out lure attack has the kiss of death.

Nymphs and buzzers, however, have resulted in constant action even in conditions where other rods on the water have blanked. Most of my fishing is spent trying to break away from the pack and catch more fish than the others on the lake, so if I see lots of people pulling lures about I tend to get out the buzzers and the nymphs and fish them slowly. I feel that the fish will take these with more confidence, as they haven’t seen them as much. I have been doing this a lot recently and one of the biggest discoveries I have made has been the smaller the fly, the better.

The Tying Bench

The patterns I have had most success with were in fact created as a bit of a joke and talking point for anyone peering into my fly box. I had been tying some small buzzers for an outing to a local lake when some very small 1.5mm tungsten beads among my materials caught my eye. These offer a tiny bit of weight and a splash of colour, so I thought that they would be pretty useful in making something small. I tied them on black hooks and left a large amount of hook exposed – giving greater hooking power and making them more effective than when tied on a normal nickel silver hook. I have always found that a pink version with hare’s ear, and an olive and orange version, have brought me the most success so those tones were my starting point. I have since tried other colours but those two combinations have been the most effective. Making the actual tying as small as possible, with two minute tags of Krystal Flash as long as the hook shank, just gives the fly a really great overall look as far as I am concerned and also to the fish, as I was to eventually discover coming up with a name for these creations was fairly simple because when I first started using them it was a case of “Let’s give these little buggers a try” so they actually christened themselves… Little Buggers.

The Tactics

I have fished these flies in every possible way and two methods have really stuck out, but they both have to be worked really slowly. I fish them as I do normal buzzers, in a team with the various colours on one cast. They really seem to complement each other and trout will home in on any of the trio. I try to fish them round in the wind with a floating line, watching and feeling for takes if the conditions are right – those days when you are faced with a nice breeze blowing left to right. If the wind isn’t great then I fish them under the bung and this seems to work just as well.

If you’re not confident with using so many small flies or the water isn’t very clear then fishing it with a Blob or a similar bigger and brighter fly is also a real winner. I am sure that the brightness of the Blob gets the trout’s attention and it makes them come over to investigate. They then spot some tasty-looking tiny flies nearby that they aren’t used to seeing and confidently home in on them instead.

How it all Started

I was fishing at a local water and catching the odd trout but with no real insight into what they were feeding on or what fly would be the deadliest. I had started the day by using lures but with very limited success, so moved onto fishing nymphs and buzzers, which led to a bit more action but still nothing spectacular By late afternoon I decided to switch to a bung and delved into my fly box to get out a couple of buzzers when I spotted the Little Buggers just sitting there, almost saying “try me, try me!” Had I been having success on conventional flies these ‘joke’ offerings would have stayed put but I decided to give them a whirl more out of desperation than anything. The result was phenomenal and instant. The flies had only been in the water for 30 seconds when my rod was buckling over as a feisty 2lb rainbow made an attempt for freedom. In the final hour of that session I landed another NINE trout from all over the lake. It was unbelievable and I was itching to give them another try to prove it hadn’t been a one-off experience.

On the next session the Little Buggers were first choice and again I was instantly into fish. Sport was slightly slower than when I gave them their maiden outings because the water wasn’t as clear as before. This was when I decided to give the trout something a little brighter to home in on by attaching a Blob as well. This upped the catch rate again, with a couple of rainbows falling to the Blob as well.

Frensham Trout Fishery

Because my new little flies were so successful and catching so many trout – and not just for me but to a string of pals I handed them on too.

The setting used to prove just how effective these flies are, couldn’t have been better – Frensham Trout Fishery near Farnham, on the Surrey/Hampshire border. The complex is also known as Robinswood and comprises six lakes set in idyllic surroundings. Frensham also offers great fishing along with on-site facilities such as a toilet and washroom and a small shop. The fact that it has so many trees and vegetation means that there is natural food for the trout all year round. It has a spectacular mayfly hatch that normally lasts about six weeks and, believe it or not, you can catch fish on the dry all year round as the trout are always looking up. It offers great value for money, with the option of catch and release after you’ve caught your limit.

I arrived at the complex fairly early and there were already a couple of people fishing, but it was the coldest night we’d had for a while and this had a knock-on effect on the fishing, with Mick the bailiff confirming it had been slow so far… so slow, in fact, that no-one had caught.

Long Line

I started fishing, using a long cast and allowing the Little Buggers to drift around, giving them the occasional twitch to impart some movement. However, after half an hour I hadn’t had a touch so a slight change of tactics was needed. I added a Blob to the mix and put on a bung so that I could fish the flies as slow as possible. I also decided that a move to one of the other lakes was called for and started to fish the bung in likely looking spots, casting it near trees and inlets. I would leave it for about a minute then give it a twitch and leave again. With the addition of the Blob, and by fishing it static, it didn’t take long before I started to catch. Casting next to an overhanging tree I let it all settle, the bung gave a little twitch and then slid away under the water’s surface. I struck into a spirited rainbow that gave a really good account for itself despite the water being so cold, which sometimes makes fish very lethargic. As the feisty two-pounder slipped into the net I could clearly see the pink-beaded Little Bugger firmly lodged in its top lip. I carried on catching more trout in the same area, some on the Blob, but once again it was the Little Buggers that were doing most of the damage.

The Main Lake

I moved back to the main lake where despite the plummeting temperature there were one or two trout moving just subsurface. I shortened the distance between the bung and the flies – about two feet to the first fly and only a foot to the next – as it was obvious that the fish were concentrated in the upper layers. This small change meant that I managed to keep on catching when others around me were still struggling.

It was at this point that one of the other fishermen, who looked as if he was heading for a blank, came up to me and asked what I was catching on. I showed him and even offered him one, but he didn’t believe me and refused the fly. “I’m not fishing that, it’s far too small,” he said! There really is no hope for some people – the ones who are so blinkered they refuse to fish with an open mind.

It’s a pity he didn’t follow me as I moved down to a third lake, put a cast next to one of the inlets and watched the bung settle. Immediately a trout came into view, heading straight for one of my little flies before engulfing it, showing me the white of the inside of its mouth as it did so. I love it when a plan comes together! This was a perfect example of the tactic working and a great note to leave on. I packed up after just a few hours with over a dozen trout caught. From what I could work out the other fishermen had managed two between them, and there were four people fishing when I left! Another great day, thanks to my Little Buggers.