Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Waterhen and Red

This dressing substitutes a coot undercovert for the hackle that W. H. Lawrie prescribes.



Red Pearsall’s marabou silk, waxed

Coot undercovert from the front of the wing

The Waterhen and Red is a simple North Country dressing that has likely been a favorite of anglers long before Scottish or Border authors mentioned it in their published works.

Sylvester Nemes includes the Waterhen and Red in Two Centuries of Soft-Hackled Flies (2004) in relating dressings from W. H. Lawrie’s Scottish Trout Flies (1966). Lawrie notes that “It would require a dictionary to list every Border pattern used for wet-fly fishing, and, in place of attempting anything so formidable, the following dressings of old-established, favourite flies are listed. Most of these are hackled flies, as may be expected, and they are all patterns in regular use today.” He follows with a dozen soft hackles, including a dressing for the Waterhen and Red:

“Hackle: As in the Waterhen Blae. ["Spoon-shaped feather with glossy underside from inside of a water-hen wing, summer plumage"]
 Body: Dark red tying-silk.”

Lawrie also points out that Border patterns like the Waterhen and Red "have been introduced from the adjacent northern counties of England, while others have been developed to meet local conditions. In the old days, the Carlisle fishers were not averse to making forays on the trout of the Border waters, and many of their most successful patterns would be appropriated by the Scot to balance the account. There may even have been an exchange the other way round, since it take more than a century of two to tame the reiving instincts of a bold and hardy race of Borderers." (The Oxford English Dictionary notes that "reive" is the Scottish spelling of the English  "reave," both of which denote a "plundering or pillaging; making raids." It is a word connotes the sort of Border past where Sir Walter Scott sets Rob Roy and Lawrie, tongue-in-cheek, finds rapacious Border anglers.)

In print, the Waterhen and Red is at least as old as William Nelson’s Fishing in Eden (1922), which Leslie Magee discusses in Fly Fishing: The North Country Tradition (1994). Magee describes Nelson’s work as “one of the great North Country classics which may be read time and time again for pleasure. It was not written as a text book for aspiring fly-fishers although it contains the wisdom of half a century of trout fishing,” indicating that the fly’s use dates at least as far back as the mid-nineteenth century. Magee also points out, significantly, that Fishing in Eden (1922) “is one of the most difficult fishing books to come by.”  He lists Nelson’s “dressings and seasons of the eight flies,” which includes the Waterhen and Red, No. 2, dressed with a “small greyish feather from the coverts of a waterhen’s wing, body and head of red silk. Summer and Autumn.”

In his List of Natural Flies (1853), Michael Theakston offers a similar dressing, but for a seemingly different insect, the Black Drake No. 59, that would begin hatching mid-May and "continue through June and July." He calls it the "darkest of the drake flies" - Theakston's denomination for a mayfly - "an altogether leaden hue." He dressed his Black Drake, "hackled, for legs and wings, with a dark, leady feather from a coot or water-hen" and with a body of "red or crimson silk." Although he does not name the fly is , R. Lakeland provides a dressing for September, "pale blue from ditto [sea Swallow] and crimson silk," in his Teesdale Angler (1858) that matches the color scheme of the Waterhen and Red. This pattern is part of a comprehensive list that Lakeland includes under the heading "List of Hackle Flies from February to November."