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Sheet Anchors

In his latest blog, The Damp Angler lets us know about sheet anchors and how they relate to the Red Quill; his 'Fly of Last Resort'

French Partridge Mayfly: Just the thing when Yellow Duns are about.
French Partridge Mayfly: Just the thing when Yellow Duns are about.

According to the Environment Agency (EA), the River Swale has ceased to exist. On its flood warning website (available here), the EA measures the river level as zero and it is not far wrong. Around Lownethwaite there are places where the rocky river bottom is visible from bank to bank, yet there remain plenty of deep pools where trout still rise to a fly – so long as it’s the right one. During the past week, the Red Quill enjoyed a brief purple patch. FM Halford (no less) described it as “the sheet anchor of the dry-fly fisherman on a strange river”.

Red Quill catch: For a short time at least, the Red Quill was better than its billing.

The purple patch began after I noticed hundreds of reddy-brown spinners waltzing up and down just above my head (I was looking to the heavens for inspiration at the time, but enough of that).  In terms of size and general colour, the one I captured in the landing net was close enough to the Red Quills in my fly box and from the first cast, the day was transformed. None of the fish were huge, but they were all full of beans, leaping clear of the water and shaking their heads the moment they were hooked. The next day on the Tees it was the same story – both Trout and Grayling didn’t seem to be able to leave it alone. And then, just as I was beginning to think I’d cracked this fly fishing malarkey, all interest in the Red Quill abruptly ended. The same insects were on the wing and the weather and river had not changed at all, yet the fish would have nothing further to do with the Red Quill.

Low water mark: The Swale could do with some rain.

Later, I looked up the definition of a “sheet anchor” and discovered that it is a spare anchor used by ships in an emergency. In other words, the Red Quill is a fly of last resort. Suddenly “sheet anchor” sounded like faint praise. The sheer drama of Halford’s language had swept me away.

Another creation from the back of the box claiming its first fish was the French Partridge Mayfly. On the evening in question, caenis were everywhere and the fish were lazily slurping them down, barely breaking the surface, but every now and again there was a huge splash, suggesting there must be something more substantial about (why would a trout make such a fuss over something as tiny as a caenis?). That was when I noticed the Yellow Duns. There were very few of them, but they were easy to spot and follow and those foolish enough to touch down on the water were madly pursued. A large Greenwell did not excite the fish quite so much, but the French Partridge did the trick – a trout immediately snapped at it and I responded with the same urgency, yanking the fly from the fish’s jaws and into the air and when it fell back onto the water, the same trout attacked again (once more I may have accidentally replicated the behaviour of the natural insect). This time, there was a delay before the strike because the line was still slack and it took a second or two to gather up, allowing the fish to turn away so that he was fairly hooked.

Small but beautiful: None of the trout were huge, but they all fought hard.

It is always exciting to add new flies to the armoury and without the time for a proper session on the river at the moment (some of us have to work for a living) I have been tying Klinkhamer variants of established patterns, including the Midge Pupae and Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear. So far they don’t look half bad, but there will be no pictures of these creations unless and until they have proved themselves. Just in case they turn out to be a load of sheet anchors...

Caenis hatch: Fish were lazily gorging on these tiny chaps.

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