| Fly Fishing Devon | Early Roots of Fly Fishing in South Devon

Early Roots of Fly Fishing in South Devon

Mottisfont Abbey on the River Test
"The true and historic home of dry fly fishing"

There is a popular misconception that fly fishing on the rivers running off Dartmoor in South Devon (UK) was restricted to the wet fly until the dry fly was adopted here in the late 1880s and 1890s, as a result of the influence of the chalk stream angler F. M. Halford :"Fly-fishing in the West-Country streams was restricted to the wet fly; but in the late eighties and in the nineties the floating or dry fly began to spread from the chalk streams as the teachings of F.M. Halford gained popularity." (Lawrie 1967 p43-4)

In his later years Halford (1844 – 1914) was responsible for an imperious approach to fly-fishing on English chalk streams. He claimed that fishing with a dry fly spread outwards from chalk streams: “From north and south, from east and west, in later times fly-fishermen came to Winchester, and when there, saw learned, and conquered the use of the floating fly. … They carried the information all over the country,“ (Halford 1889 p41-2)

Fly-fishing historians would now regard Halford's account as a simplification. For example, when Andrew Herd wrote  The Fly  he : "came across repeated examples of individuals who were held to be the originators of methods that had clearly been in use for decades before their birth, .." (Herd 2002 p17).

Voss Bark & Restall (1999 77-9) consider that the dry fly as we know it was invented : “around the 1840s to 1860s and became the shop-talk of tackle dealers and gillies in the provinces. It then spread to the fishing and country magazines, and from them to the chalkstreams ...”. I tend to agree with Voss Bark that the direction of travel for dry-fly fishing may have been from the provinces to the chalk streams, rather than Halford's claim that the spread of influence was in the opposite direction.

Anglers in South Devon did not need to wait for the visit of “wise men from the East” with systems for fishing dry flies and nymphs. An effective Dry-Dropper method was already in use on the freestone rivers in South Devon when Halford was just three years old.

An example of this provincial development is the relationship between a Devon angler G. W. Soltau (1801-1884), and the Plymouth-based scientist and fishing tackle dealer Dr. J.N. Hearder who, from 1847 to 1895, actively promoted Soltau’s flies, and his method of using them, to anglers fishing South Devon rivers.


An Early West Country Pioneer : G.W. Soltau (1801-1884)

G.W. Soltau's home, Little Efford House built in 1738

Mr George William Soltau  (1801-1884) was Deputy Lieutenant of Devon, and a Justice of the Peace. He was Lord Mayor of Plymouth from 1839 to 1843.

Soltau was politically active as a Liberal social reformer. He led the formation of an active Plymouth branch of the Health of Towns Association in 1846 because Plymouth housing was insanitary and overcrowded, worse than Liverpool or Manchester. Infectious diseases such as cholera were regular killers (Brayshay and Pointon 1983). Soltau’s influence led to a formal government enquiry into the health of Plymouth’s inhabitants. (Gill 1979 ; Hamlin 2008).

In 1847 Soltau published “Trout Flies of Devon and Cornwall and How and When to Use Them” which described the methods he used on freestone rivers around Plymouth (Devon, UK). He cast upstream with two flies, a dry fly above a wet fly, in an arrangement now reinvented, and referred to by various names: Dry-Dropper, 'Klink and Dink', Duo Method, or New Zealand style.


Soltau's book has been overlooked in the history of fly-fishing literature, and consequently there is very little by way of commentary on its content. However, I did come across this evaluation and context prepared by an archivist to accompany a digitized version of the book:

"Fly-fishing in the Westcountry has a lengthy history. The requisite skills continued to develop in the 19th Century with the emergence of fly fishing clubs, together with the appearance of several books, such as this one, on the subject of fly tying and fly fishing techniques. In Devon and Cornwall, dry-fly fishing acquired an elitist reputation as the only acceptable method of fishing the clearer rivers of the south such as the Exe, Torridge, Mole and Teign. The weeds found in these rivers tend to grow close to the surface, and it was felt necessary to develop new techniques that would keep the fly and the line on the surface of the stream."

"These techniques became the foundation of all later dry-fly developments. This rare and much sought-after book was produced digitally from a copy in the Harvard University Library collection and can be downloaded from Google Books. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers."  Steer (2021) [emphasis added]

Soltau's book is now a collector's item. The 1856 reprint in the British Library contains the bookstamp of Arthur Howard Thompson. Alexander (1976) lists Thompson as a keen collector of angling books:"Lesser known to the general public, perhaps, but no less ardent in their collecting activities". It was subsequently owned by Sir Jocelyn Stevens, C.V.O whose collection of fishing books was sold at auction by Bonhams in 2006.

Another copy was included in the angling library of more than 2,200 volumes in English and French from the 15th to the 20th century formed by Albert Petit (1842-1920) that was bought in its entirety by Jacques de Neuflize (1883-1953) to pre-empt its sale in 1921 after Petit's death. The collection was auctioned by Christie's in 1999.

Soltau's book is of interest to serious collectors of English halieutic literature. This essay dicusses two questions:
  • Is Soltau's book worthy of more attention from fly-fishing historians?
  • Does it live up to Steer's (2021) judgement that Soltau's techniques became the foundation of all later dry-fly developments?


  • The South Devon rivers fished by Soltau

    Results of Fisheries Survey Devonshire Avon (1962)

    In 1875, the fishing tackle retailer J.N. Hearder offered this overview of the fishing in these South Devon rivers the Yealm, Plym, Tavy, Erme, Avon, Dart and Teign. "The Trout in these streams are small, but very abundant and sweet-flavoured: a half-pound fish is considered a fine one, though fish of a much larger size - even as much as three or four pounds — are occasionally taken. A good sportsman will catch from four to eight dozen per day. Truff, or Sea-trout, are sometimes met with three or four pounds in weight, which afford good sport"  (Hearder & Son 1975 p58). 'Truff' is an obsolete Devon name for sea trout that return to a river in Spring. Nall recorded it used in Devon in the late 19th century for small adult sea-trout.   In South Devon sea trout are still called 'peal', and the term 'school peal' is used for juvenile sea-trout typically between 1-2lb. McCully et al 2013 describe the etymology of these, and the numerous other names to describe various stages in the life of sea trout.

    It is now generally accepted that sea trout and brown trout are the same species (Salmo trutta). Some 'brown trout' migrate to sea, and return as 'sea trout' to their river of birth. Soltau was fishing in rivers for Salmo trutta that showed considerable size variation, and feeding habits in freshwater. Sea trout do not usually die after spawning. Around 75% of sea trout are repeat spawners.

    The River Avon in South Devon holds an interesting sea trout record: "a 15 lb fish from the Avon (Devon) spawned eight times ... this appears to be the greatest number of repeat spawnings recorded for English ... sea trout." ( Harris & Morgan 1996 p20)

    After a period of residence in freshwater and before returning to sea, the surviving sea trout kelts regain a silvery sheen. But the return date varies: Some return shortly after spawning, the majority may overwinter in freshwater and migrate to sea in March and April. A few may stay in the river until May. (Menzies, 1936 page 129). Bluett (1948 p 17) explains the implication thus:"It is my opinion that some of the so-called brown trout, of two pounds and more, which are occasionally taken in May and June, are really sea trout which ran up nearly twelve months previously and which have wintered in what was their nursery."  During this period of residency in freshwater, overwintering sea trout could be mistaken for brown trout (Kenyon 2020b).

    In 1827 Soltau began fishing his local rivers, the Tavy, Plym (local name Cad), and the Yealm above and below Lee Mill Bridge. The Yealm was the nearest, about seven miles from his home at Little Efford, on the east side of Plymouth.


    The River Yealm

    The author on the River Yealm in the Blachford valley upstream of Lee Mill Bridge

    "The Yealm, ... rises in boggy ground forming the watershed between it and one of the tributaries of the Plym and flowing southwards through the lovely gorge of Hawns and Dendles, quickly reaches the fertile meadows of the Blachford valley. Continuing it's course through the country, every yard of which is beautiful, it arrives, after being augmented by the Piall from the Delamore and Slade valley, at the tidal waters of the estuary between Puslinch and Kitley, some thirteen miles from it's source." (Pode & Pode 1918)

    During the 19th century fishing on the Yealm was in private ownership. Downstream of Lee Mill Bridge the river was heavily polluted by a paper mill that operated between 1833 and 1908. "Above Lee Mill, however, there are still some good fish. Being rather woody, the river is well adapted for dapping or worm fishing, though towards the moor it is rather open, and better for fly fishing." This part of the Yealm belonged to "Captain Pode, of Slade Hall, and other gentlemen, who offer no impediment to the fair sportsman." (Hearder & Son 1875 p63).

