Shipmans Buzzer

By Jeff Morgan

Regular readers of this column know of my spring-time affinity for shallow-water bass and sunfish angling. But I also love early-season midge fishing on Cascade and Rocky Mountain reservoirs.

The combination of these two pastimes focuses my attention on chironomid imitations for most of the winter.

First Impression--Wrong!

When I first came across it about a decade ago, I refused to try Shipmans Buzzer . I found it in one of Bob Church's fly pattern books, and I was deeply skeptical. The fly was a variant of "stick patterns" that looked nothing like any chironomid imitation that I had ever seen.

But like the Flying Ant and San Juan Worm before it, Shipmans Buzzer reinforced to me that the first impression of a fly pattern is often the wrong one.

Dave Shipman created it in the 1970's for chironomid or "buzzer" emergences on Rutland Water, England's most popular stillwater. It has since grown to be one of the five most popular stillwater patterns in that country, so effective that many private stillwaters prohibit its use if you are practicing catch-and-release fishing.

Essence of Simplicity

The construction of Shipmans Buzzer is so simple it should be the first pattern taught in every fly tying class. Tie a piece of poly-yarn to the hook shank, tie in a piece of pearl mylar tinsel for ribbing, dub a fur body, rib the body, and presto, you're done!

Colors are easily adjusted, and one would be advised to carry them in olive, yellow, pink, red, brown, black, or even pearl. My most consistently successful colors are a rusty-orange and claret.

The fur of choice for Shipmans Buzzer is seal, but considering that fur's marginal legality in the Western Hemisphere, any substitute will work as long as it looks shiny and buggy when it's picked out.

Why It Works

The fly works because it looks far more alive underwater than it does in your vise. The reason for this watery life-likeness is the way midges emerge. As a midge pupa nears the surface, water pressure decreases and the gases trapped between the pupal skin and adult skin expand. The midge also wiggles to loosen this pupal skin, prior to straightening itself parallel to the surface in order to emerge. When this pattern bobs just under a choppy surface, the loosely picked out fur body shakes and shines just like a wiggling natural pupa.

The original Shipmans buzzer was designed to hover just under the surface without floatant, and the fly fishes best in the upper foot of the water column. To ensure depth control, you can grease your leader up to a foot of the pattern or fish the pattern off a short dropper leader in front of a dry fly.


There are a bewildering array of variant patterns. One of my favorites is the CDC Shipmans Buzzer , which adds CDC feathers to the head and tail of the fly. Of course this makes the fly float, which can be effective at times. Another version I like is the Goodmans Buzzer , which looks like a cross between a Shipmans Buzzer and a Goddard Suspender Emerger. Goodmans Buzzer utilizes Goddard's foam ball wrapped in mesh, and its floatation is ensured by a parachute hackle wrapped between the foam ball and the body of the fly. This pattern works best when trout are sipping emergers directly in the film.


As with other chironomid patterns, Shipmans Buzzer can be deadly in the early-spring when you're pursuing shallow-water panfish and largemouth bass. I have caught several pre-spawn bass over three pounds on the Oregon Coast and Crane Prairie Reservoir with this pattern in size 12.

Occasionally this fly can work on creeks or rivers, but the subtle movement and flash of the seal fur and pearl mylar tinsel are lost in all but the calmest currents. If you try this pattern in a river, use small (size 16-20) black versions during emergences of little small black stoneflies (Capnia) or trico spinner falls.

Jeff Morgan has written many articles for Westfly, mostly on entomology and fly tying. He is the author of An Angler's Guide to the Oregon Cascades and Small Stream Fly Fishing.