By Leonard Markham.
Originally published in the The Dalesman, October 1991.
Reproduced here by their kind permission.
I caught as many fish as a Heron with it’s beak in a splint. My experiments with home-made flies, so optimistically anticipated in my August article, were a disaster. There was nothing for it but to consult an expert. So where else should I go but Thirsk. One of the most respected and knowledgeable fly-tiers in the country, Derek Stratton of the Angling Centre Thirsk is proof that the fraternity of angling is unparalleled in any sport. A Tyke can instinctively outmatch the Scotsman in the art of dissecting a currant, yet here was a man who was willing to coach a duffer for the price of a pint. But first to a lesson in entomology.
I was instructed that some rudimentary knowledge of aquatic insects is essential before a feather is plucked. Before their metamorphosis into creatures capable of flight (feeding apart, the insects life is brief, being devoted solely to mating and reproduction). Nymphs as they are known may spend up to three or four years foraging the depths. Simulacra of these creatures are known as wet flies. Replicas of the more resplendent winged flies are of course referred to as dry flies. Here endeth the lesson. On with the tying.
I was led to a sanctum above the shop and introduced to the tools of contrivance carefully assembled as for appendectomy vice, scissors, knives, pliers and tweezers ready to alchemise wisps of feather and silk.
Hackled, tailed, ribbed.winged, filament-gilled, imitating dozens of different species of insect. Many of Derek’s creations are tied according to centuries-old patterns such as Hare’s Lug, Snipe and Purple and Partridge and Orange. All originally devised for our stony North Country Rivers. However Derek is a keen and observant bankside naturalist who has his own theories about fly anatomy. One fly of his own devising (named Rosemary’s Delight as a tribute to is god-daughter) regularly performs sterling work on the Itchen and a nymph with no name fashioned from brass wire, cock and peacock feathers and mole fur……well it was just about to be tested. Dexterously Derek tied this Clint Eastwood of flies and off we went to the Cod Beck.
Threading the pastures of South Kilvington, a mile or so of the Cod Beck has been specifically reserved for fly fishing. Like a lamb the Beck cavorts and tumbles, scouring dens for wary trout and grayling. Tip-toeing through chandeliers of Butterburr we watched a rising fish and I was anxious to break out the rods. But first to the inculcation of a semblance of technique.
I have fly-fished all these years as a lumberjack. Watching Derek I know it know. Still I’m a trier and I’ll keep practising that aerial poetry, that seamlessly effortless caressing of goose-down on silk that is the art of casting a fly. Derek showed me how and caught three fish in quick succession. It came to my turn. Tying on the Clint Eastwood I cast out. Steering my fly gradually nearer a deep pool under a large rooty tree I probed for five minutes without a take. Then High Noon. The showdown of the fly with no name and a respectable trout had my reel spinning.
Incredible, Incredulous. I wouldn’t have believed it myself had I not seen the photograph. In an ecstatic stupor I fished on and caught a grayling before retiring as guest for high tea.
The succulent York Ham was followed by a browse through Derek’s extensive angling library, rare and precious volumes such as Pritt’s Yorkshire Trout Flies delaying my departure still further. Hours into the scolding zone I consoled myself at having enjoyed the perfect day. And yet there was more, the invitation to fish the fabled Yorkshire Esk rendering the midnight “dinner’s in the dog” routine quite blithesome.
P.S. Dereks little nymph has since been christend Becky after the deceitful Becky Sharp in Vanity fair. Since my outing the little lady has deceived well over 30 fish.
Note added Jan 2013. The number is now into the 1000s if not more and this fly has caught fish all over the UK and United States. Derek tells me that it was designed for and first fished on the Cod Beck and as he was re-reading Vanity Fair at the time it was very aptly named.