    Dewar gives this description of the River Yealm as he found it at the close of the 19th century: The Yealm "is thickly wooded throughout almost its entire length, with the exception of half a mile or so above Cornwood, where it takes its rise in the open moor, and it is a clear and rapid stream. On Dartmoor, and for two miles below, trout are plentiful but very small. Lower down the Yealm the fish run up to 1/2 lb., and a 1 1/2 -lb. fish has been taken. The best artificial flies are thought by local anglers of experience to be the blue upright, the half stone, the coch-a-bonddu, and the infallible. On the upper parts of the Yealm the artificial fly is commonly used, but near the estuary the Devon minnow is preferred by most anglers.The Yealm has during the summer months a good number of salmon-peel." (Dewar 1899 p157).


    The Rivers, Tavy Walkham and Plym

    Soltau also fished the River Tavy. The Tavy Walkham and Plym Fishing Club was formed in 1864 " to protect the Fisheries of the Tavy and it’s tributaries."  The club set subscriptions at an attractive rate, and fostered local goodwill with this arrangement: "Special tickets were available for labourers, bailiffs and landowners." (Tavy Walkhahem and Plym Fishing Club history). Grimble (1913 p65) highlighted their success: "With regard to the Tavy Walkham and Plym Fishing Association, it is certainly one of the best managed clubs in the Kingdom...Considering that this Association preserves between sixty and seventy miles of water the subscription is wonderfully moderate, and with a view of restocking and better preservation it might well be increased.".

    G.W. Soltau's and his son, George William Culme Soltau Symons (1831 – 1916) were recorded in the club's minutes as members in 1866. "At the Annual Meeting Wednesday 29 January 1868 G Soltau Esq - In the Chair and the recorded minutes were signed by him. At the next meeting in September 1868 he wasn't chairman but seems to have remained on the committee for a number of years. He is recorded as chairman again on 30 January 1877 and 12 February 1878. There is then a gap in the records until 1887 when the club seems to have reformed as the Tavy Walkham and Plym Fishing Association." (Charles Batt Secretary of Tavy Walkham and Plym Fishing Association personal communication May 2021).

    It is very likely that George W. Soltau played an important role in the club's success. In 1847 he wrote about the problems facing rivers, and fish stocks, with great insight. As discussed in greater detail below, in his book he made constructive suggestions that were later incorporated into the 1861 and 1865 Salmon Acts.

    Dewar paints this picture of the fishing: "Tickets to fish the Tavy are issued by the Tavy and Plym Association, a shilling for the day or a sovereign for the season. The trout run about the same size as those of the Tamar....Trout are plentiful in the upper portions of the Tamar, as well as in most of the tributaries, but they run small. A basket of, say, five dozen fish, weighing about 15 lbs., would be regarded as one of the best of the season, though I am told that trout up to 1 1/2 lbs., and even 2 lbs., have been occasionally taken ... The flies recommended for the Tamar may be used for the Tavy.... Fly fishing is general on the Tamar and its upper tributaries, and the artificials recommended are the February red, March brown, grannam, hawthorn, palmers. Maxwell blue, and blue and silver." (Dewar 1899 p160-1)

    G.W. Soltau's son, George William Culme Soltau Symons (1831 – 1916), rented water on the Plym and made it available to other anglers: "From Cann Quarry to the mouth of the Plym, a distance of about three miles, the river belongs to the Right Hon. The Earl of Morley. The fishing is leased To Soltau Symons, Esq., of Chaddlewood, who, with extreme liberality, grants a season ticket to any gentleman (holding a license)applying to him for it...In the autumn there is some capital Peel and Salmon fishing in the lower water from Long Bridge to Cann Quarry. " (Hearder & Son 1875 p61-3)


    The flies used by Soltau


    Anyone who opens Saltau's book for the first time, as I did when I moved to Devon in the 1970s, with a view to finding out about the Trout Flies of Devon and Cornwall  may be disappointed. His book contains precious little information on the actual flies; no names and no pattern details, only two plates of numbered flies with advice to obtain the flies from named tackle dealers in London (Mr. W. H. Alfred and Messrs. Benjamin Chevalier and Co.) and Plymouth (Mr. J. N. Hearder). The author explains: " Those persons have engaged to keep a good stock on hand, so by sending to either of them for any No. required, no mistake can arise...I would therefore recommend those persons, who are in the habit of making their own flies, to procure patterns from the makers and imitate them, rather than take those in the lithographed sketch for their guide... I have examined the patterns manufactured by the parties referred to .. and find they correspond precisely with my own."  Turner (1989) gives details of these long-established companies.

    I think that is good advice; I found it difficult to garner much useful information, or judge the colour of Soltau's flies from these hand-coloured lithographs. The difficulty of portraying artificial trout flies in print was so great that Dewar abandoned it altogether in the second edition of his book Dry Fly Fishing published in 1920. "In this edition of The Book of the Dry Fly we have not included any illustrations of the artificial flies used in this branch of angling.The plates of artificial dry flies are useless to the dry-fly angler ; indeed, the exact shades and the whole dressing of these flies is constantly being changed. " (Dewar, 1910 p xxvi).

    Another problem Soltau had to cope with persists even to this day. By recommending a list of approved fly-tyers, Soltau anticipated, and dealt with, a problem that fly-fishers were to encounter many years later when they bought commercially tied (Skues') Tup's Indispensable where the composition of the dubbing mix was a commercial secret kept by Skues to support the fly's inventor Mr. Austin and his family - " some most extraordinary patterns masquerade under the Tups marque. They range from the quite unbelievable to the truly impossible." (Courtney Williams 1973 p318).

    Attention to detail is typical of Soltau. That may explain his reluctance to give names to his flies; naming a fly doesn't guarantee consistency between flytyers. "Each fly is entitled to a distinct appellation, but it frequently happens that the dun of Mr. A. differs materially from that of Mr. B.; thus the sportsman is disappointed in his application — when the packet arrives he scarcely recognises one of his old acquaintances." (Soltau p41)


    Soltau's Fly-Fishing Technique

    The more interesting section of Saltau's book is contained within the second part of the title: "How .. to Use Them"

    Diagram from Soltau (1847)
    Trout Flies of Devon and Cornwall and How and When to Use Them

    Here is his description, and rationale for using, what has become a popular modern technique, the Dry-Dropper: "Never use more than two flies, one at the end of the collar, called the 'stream-fly', the other about three feet from it, called 'the bob'.... The stream fly should fall lightly on the desired spot, and the line, being just of sufficient length to allow of the exact point being reached, the bob fly will rest on the surface of the water, and by imparting to the rod a slight tremulous motion, from right to left, the stream fly will appear to be struggling in the stream, whilst the bob will occasionally bob up and down, (from which circumstance its name is derived) exhibiting the movement of the natural fly, when it alights, rises, and again alights."  (Soltau 1847 p38 & 48).

