Trawling through dusty tomes nets a piece of history

Now, I don't want any cheeky comments from anyone, but I just want to point out that It's not very often that one encounters a genuine angling relic.

As I write, I have before me a sample of flies tied by one famous angler as a gift for another well-known personality. Eric Horsfall Turner first dressed this fly in June 1940 and finally shared his secret with his great friend Jack Martin thirty-six years later. Eric created five examples of his Eric's beetle on the evening of January 18, 1976, and posted them to Jack along with a letter that describes how the fly came to be. Three of those very flies are on my desk. I'd love to know what happened to the other two; I can only imagine that Jack tried them out on the wily trout of the Yorkshire Derwent, whence they were born.

The inventor confesses that the idea came to him on a bright sunny summer afternoon after he and a doctor friend "had a massive meel (sic] and boozed like hell." Despite the possible after-effects, our hero made his way to the banks of the Derwent. The trout had all retreated to the shade provided by overhanging trees. There, the fish were preoccupied by some small beetles that provided a late lunch as they dropped into the water from the canopy above. Eric searched through his fly box, only to realise that he had nothing that even resembled a beetle. In his letter to Jack, however, he remarks that "I had a big and useless fly given to me by the Town Clerk of Rotherham..." He goes on to observe that "its only advantage was the body, which was peacock and similar to beetle. I cut off all the massive hairs and tied on the body to be dropped like the natural beetle."

The good doctor had retired back to the Everley Hotel, which had served the infamous lunch, perhaps to rest awhile! Meantime, Eric discovered that his improvised offering was taken enthusiastically by the trout.

Sometime later, it seems, Mr Horsfall Turner undertook a bit of research and came to the conclusion "that the yellow tail got more takes than the red tail." So with that decision, the final form of Eric's beetle was established. It is still listed in all decent books on river flies to this day. Unfortunately, some modern writers have taken liberties with the original concept. Steve's copy is true to the original of January 18, 1976.

This wonderful piece of angling history came about as Brian Hill researched the history of the Derwent Anglers' Club, established in 1839. It is probably the second-oldest angling club in Yorkshire, though there are others that dare to make this claim. Brian has taken the time to write and publish the history of the fishing and fishers on this lovely little river. Reading the book makes me realise that there are a many fascinating stories and a wealth of great characters tucked away in dog-eared tomes and dusty brain cells.

Brian Hill reminds us of one of the river's famous keepers, one "Spike" Longhorn. "He had an almost pathological dislike of poachers; his favourite deterrent was to "accidentally" fall and break their rods when confronting them."

It seems to me that the history of some of our other great clubs should be chronicled before it's too late. Perhaps I should do it myself.

In the meantime, Brian's book "The Derwent Anglers Club" is available from the Club Secretary, for the princely sum of 8.50. I will gladly pass on requests for copies.

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham. 0113 2507244. www.fishingwithstyle.co.uk

Roger Beck, 01439 788483. www.beckfisher.co.uk

CW 6/11/10