Ir­re­sistible

If you tie only one dry mayfly pat­tern this sea­son, choose the Sparkle Par­tridge, writes Bob Pre­ston

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - Contents -

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.

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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

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