    Several points are worth extracting from this description because they support Steer's (2021) judgement that Soltau's techniques anticipated later fly-fishing developments:

  • The 'bob' fly is resting on the surface, and the 'stream' fly is beneath the surface. Nowadays, that would be called a Dry-Dropper: "A dry-dropper rig is simple: a dry fly with a nymph tied to it." (Burgert 2020)
  • In 1847 Soltau described a way to mimic the behaviour of insects by moving the rod with "a slight tremulous motion". He moved the rod from left to tight to mimic the underwater struggles of the 'stream' fly; moving the 'bob' fly mimics the "movement of the natural fly, when it alights, rises, and again alights."
  • Imparting movement to an artificial fly was actively discouraged by Halford and Skues who focussed instead on achieving a 'dead-drift' to avoid drag. But gradually the importance of movement was appreciated. Frank Sawyer described his 'induced take' in Nymphs and the Trout, published in 1958. The American author Leonard M. Wright described an unorthodox method that could be used to induce a trout to take a dry fly. His 1972 book Fishing the Dry Fly as a Living Insect was severely criticized.
  • Sub-surface movement & the induced take

    Frank Sawyer emphasized the effectiveness of lateral side-to-side movement in eliciting a take. "Often a well constructed nymph will attract as it sinks and drifts .., the fish will take without suspicion. .. This kind of presentation can bring results, but a much greater attraction is when the nymph is made to check in its descent and start to move to one side or the other, or upwards, as though swimming. Then any suspicion, any doubts which are in the mind of the fish are quickly dispelled. Here, he thinks, is something that really is alive and in a flash there is the urge to take. The art of the nymph fisherman is to be able to create this illusion, and it is well within his power to do it." (Sawyer & Sawyer 2006 location 292).  It's interesting that sideways as well as upwards movement was effective in inducing a trout to take a nymph.

    I think it's fair to say that Sawyer's 'induced take' is accepted without fuss on English chalk streams. But an angler who intentionally moved a dry fly risked criticism for using the old downstream and dragging wet fly technique so despised by Halford.

    Surface movement & the induced take

    Soltau's provocative insight was to move a dry fly to mimic the behaviour of the natural insect. This suggestion went unnoticed in America, and was perhaps  deliberately ignored , in England - whilst Halford's influence reigned supreme in both countries. The importance of dry-fly movement was rediscovered by the American fly-fishing author Leonard M. Wright, and more recently popularised by John Gierach (2005), and Tom Rosenbauer (2008).

    Leonard Wright was a bold independent thinker. He confronted head-on Halford's instruction that a dry fly, representing an upwinged mayfly, must always be fished dead drift without any movement. In his provocative book Fly-Fishing Heresies (1975), Wright commented: "Observation has led me to believe that all but the luckiest mayflies kick and struggle sporadically before they get off the water."

    Diagram from Wright (1972) Fishing the Dry Fly as a Living Insect

    Like Soltau before him, Wright describes a "simple and effective" method to mimic this behaviour. Wright cast slightly downstream with an upstream mend, and aimed his fly to land "three or four feet" above the fish. He then pulled his fly a short distance upstream"I give my rod a short, sharp, upward twitch which sends the fly darting up current an inch or so. Then I feed out slack line and let the fly float, drag free, for six or eight feet - enough and more to cover the lie of the fish."

    Wright used this technique to cope with days when no fish are seen rising, as well as relatively slow moving water in the body of a pool downstream of more productive, faster moving water at the head of a pool. (Wright, 1975).

    Leonard Wright died in 2001 at the age of 78. In Wright's obituary, Writer Who Dared to Change Fishing  the New York Times noted that his "writings about trout fishing were initially seen as blasphemous by traditional anglers". Wright was criticized for moving a dry fly in a way that recalled the dragged wet-fly technique so despised by Halford.

    Memories of "Sparse Grey Hackle" from Hoagy Carmichael & Nick Lyons

    For example, in the preface to Fly-Fishing Heresies, Wright reported this reaction from Alfred W. Miller aka  “Sparse Grey Hackle”  to his earlier book Fishing the Dry Fly as a Living Insect:

    "Shortly after publication I bumped into Sparse Grey Hackle - dean of American fly-fishing authors and  Boswell  of the purist fraternity. "Congratulations, Len," he said. "I see you've written an entire book devoted to the ancient article of trolling." [i.e. trailing a baited line behind a boat]  I could see the twinkle behind his glasses, but I could also feel the needle in the words of this, one of the kindest of men."

    Leonard Wright was inspired by the American fly-fishing author E.R. "Hewitt, perhaps the most original and inventive angler in history, designed the skater.." [emphasis added] (Wright 1975 p 96). Hewitt's (1947) 'Bivisible' dry flies consisted of extra long hackles designed to rest on, or puncture, the surface of the water.

    Tom Rosenbauer (2008) describes how Hewitt's 'skating spiders' were fished. Paul Schullery (1987 p181) reports that Hewitt (1866-1957) ".. frequently gave a drifting dry fly a little twitch to bring up trout .." [emphasis added], and that his flies "found a secure place in American fly fishing" As far as I know, 'Sparse Grey Hackle' (Alfred W. Miller 1892-1983) did not raise objections to Hewitt's Bivisible 'skaters', or his 'twitch' method of fishing them, despite fishing as a guest on Hewitt's five mile section of the Neversink ( Bamboo & Brookies 2011 )

    Leonard Wright was not the first American author to receive criticism from a fellow countryman for deviating from Halford's dry-fly dictum. In 1914 George La Branche published The Dry Fly and Fast Water. La Branche advocated fishing the water rather than casting to a specific rising trout. This was necessary because of the river conditions he faced - few rising trout and fast water. La Branche wrote "He (Theodore Gordon) agreed with Dewar and Halford that what I was doing was an affectation and that the dry fly should be used on slow flowing water over rising fish only." Schullery (1987 p119-120)

    I think it's safe to conclude that Leonard Wright had not read Soltau's book Trout Flies of Devon and Cornwall, and How and When to Use Them. If he had, then he would surely have got himself into twice the trouble with American dry-fly purists. Wright moved one fly; Soltau moved two - a dry fly rigged above a wet fly.

    With the passage of time it was appreciated that Leonard Wright brought a breath of fresh air to American fly-fishing literature. Carson (1991) described Wright's earlier books as provocative and influential. By 1991 Wright was recognised for his significant contributions. In his review of  Neversink, Carson commented: "It's refreshing to listen to someone who knows his home water intimately, yet who is unaffected by that solemn, self-important tone that characterizes much of the fly fishing literature of our time. "

    I had to smile today when I saw this bang-up-to-date (24/09/2021) YouTube video Get More Strikes on Dry Flies // Tips for Skating and Twitching that shows that Leonard Wright's 'blasphemous' ideas are now mainstream with a much younger generation.

    Why did moving a bunch of fur and feather  "an inch or so"  initially cause so much controversy ?

    Leonard Wright was an outspoken upfront critic of Frederick Halford's approach to dry-fly fishing. This is clear on the cover of Fly-Fishing Heresies that proclaims A new gospel for American anglers. Presumably he felt that English anglers were beyond redemption because Chapter 16 is titled "The Blue-Nosed Fly" ! I had to look that term up !

    A Google search expanded my education; it can be 'An opprobrious term among Roman Catholics for a Protestant', or more specificaly targetted as 'a derogatory term for a Presbyterian,' or in American English 'a puritanical person who tries to impose a strict moral code on others ', ot even a Nova Scotian because they grew blue potatoes !

    Wright introduced his opposition in these terms: Today it seems hard to believe that barely sixty years ago the ... most rigid sportsman's dogma of all time - the dry-fly purist ethic - held sway in America, in Britain, and in Britain's then vast colonies.

    A 1974 Anglia TV programme showing fishing for stocked trout on a chalkstream - the Test. From Simon Baddeley

    Halford's lasting legacy is responsible "for a kind of sporting elitism that still dogs the dry fly" (Herd 2002, Gubbins 2018). The distinguished social anthropologist  Mary Tew Douglas  has written a penetrating analysis of the influence of sportsmanship on the promotion of dry-fly fishing over fishing with a nymph or wet fly:

    "The English idea of the sportsman is morally laden with strong pretensions to virtue. The sportsman is trustworthy, essentially fair and ethically worthy. And the true sportsman deserves a worthy, educated and selective quarry: The English trout literature vaunts and debates the cleverness of the trout.." (Douglas 2003).

    In the Victorian concept of sportsmanship, your opponent should be treated in a fair sporting manner. Denying the trout the opportunity to have fair sight of your artificial fly is deceptive. Leonard Wright was subjected to criticism for 'twitching' a dry fly to elicit a take. Basically he was accused of dragging his fly to subvert inspection by the trout.

