If you tie only one dry mayfly pattern this season, choose the Sparkle Partridge, writes Bob Preston
Try the Sparkle Partridge Mayfly from the vice of Bob Preston
LIKE MANY FLY-DRESSERS I enjoy tinkering with established patterns to see if they can be improved. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but that is part of the fun of tying flies. It's how many of our oldest trout flies were born. Some traditional wet-flies are grouped in -families-. There's the mallard family, Krouse family, woodcock family and teal family and often the flies are almost indistinguishable from each other apart from the body colour. Therefore, a Grouse & Claret is almost identical to a Mallard & Claret apart from the wing. I have a fantasy that once upon a time Archie the 011ie was due to take the laird out for a day on the loch
only to find to his horror that he had run out of the laird’s favourite Mallard & Clarets and if there were no Mallard & Clarets there would be hell to pay. So, Archie rushes to find Jock the gamekeeper to see if there are any mallard drakes in the game larder after the day’s shoot. There were not, but there were several brace of grouse, so in desperation Archie takes some feathers and ties up a dozen flies using the grouse instead of mallard, praying the laird won’t notice. The next day the laird comes in with a dozen nice trout in the boat and Archie finally confesses to the substitution. The laird is highly amused and the Grouse & Claret is born to be followed by a whole family of flies sporting different body colours and grouse wings. It is a fantasy, but I wouldn’t mind betting that buried in there is more than a grain of truth. This spring I set out to improve a long-established dry mayfly pattern, the French Partridge. It was one of the first flies I tied when I began tying in 1971. Why I did so, I can’t for the life of me imagine because my chances of fishing a mayfly hatch then were about as likely as my flying to the moon. It was probably because it was big and the tying was not too difficult. The standard dressing, as given by Veniard, is a cock pheasant tail, natural raffia body, olive cock palmer, oval gold tinsel rib and a French partridge flank feather hackle. This pattern has caught many thousands of trout over the years, but to me it has a glaring and basic design fault. The French partridge hackle fibres are long and soft and in use they simply collapse, making the fly about as attractive as a bit of string – to me at any rate, and if I don’t like the look of a fly then I have no confidence in it, and confidence in your kit is more than half the battle when fly-fishing. Natural raffia has gone out of fashion and is not easy to come by. I wanted to make the body from more accessible materials and ended up mixing equal amounts of yellow and natural seal fur in a coffee grinder and then adding about 10 per cent of gold Litebrite chopped into short lengths. This gave the body a nice pale yellow colour with a hint of sparkle. Tail and rib were like the original: four or five cock pheasant tail fibres and fine oval gold tinsel. Next, I palmered a light blue dun genetic saddle and then tied in one of my larger, genetic dun-coloured saddle hackles. Finally, I added a French partridge flank feather. This is not one of the bird’s larger feathers, but one from near its shoulder. I am fortunate to have working gundogs that I use on a large shoot during the winter and this gives me unlimited access to as many partridge and pheasant feathers as I am ever likely to need. I can select exactly the right feathers for the job. Having tied in the partridge by the tip, it is doubled and wound for four or five turns. The dun hackle is then wound for at least four turns behind the partridge, three turns through it, and three turns in front of it. This makes the partridge feather fibres stand out and supports them so that they don't collapse. The hook is a size 10 Fulling Mill All Purpose Light, which is on the small side for mayflies, but I find the fish take the fly more positively as a result.
During last year’s mayfly period I guided for 11 days on the Kennet, Wiltshire Avon, Test and Dever and apart from two oddball fish on the Dever, every one that was caught came to either my ’Orrible (pictured left) pattern or the Sparkle Partridge. The two oddballs? Towards the end of a tricky day on the Dever, which is a small clear chalkstream full of wise trout and spooky grayling, I was running out of ideas. We’d tried just about everything. It wasn’t much of a mayfly hatch and the fish had received a lot of attention during the previous few days. Finally, I decided to try a Stimulator (left), remembering a great day I’d had on the Itchen when that was the fly they wanted. I was acting on the principle that the fish wouldn’t have seen one before. Two trout wolfed it in the space of ten minutes and the client went home happy. I, as a guide, breathed a large and silent sigh of relief. Oddly, one of my fellow guides that day had gone through exactly the same process after running out of ideas, and with the same result.
Hook Size 10 Fulling Mill All Purpose Light Tail Four or five cock pheasant centre tail fibres Rib Fine oval gold Body 45/45/10 mix of yellow seal fur/natural seal fur/chopped gold Litebrite Body hackle Pale blue dun genetic saddle hackle Head hackles Darker dun genetic saddle hackle and French partridge flank feather
BOB PRESTON is an experienced guide on the southern chalkstreams having previously spent 40 years in fisheries management. He is a keen river and lochstyle angler