    However, a careful reading of Wright , as well as Rosenbauer, makes the distinction between a 'twitch' and drag abundantly clear : "Imparting movement to a dry fly is one of the most effective and exciting ways to fish dry flies, but it must be done under the right circumstances with special techniques that distinguish movement given to the fly by the fisherman from ordinary drag... when insects move they do it without creating a V-shaped wake that drag usually creates. " Rosenbauer (2008)

    Leonard Wright explained the mechanism responsible for the effectiveness of a 'twitched' dry fly: ".. a twitched fly advertises itself. The hackle points denting the surface of the water are perhaps the artificial's greatest similarity to a living insect whose legs cause much the same distortion in the surface tension. This is especially true when the fly lies outside the trout's upward-seeing window. Beyond the circular porthole, the undersurface of the water looks like quicksilver. When a fly moves in this mirrorlike medium, it sends out sparkles that will capture a trout's attention - even at a considerable distance." (Wright 1972 p50-1)

    Underwater shots from Ozzie Ozefovich's video Underwater World of Trout Part Three | Trout Vision

    The surface-tension explanation had been advanced by Hewitt in 1947, several years before Leonard Wright (1952), to explain the effectivess of moving his popular Bivisible flies : "If the dry fly is moved or strikes the water outside the window it causes miniature light explosions which are very visible at long distances. It is these which warn the fish of the approach of insect food and can scarcely fail to attract its attention." He added: "If the fly is moved on the surface beyond the window it makes brilliant light flashes almost like explosions from the point of view of the fish " (quotes from Hewitt, 1947 edition, p 66-7). "

    Segment from Clarke & Goddards'd TV programme: The Educated Trout

    Disturbance of surface-tension lies at the core of the thesis presented in the English fly-fishing authors Clark and Goddard's influential book The Trout and the Fly. When an insect is outwith the trout's window "It is these starbursts of light created by the indentations of the feet of the dun floating on the surface that are the first trigger to the trout's predatory mechanism." (1980, p. 72-4) The distinction between the visual impact of drag, and distortion of the trout's mirror caused by a 'twitch', is discussed at greater length in my essay How does a trout catch a fly?

    In their 2019 book Trout and Flies - Getting Closer, Hayes and Stazicker question the assumption that the light pattern initiates the rise.

    Although they lived a century apart, there is a striking similarity between the fates suffered by the ideas and books published by Soltau (1847), and Leonard Wright (1975), that promoted the effectiveness of moving a dry fly. "I think that Leonard Wright Jr. is one of the twentieth century’s most overlooked fly fishing authors. Well known to his contemporaries, his works have been “lost” over time" (Simpson 2020)

    Nonetheless, earlier this century, two best-selling American fly-fishing authors brought Leonard West's work to the attention of a wider audience.

    John Gierach addressed a new generation in his 2005 article  Skimming the Surface   published in Field and Stream.

    Here is Gierach's more specific advice on how to achieve what Soltau described in 1845 as "imparting to the rod a slight tremulous motion". Gierach advised that the ".. best fly action is an upstream tick so subtle that you almost can’t see it at the end of your leader. Ideally, the fly should move no more than half its hook length. That’s not much more than a hairbreadth when you’re fishing a No. 18 mayfly dun, but visualizing it that way helps develop a light touch. Make a few test drifts-well short of the fish but in the same current - until you get the twitch just right. Use the rod tip to impart action to the fly, but remember that the length of the rod will amplify the motion of your wrist."

    The Americans, Leonard Wright and John Gierach, 'twitched' a single dry fly across the surface. In contrast, the 'Plymouth-born Janner' Soltau fished with two flies; a nymph suspended below a dry fly. The nymph serves as an anchor that allows the angler to lift and replace the dry fly onto the surface of the water, and move the nymph up and down through the water column to 'induce a take', i.e. the  sub-surface movement  introduced by Frank Sawyer. Soltau's use of an anchoring nymph may improve the realism of the 'twitch'. Soltau described how these bobbing up and down movements of the dry fly on the surface mimicked "the movement of the natural fly, when it alights, rises, and again"

    In 2008 Tom Rosenbauer's article  Drag is Desirable  (an unfortunate title!) appeared online in Midcurrent. He provides a detailed description of when, how and where to employ Leonard Wright's method of 'twitching' a dry fly. See also Rosenbauer (2011 p183-4)

    But Rosenbauer (2008) adds something important. Rosenbauer uses a 'dapping rig' that recreates, for a modern angler, the advantage of Soltau's method of moving two flies, with one of them acting as an anchor.

    Rosenbauer stated that he accidentally came up with this technique: "When caddisflies or stoneflies are dipping on the water, I’ve often combined a big, heavy nymph and the appropriate dry fly to create a dapping rig. Tie on a dry that imitates what you’ve seen dipping on the water as usual, then attach a second piece of tippet to the bend of the hook on the dry fly. Fifteen inches to two feet is a good place to start for a length on this lower piece. Then tie a heavily weighted nymph or even a streamer to this piece of tippet — something like a Beadhead Woolly Bugger, Tunghead Hare’s Ear Nymph, or Golden Stonefly. Now make a relatively short cast upstream and across. Let the nymph or streamer sink a little, and then raise the rod tip enough to lift the dry fly off the water. Now, as the whole rig comes even with your position, raise and lower the dry fly so that it just barely touches the surface and then takes off after a quick dip. Keep doing this until too much drag sets in and the flies swing behind you." (See also Rosebauer 2004 p104).

    Rosenbauer described his success with this 'dapping rig' : ...with the nymph acting as an anchor, the parachute could skate more freely because I could lift the dry off the water and just barely skim it across the surface. I also found that, although not many fish took the skating nymph, if I stopped moving the flies and quickly dropped my rod tip to get a dead-drift, they would slam the nymph as often as they took the dry.

    Rod length affects line length on surface (from Wright 1972)

    It is noticeable that Rosenbauer only made "a relatively short cast". He may have been hampered by a short rod that reduced the length of fly line he could keep off the water. Leonard Wright made much of the importance of rod length. He advocated using a long rod to keep as much of the fly line above the surface as possible. Soltau used a "a twelve-foot rod", and a stiff gut cast. Both items will have increased the amount of control Soltau had over his flies.


    Leonard Wright proved this for himself. He borrowed a friend's heavy twenty-foot long English greenheart fly rod rigged with a light fly line. Wright found that with this antique outfit he could ".. dap a fly on the surface thirty to 35 feet away and make it dance and hop here and there with no leader at all touching the water" (Wright 1975 p85-6).

    Soltau was fishing and writing several decades before Halford, and a century before John Gierach was born. Nevertheless, he used a modern and very effective technique to present novel ideas to his mid-19th century audience. He used diagrams to illustrate the main points in the book, and placed figure legends beside each diagram that enable readers to interpret and understand the significance of the diagram without reading the main text. This requirement will be familiar to present-day scientists preparing a paper for submission to a scientific journal.

    For example, like the Methods section in a scientific paper, Soltau provides this diagram and a detailed description of how to fish the 'bob fly' and 'stream fly' across-and-upstream for brown trout:  "Commence by throwing the fly across the tail of the stickle, thus:—A. is the fisherman, B. the banks of the river, C. the tail of the stickle, D. its commencement. A. first throws his fly across to E. then draws it with a kind of tremulous motion to F. then to G. and back to H. A. then moves on, and takes up his position at J. casts over to K. and across to L. tries again at M. and hooks a fish. If it is small, as too many of our West Country fish happen to be, it may be raised instanter, gently out of the water, and deposited in the basket. A. then advances a few paces, and finishes the pool between M. and D."  (Soltau 1847 p51)

    Wright's first-hand description, of the advantage offered by an ancient long rod, is important. It highlights a difference in the type of movement that can be bestowed on a dry fly by an old-fashioned long rod, compared to a modern shorter rod.
  • The long rod enabled a dry fly to be lifted clear of the water surface and then replaced on it. The fly was moved vertically to make the dry fly "dance and hop here and there with no leader at all touching the water" (Wright 1975 p85-6). This mimics "the movement of the natural fly, when it alights, rises, and again alights." (Soltau 1847 p38 & 48).
  • A short rod is restricted to 'twitching' the fly - i.e. imparting horizontal movement - unless a short cast is used to "lift the dry off the water" Rosenbauer (2008)
  • A nymph acts as an anchor when it is suspended below a dry fly (Soltau & Rosenbauer); this facilitates lifting the dry fly clear of the surface.
  • I don't know if there is any significant difference between a trout's reaction to the sparkles of light produced by horizontal and vertical dry-fly movements. A twitch (horizontal movement) may result in a flickering light effect, whereas Soltau's method (vertical movement) may appear as an on-off visual effect. The two methods lend themselves to further research.

    Modern single-handed trout rods rarely exceed 9 feet in length, and much shorter rods are increasingly popular, particularly on streams with overhanging vegetataion. Soltau's technique could be implemented with a light fly line on a longer euro-nymphing rod.

    It is interesting to consider Soltau's dry-dropper combination of 'stream' and 'bob' flies in the light of the subsequent argument between followers of Halford and Skues over the use of artificial nymphs. In the foreword to Minor Tactics  Skues (1914) introduced the nymph "to be used as a supplement to, and in no sense to supplant or rival, the beautiful art of which Mr. F. M. Halford is the prophet."   In my mind, Halford's and Skues' techniques always complemented each other, and - it could be argued - that the way of doing this was through a 'marriage of convenience', as demonstrated by Soltau almost a century before the acrimonious Nymph Debate held in 1938 (Lawton 2005).


    A problem of definition: What is a dry fly?

    Soltau was writing in the middle of the 19th century at a time when the terms 'dry fly' and 'dry-fly fishing' were undefined. What is a dry fly, and did Soltau describe fishing with a dry fly? Later writers have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to define the two terms.

    In 1913, Halford (1913 p61) defined a dry fly as a floating fly: "There is no such thing known as a half-way house between dry and wet-fly fishing; either the fly is floating, in which case it is dry-fly fishing, or it is more or less submerged, and is wet-fly fishing." According to Halford's definition, Soltau's "bob" fly - resting on the surface of the water - qualifies as a dry fly. But there may be more to dry-fly fishing than using a dry fly.

    The British historian Dr Andrew Herd (2003 p273) has written a popular history of the artificial fly. Unlike Halford, Herd does draw a distinction between a floating fly and a dry fly  with the laudable purpose of helping his readers "make some kind of sense out of the chaos" of the story of how, what we now call, a dry fly evolved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    With characteristic wit and brevity Conrad Voss Bark outlines this 'chaos'. "As Professor Joad used to say: it all depends on what you mean by a dry fly. To Halford and his followers in the 1880s it meant a split-wing floater. To David Foster of Ashbourne in the mid-1800s it meant a well-hackled fly that floated longer than a badly-hackled fly. To George Pulman of Axminster also in the mid-1800s it meant a fly that he had just taken out of his box to replace a fly that had become soaked" (Voss Bark 1992 p 83)

    The American historian Paul Schullery was well aware of the problem caused by trying to distinguish between 'floating' and 'dry' flies because many authors before Halford's 1913 definition of a dry fly described fishing flies floating on the surface.

    As a way forward, Schullery (1987 p 102) offers this definition of a dry fly from American author Vince Marinaro (1970):   "We must begin with the proposition that no matter how dry the fly is, it must touch the water and be exposed to the air at the same time. If this idea is carried out to its logical conclusion, all of us must agree that if the smallest portion is exposed to the air no matter how deeply submerged the fly may be, it is still a legitimate form of the dry fly" . Soltau's "bob" fly meets this modern American definition of a dry fly.

    Wyatt's Snowshoe Emerger - dry fly?

    Andrew Herd adds a subtle English nuance to his definition of a dry fly as: "a fly which is fished on an upstream cast and which sits with the majority of the fly above the surface of the water"  (2003 p273). Notice that how it is fished (cast upstream) is part of Herd's definition of a dry fly. Furthermore, Herd requires more of the fly to be above the surface than Marinaro. The following quotation shows Soltau's "bob" fly meets Herd's stricter definition of a dry fly - that it be cast upstream.

    "As a general rule, I am in favour of fishing up the stream for trout; the heads of the fish being always against the current, their eyes are pointed in the same direction, looking for flies, &c., which may be floating down on the surface; your approach therefore is not so readily perceived, and your fly when taken is pulled against the jaw, and not from it as is often the case when fishing down the stream." (Soltau 1847, p47)

    At times, even Halford wasn't casting a dry fly upstream: "There are occasionally places where upstream fishing is barely possible, .. it is almost impossible to 'place the fly accurately into the teeth of the gale. Then it is permissible to fish down stream or partly across and partly down even with the floating fly."  Halford (1913 p62-3)


    What qualifies as dry-fly fishing?

    A problem arises from incorporating a method of fishing - casting upstream, based on later post-Halfordian chalk stream etiquette or convention, - into the definition of what is dry-fly fishing. This restriction was noticeably absent in Halfords first book (1886), but has roots in his last book published in 1913. The title of Chapter 3 "The Ethics of the Dry Fly" set the mood to this day.

    At one point it reached a definition of dry-fly fishing that could only be practiced when a fish was observed rising to duns on the surface of slow-moving water: "The best short description of the difference between wet and dry fly fishing is that which describes the first as "fishing the stream," and the second as "fishing the rise."" (Dewar 1910 p35).

    Paul Schullery refers to a letter donated to the American Museum of Fly Fishing by La Branche's daughter written by her father probably in the 1950s in which La Branche describes Gordon's criticism of his fly-fishing technique. Gordon ... told me that I was ?belittling? (word unclear) the theory of dry fly fishing. He (Gordon) agreed with Dewar and Halford that what I was doing was an affectation and that the dry fly should be used on slow flowing water over rising fish only. I [La Branche] was upset more than a little, but persevered with my idea. (Schullery 1987 p119-120)

    Soltau's use of a dry fly in Devon would have been dismissed out of hand by the influential chalk stream author Dewar who regarded use of a " single winged fly dressed to float and to cock upright" as "eccentric", on the moorland freestone rivers of Devon, and not "needing serious notice" (Dewar 1910 p 4). Furthermore, Soltau's use of two flies would have been criticized because: "The dry- fly fisherman never uses more than one fly on his cast at the same time, and never fishes downstream when he can fish up." (Dewar 1910 p 39) [underlines reflect emphasis in original] Dewar was critical of using more than one fly on the leader because wet-fly fishing often involved two or more flies.

    To many readers these various definitions will appear to be an argument about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But a strict distinction between dry flies and emerging nymphs is still made on one English beat controlled by the Peacock Hotel in Rowsley: "Mrs McKenzie who runs the Peacock came and sat with us and explained about the fishing and the rules. No wading, no nymphs and no Klinkhammers. " (Tyjas 2012). The sub-surface abdomen of a Klinkhammer is thought to represent an emerging nymph. Soltau would not be allowed to fish his dry-dropper rig on that Derbyshire beat.


    A problem of position: Casting upstream or downstream

    The American Leonard Wright fished a dry fly upstream or downstream according to the conditions he encountered. In Britain most anglers cast a dry fly upstream, especially on chalk streams "The majority of beats have rules of upstream dry fly only with upstream nymphing from July onwards. "  (Bate 2016).

    There is one situation in which Dewar sanctioned fishing with a dry fly downstream; but it may have been countenanced out of loyalty to a departed friend: "Fishing with the dry fly downstream is usually called "drifting the fly." It is tried only when the angler cannot get into a position suitable for casting the fly just above the rising trout, or where a bad " drag" defeats an upstream cast. To drift properly in clear water when trout are big and wary is a most hard and delicate process. It was for this reason probably that my friend, Frederick Pigou, so greatly delighted and excelled in killing heavy fish by drifting the dry fly." (Dewar 1910 edition p 39, footnote added in June 1910 )

    Dewar's book was first published in 1897. Frederick Pigou (1815-1847) was an English first-class cricketer. Memories of Pigou dominate the opening Retrospect when the book was republished in 1910, Dewar described him as having been an old and dear friend ... The first fair-rising trout I took with the dry fly was taken with Pigou at my elbow directing me exactly what to do, almost directing my wrist as I cast." (Dewar 1910 p viii)

    I think by 1910 Dewar may have come to regret the strict instructions he laid down in 1897 which contributed to the conventions on how to fish a dry fly carried forward on chalk streams to the present day (Bate 2016). "It was written perhaps in a rather exuberant style of English, but it had its merit of a kind — it was the result of an entire enthusiasm for a pastime delicate and intensely interesting." (Dewar 1910 p xv11)

    The Scottish writer W.C. Stewart (1857) describes the merits of casting upstream in some detail, and is probably responsible for the popularity of casting a fly upstream: Trout  "cannot discern anything behind them,...The advantages of this [casting upstream] it is impossible to over-estimate." (1857 p60-63) The emphatic way Stewart expresses this point gives the impression that, like us, trout "don't have eyes in the back of their heads".

    Stewart may have given rise to the impression that trout have a 30 degree blind spot behind them (e.g. Drifthook Fly Fishing 2021).

    "The case for casting upstream was first put in 1857, with such force [by W.C. Stewart] that it has never been intellectually refuted" (Chenevix Trench 1974 p78).

    However, the importance of the blind spot behind trout has now been questioned by the American underwater film maker "Ozzie" Ozefovich, and the width of the blind spot has been re-calculated by the British author John Goddard. In his YouTube video, Ozefovich confronted what he called "the false belief that trout have blind spots."  He makes a crucial point - the trout's blind spot only applies to its underwater vision. The trout has 360 degree all round vision through its window for objects above the surface. In other words, the trout will only see the legs of an angler wading upstream outwith the blind spot behind its tail.

    Goddard (2002) took the next step; he calculated that the width of the trout's underwater blind spot is much narrower than previously claimed: ".. when a trout is focusing  [using binocular vision]  at very short range on food immediately in front of it, an arc of about 45 degrees on each side and to the rear of the fish is still focused to infinity."  The trout has a narrow 10 degree blind spot to the rear, so the angler needs to be positioned directly behind to be invisible to a trout (Goddard 2002 p132 emphasis added). Furthermore, the submerged part of the angler's body will move in and out of the blind spot as the trout moves from side-to-side.

    It's worth bearing in mind that trout can quickly move several feet from side-to-side to intercept nymphs being carried downstream. Clearly this behaviour interferes with an angler's ability to exploit a trout's 'blind spot'.

    The casting-upstream rule doesn't apply on the freestone rivers Soltau fished, and it wasn't always a rule on chalk streams; Halford (1886) advocated upstream casting, but if necessary a cast could be made across stream provided that the tip of the rod was moved downstream to avoid drag. (p124). He even appreciated that a fly cast downstream can be "efficacious" (p124).

    The respected chalk stream angler J.C. Mottram included a chapter "Dry Fly Fishing Downstream" because "it is of such overwhelming importance that it may well outweigh all the disadvantages. It is that the fly floats down to the fish before the gut." (Mottram circa 1922 p47).

    Gingrich devotes a chapter to Mottram who he regards   "as the completely unsung genius of English angling literature"  but Gingrich came  "to the conclusion that he was angling's Invisible Man".  Mottram was described as  "too broad-minded to think that only absolute dry-fly fishing counts;"  he anticipated ideas subsequently put forward by the prominent American authors Marinaro and Hewitt.(Gingrich 1974 p244)

    The South Devon publisher of the  Flyfisher’s Classic Library  David Burnett (2013) describes Mottram's character, and assesses his contribution to the fly-fishing literature. Mottram "seems to have been a retiring man. He never sought the lime-light, and though his book is one of the most original contributions to fishing literature, he has remained in barely acknowledged obscurity ever since it was published... He was cautious, as befitted a scientist. Mottram's first book "Fly-Fishing: Some New Arts and Mysteries",  seems to be the first book on trout fishing by a scientist... his probing mind threw light into dark places which those two great figures [Halford and Skues] failed to illumine, and he indicated paths to progress which have led much further than theirs." (Burnett 2013). My only quibble with Burnett is his assessment of Mottram's book Sea Trout and Other Fishing Studies, as 'not important'. In my opinion, it is worth reading for the chapters on dry-fly fishing for sea trout by day.

    Lawton (2005) devotes several pages to describing how Mottram's early insights into fishing with dry flies and nymphs were ahead of his time. But strangely Mottram subsequently changed his mind, arguing against using nymphs in his last book (1937), and in the 1938 Nymph Debate. Sadly Lawton concludes that Mottram "failed to ensure his place in the history of nymph fishing and is today, a largely forgotten and unsung hero of fly fishing."

    Soltau was fishing on freestone rivers. fly-fishing techniques that work in one environment, may not be allowed or successful in another.

    Dermot Wilson, who lived in Nether Wallop Mill on the banks of a chalk stream, writes of the delights of catching wild brown trout on a dry fly on a Dartmoor river without any mention of the restrictions encountered by anglers fishing for stocked fish on chalk streams.

    In the Introduction to his book Fishing the Dry Fly  he offers this opinion: "Dry-fly fishing, on the chalk-streams especially has often been described as an art, and sometimes as a cult. People in fishing books always seem to be 'initiated into the mysteries of the dry fly', ... so that acceptance into the brotherhood of the elite can come to them only at the end of a very long process...What a load of nonsense! Dry-fly fishing takes less time to learn than most other sports." (Wilson 1970 p viii).

    He sums up the attraction of our local rivers: "In the West Country, you can catch trout from after breakfast till sunset, and enjoy the open air and the country for as long as the sun is in the sky". And the reason? Because in chalk streams food is so abundant that the trout do not have to feed all day; during a hatch they feed on the surface, and afterwards sink to the bottom. On West Country rivers trout can't afford to let anything potentially edible pass them by. (Wilson 1957 p 84).


    Soltau's place in the development of dry-fly fishing in the 19th century

    Soltau's book was published in 1847, Herd uses an earlier text, Pulman's Vade Mecum of Fly-Fishing for Trout published in 1841, as marking an important transition in dry-fly fishing - "the final metamorphosis of the floating fly into the dry fly .. during the second quarter of the nineteenth century".

    The American fly-fishing historians Gordon M. Wickstrom (2013) and Glenn Law (2015) express a similar view that George Philip Rigney Pulman was the first to define the complete method of fishing a dry, floating fly in The Vade Mecum of Fly-Fishing for Trout, published in 1841. (Wickstrom 2013)

    George Pulman (1819-1880) was an ardent Devonshire fisherman, prolific author, and newspaper owner. He was an accomplished fly-tyer awarded a bronze medal for his flies at the 1851 Great Exhibition (Pulman Wikipedia).

    This is Pulman's (1841) early description of dry-fly fishing that would have been available to Soltau: "Now, it is impossible to make a soaked artificial fly swim upon the water as the natural flies do, so that, when cast by the angler to a fish thus occupied, it most commonly escapes his notice, engaged as he is with 'things above', by sinking in the water beneath him. This is plain, because if the wet and heavy fly be exchanged for a dry and light one, and passing in artist-like style over the feeding fish, it will, partly from the simple circumstances of its buoyancy, be taken, in nine cases out of ten, as greedily as the living insect itself. " (quoted in Herd 2003 p275).

    Soltau does not refer to Pulman's 1841 book. He may not have read it. However, I think there is evidence that Soltau had read an earlier book by William Shipley and Edward Fitzgibbon,  "A True Treatise on the Art of Fly-fishing,..."  published in 1838. The archivist Steer (2021) pointed out that during the 19th century "dry-fly fishing acquired an elitist reputation". At first I didn't pay much attention to this claim, but as I delved more deeply it became clear that there was evidence to support Steer's comment. One way this arose was for authors to provide a list of the "the great-and-the-good" who fly-fished.

    "But, as names are better than mere words, and facts more persuasive than the most eloquently-urged argumentation, we will mention the names of a few distinguished persons who patronised and practised fly-fishing." (Shipley and Fitzgibbon 1838 p30).

    They didn't hold back, after starting with King George IV "the most highly-cultivated minded monarch of the Brunswick line that ever swayed the sceptre of these realms, was a fly-fisher", the list continues with prominent names in this order: Nelson, Davey, Cotton, Paley, Burns, Hogg (the Ettrick shepherd), Professor Wilson, Thomson, Wordsworth, Emerson, Dr. Wollaston, Dr. Birch, Professor Rennie and Mr. Jesse.

    Shipley and Fitzgibbon's book is an example of a subscription publication (Clapp 1931 p199) that provided advance funding from a pool of subscribers listed in the book (Clarke 2018). And, in this case, fulsome praise from the authors: "We could mention several more distinguished living individuals who are lovers of the art; but we think it will fully answer our purpose to refer the reader to our list of patrons and subscribers. In that list will be seen the names of the first nobility of our country — first in rank, in ancientness of race, in vast territorial possessions, in manly virtue, and in high standard of intellect. That list comprises — and we feel justly proud, and profoundly grateful in recording it — the names of the finest warriors, the first statesmen the first political and literary characters of our time — of men, who, with risk of life, and loss of blood and limb, have defended, -and upheld and augmented, the glory and interests of our beloved country in the field, and in presence of the most redoubtable enemy we had ever to contend against " [i.e. The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815)].

    And if that was not enough of an endorsement of fly-fishing "..there is not a single angler to be found in the Newgate Calendar." (Shipley and Fitzgibbon 1838 p13). [The Newgate Calendar, subtitled The Malefactors' Bloody Register, started as a monthly bulletin of executions held at Newgate Prison in London; "19th-century writers and their readers loved crime" (Flanders 2014) ]

    I think Soltau read, and was influenced by, Shipley and Fitzgibbon's list of famous people who fly-fished. In a similar style he starts by noting the characteristics of fly-fishers: "We boast in our ranks, some of England’s bravest warriors, her most experienced statesmen, her best divines, and her cleverest philosophers. Our princes have substituted the rod for the sceptre, and have endeavoured to vie with their subjects in the capture of the wily trout." (Soltau 1847 p14)

    He then goes on to discuss fly-fishers in a similar order to Shipley and Fitzgibbon: George IV, Nelson, Paley, Burns, Hogg the Ettrick shepherd, Professor Wilson, Wordsworth, Emerson, Birch, , Wollaston, and Sir Humphrey Davy. Soltau pokes fun at King George IV for his fishing tackle that appears to be 'Georgian bling', and he gives this oh so true assessment :. "That majesty is not famed for proficiency in the art, may be partly accounted for from the circumstance, that fly-fishing is one of the few occupations which depend entirely on the individual skill of the sportsman...no keeper’s art can oblige a trout to rise" {emphasis present in text] (Soltau p14-5). But Soltau (p17) makes an interesting short list of those he admired: "Dr. Birch, formerly Secretary to the Royal Society, was a lover of angling; and Dr. Wollaston and Sir Humphrey Davy, are instances of men of the highest philosophic attainments, finding pleasure in the rod and line."

    In some way, Soltau as well as Shipley and Fitzgibbon may have contributed to fly fishing acquiring an elitist reputation. But Soltau's selection of a sub-group of fly-fishers for their "highest philosophic attainments", as well as Soltau's interest in science and education were, for me, like brief flashes of distant lightening on a Summer night that hinted at Soltau's approach to life. 'Philosophic' acquired a meaning during the first half of the 19th century. "A philosophic radical was one who observed in politics the practice of philosophers, 'who, when they are discussing means, begin by considering the end, and when they desire to produce effects, think of causes'" (Jones 2008). That seems a remarkably sensible way of setting out to catch a trout; causation is remarkable for its absence in modern fly-fishing literature (Kenyon 2020).

    I don't think Soltau was influenced by, or copied his fly-fishing techniques from Shipley and Fitzgibbon's book. Shipley and Fitzgibbon were clearly fishing downstream, with a wet fly: "When you fish, begin at the head of a stream fishing the side nearest to you first, and then casting to the opposite side. Let your flies float gently down the water, working them gradually towards you, and making a fresh cast every two or three yards you fish"  (Shipley and Fitzgibbon 1838 p78).

    Soltau (1847 48) was clearly taking pains to fish upstream, with his 'bob' fly "rest(ing) on the surface of the water". In contrast, Shipley and Fitzgibbon (p143) were happy for their exact imitations to be taken underwater: "as you cannot keep the artificial flies to sit on the surface of the water, as some of the natural ones do, they are taken for those that are driven under by the current, which makes the fish more eager in taking them, for fear they should recover and get away."

    In addition, Soltau does not adhere to Shipley and Fitzgibbon's belief in, and promotion of, 'exact imitation'. They devote Chapter VII (A curious Controversy sharply commenced, and, it is hoped, successfully concluded Page 139—143) to a fierce attack on Rennie's argument that fly-tyers' efforts came nowhere near imitating natural insects. Professor of Zoology James Rennie wrote in 1833: I have used the phrase "pretended imitation" as strictly applicable to by far the greater number of what are called by anglers artificial flies, because these rarely indeed bear the most distant resemblance to any living fly or insect whatever, though, if exact imitation were an object, there can be little doubt that it could be accomplished much more perfectly than is ever done in any of the numerous artificial flies made by the best artists in that line of work. (Rennie 1833, p 137-8)

    Shipley and Fitzgibbon concluded: "We have thought it absolutely necessary to write this chapter, for unless we disproved the theory of professor Rennie, and we flatter ourselves that we have triumphantly done so,..." I'll leave it up to the interested reader to decide on the merits, or otherwise, of their argument, but it heralds the debate about precise imitation that continues to this day (Kenyon 2020).

    Despite Shipley and Fitzgibbon's support for artificial flies that precisely imitate the natural, the chapter devoted to named fly patterns does not appear to make a close link between the artificial and the natural that it is supposed to represent. Instead fly patterns are arranged according to the months of the year. It's interesting that on page 253 they lay great store by The March Brown or Dun-drake : — This fly is so important a one, that we feel bound to give, in conjunction with our own information, that of others respecting it. The dressing on page 154 is very similar to a winged Gold-Ribbed Hare's Ear, a fly that Halford - the arch proponent of exact imitation - abandoned because its success did not fit with his theory of exact imitation (Kenyon 2020).

    One element in Halford's dictum - precise imitation - was informed by entomology. But fly fishing subsequently developed "without the insight or understanding that the discipline of entomology could contribute to the subject...This historical lack of rigor in identifying and naming the arthropods on which the sport is based truly confounds the already difficult concept of "matching the hatch" - a paradigm well entrenched in the fly-fishing psyche." (Parrella 2013).

    Soltau gives no hint of believing that precise imitation is a requirement in artificial trout flies: "The choice of flies is the next consideration: as a general rule, when the day is bright, use a dark fly, when gloomy, a bright one...the flies enumerated on the annexed leaves are sufficient for all their wants, and if thrown with skill, will surely repay the labour." Soltau (1847 p39). Hearder goes even further: Two Flies only should be used, and the most useful are a Blue Stream and a Red Bob. Many sportsmen never use any others (Hearder & Son 1875 p58-9). Today we would characterize that approach as favouring good presentation over precise imitation.

    Herd (2003 p278-9) credits Stoddart with the first written description of using a false cast to dry the fly in the 1853 edition of The Angler's Companion . If Soltau read Shipley and Fitzgibbon (1838 p78) he would have encountered this much earlier description of drying a fly: "We distinctly recommend frequent casting. A fish generally takes the fly immediately it has touched the water — provided always it be delicately and lightly flung — and the quick repetition of casting whisks the water out of your flies and line, and consequently keeps them drier and lighter than if they were left to float a longer time in the water."

    The phrase "the quick repetition of casting" lacks the detail needed to meet Dr. Herds's strict definition of false casting: "A FALSE CAST is a cast made where the fly touches the water on neither the forward nor the back cast" (Herd 2003 p 278).

    Soltau was critical of earlier fly-fishing authors for lacking detail: ".. various treatises, which have appeared from time to time on Fly-Fishing, do not contain those minute details, which are so essential to the ready acquirement of the art," [emphasis added] (Soltau 1847, p5-6). Soltau may have considered Pulman fell into this category. Conrad Voss Bark makes the same point in his impish remark about Pulman (Voss Bark 1992 p 83). What did Soltau mean by 'minute details'. A clue is given in this comment: "Some of the recent experiments, touching the young of the salmon, are very curious, and exhibit much patient and minute enquiry."  (Soltau p77). These scientific experiments are discussed below.


    G.W. Soltau's interest in science and education

    As I read and researched Soltau’s book I was struck by the scientific tone of some sections. For example, the set of numbered flies that his recommended dealers kept as a set of standard dressings. They reminded me of standard solutions used in chemical titrations. To the best of my knowledge Soltau was not trained as a scientist, but his writing shows an appreciation of, and interest in science. Soltau's interest in scientific methods and findings contrasts with the approach taken by fly-fishing authors before him, which begs the question: What led to this interest?

    Dr. Jonathan Nash Hearder

    I think Soltau's introduction to the scientific method was the result of his friendship with Dr. Jonathan Nash Hearder D.Sc. Ph.D. F.C.S.[Fellow of the Chemical Society] (1809–1876) who was an outstanding scientist, and successful businessman. Both men shared an interest in fishing.

    Hearder’s speciality was sea fishing equipment; he supplied the nets and trawls used on the Challenger Expedition that began the science of oceanography (Footnote #44). They were members of what is known today as The Plymouth Athenæum:"a society dedicated to the promotion of learning in the fields of science, technology, literature and art. " (Footnotes #33 & 34 ). In 1868 G.W. Soltau was listed as an associate member, and J. N. Hearder F.C.S. as curator of apparatus and lecturing member. (Footnote #37)

    Dr Hearder was a chemist and electrical engineer who took over the family fishing tackle firm in 1838 on his father’s death. He had been blinded in 1831 as the result of an accident whilst carrying out an experiment involving “highly explosive shock sensitive fulminating silver” but this did not prevent further scientific research (Cavicchi 2005). Hearder worked alongside Sir William Snow Harris on developing a lightning conductor adopted by the Royal Navy after successful tests on HMS Beagle's famous voyage with Charles Darwin.

    Dr. Hearder’s many scientific discoveries are listed by the Devonshire Association in his obituary and include: “Mr. Hearder was one of the earliest to perceive that a telegraph cable across the Atlantic was not only important, but practicable, and he was appealed to by the Atlantic Company when in difficulties about their cable. He contrived a plan for obviating the effects of induction, for which he took out a patent ; and his cable, with a slight modification, was ultimately adopted for Atlantic telegraphing.” (Footnote #36 ).

    Alongside his scientific expertise, he was recognised as a fly-fisherman by his colleagues in the Chemical Society, he “could prescribe the particular fly to be used for successful trout- fishing in any month, and for any stream in Devonshire.” (Footnote #36 ).



    Was Soltau a precursor to Skues and Halford?

    Unfortunately, neither Herd, nor an earlier historian J.W. Hills who originally published A History of Fly Fishing for Trout  in 1921, mention Soltau's 1847 book which describes fishing with a nymph together with a dry fly upstream.

    By 1847, Soltau was clearly casting his fly upstream to avoid detection by trout, and to represent flies floating downstream on the surface, as well as nymphs fished sub-surface. Soltau was unusual in that he fished upstream at a time when "The controversy between fishing upstream and fishing down was in full swing [sic]"; and the weight of opinion was on the side of fishing downstream until 1857 when Stewart converted the world to the theory of casting up to the fish (Taverner 1944 p23-4)

    Saltau's book was published in 1847, nearly 40 years before Halford's first book published in 1886, and 10 years before W.C. Stewart forcefully advocated casting upstream , which then became a defining feature of chalk stream dry-fly fishing. In addition, Soltau was using artificial flies to represent ascending nymphs over half a century before Skues'  Minor Tactics  was published in 1914.

    It could be argued that Soltau's use of a bob (dry) fly as an indicator was fishing a nymph in a way that was not envisioned by Skues. However, Soltau's approach overcomes a problem that stymied adoption of the nymph on chalk streams as well as freestone rivers. The chalk stream angler, and celebrated author John Waller Hills put it this way: "If you are to get anything of a bag, you had to strike a trout before you felt him, often without seeing the rise." Hills goes on to report that some anglers are able to do this "almost by instinct or some sixth sense" (Hills 1941). The American Schwiebert agreed: "the alchemy often practiced by wet fly fishermen, and the veiled and inexplicable cues that cause a successful wet fly angler to tighten and hook his fish." (Schwiebert 2007 p 39).

    It's time to move beyond intangibles such as 'sixth sense', alchemy, instinct or 'inexplicable cues' that all boil down to an angler's learning through experience. There are plenty of practical aids. For example, "Often the gut lying on the surface goes under as the fish draws in the fly, and alike in daylight and moonlight it acts as a float ; " (Skues 1914 p19) Skues is using movement of the gut cast as indicator in the same way that movement of the dry fly in Soltau's rig would indicate when to strike.


    A lot of anglers, including Americans, have been given the impression that dry-fly fishing was invented by Halford around 1886 on the River Test, that nymph fishing was invented by Skues on the Itchen at the turn of the 20th century. Consequently they have an English chalk stream on their bucket list. Maybe some of them might - after they have seen the Mayflower Steps from where the Pilgrims are believed to have finally left English soil - consider visiting the rivers outside Plymouth to see where fishing with a dry fly and nymph has earlier roots !



    Impact of Soltau in South Devon and Beyond

    In the middle of the 19th century, rivers in South Devon that run off the southern slopes of Dartmoor were at the cutting edge of English fly-fishing innovation. In 1847 Soltau explained in words and pictures a way of fishing a dry fly in combination with a nymph that could have been adopted on chalk streams.

    Writing in 1913, Grimble makes the point that, based on the addresses of licence holders, fishing for salmon ".. is almost entirely confined to those who live in the respective counties through which the rivers flow..". If anglers were not prepared to travel to salmon rivers in England, then it's safe to say that they would not travel from distant parts in great numbers to catch small trout on rivers in South Devon.

    What was the impact of Soltau, and his 1847 book, on local anglers in South Devon? At first glance, it passed relatively unnoticed in local written fly-fishing records. He appears to have been a "a prophet in his own county". But my initial impression changed on closer investigation.

    There is evidence that Soltau's flies and fly-fishing techniques were actively promoted in South Devon from 1847 to 1875, and perhaps used up to the 1900s.


    Advertisment for J.N Hearder Fishing Tackle Manufacturer in Worth (1871)

    Soltau made an arrangement with Dr. J. N. Hearder to sell precise copies of his flies to accompany publication of his book in 1847. In this 1871 advertisment Hearder advertised  "Soltau's flies from his original patterns".   In Hearder & Son's 1875 catalogue (p70-1) they were recommended as  "suitable for any of the rivers in the vicinity of Plymouth"  . Herder's were still trading and advertising fishing tackle in 1895 (Turner 1989 p115)

    Turner describes Hearder of Plymouth as "one of the oldest firms in the west of England to sell fishing tackle". They were in business from c.1820 to the early 1900s (Turner 1989 p115), located in the center of Plymouth on Buckwell Street. Instead of naming flies Hearders gave the following reasons for maintaining Soltau's number system: "The flies here designated by numbers are flies familiar to most fishermen, and are known as the Cock-a-bondhu, Silver Grey, Blue Upright, Black Gnat, Coachman, Alder, Red Spinner, March Brown, &c.,&c but even as those flies vary in slight particulars in the modes of dressing in the hands of different individuals, Mr.Soltau, who has had great experience in the fishing of the Devonshire rivers preferred numbering them to naming them, in order to ensure perfect uniformity In the flies made from his patterns. Header and Son always keep the original set given to them by Mr. Soltau, and as they are on terms of intimacy with that gentleman, the most perfect accuracy may be depended upon in all that they supply."

    For those who wanted to tie their own flies Hearder's offered this advice which repeats Soltau's technique of fishing upstream with two flies: "The flies should be small, and dressed on 10,11,or12 Kirby or Limerick hook. The fishing must be very fine and careful: the banks being high,it is always better to fish up the stream. Two Flies only should be used, and the most useful are a Blue Stream and a Red Bob. Many sportsmen never use any others; but each has his taste. In Mr. Soltau's work on the Trout Fishing of Devon and Cornwall will be found the eighteen sorts which he selected as best suited to the Rivers of Devon," (Hearder & Son 1875 p58-9).

    Their 128 page catalog is now a collectors item; it has considerable detail for the visiting angler including this advice that is clearly referring to Soltau's (1847) use of two flies: a dry 'bob' fly, and a wet 'stream' fly, cast with a : " 10 or 12ft. light rod, with about twenty or thirty yards of line,...

    What type of rod was Soltau using? We can made an educated guess from his advice: " In the first place, procure a twelve-foot rod, which has a uniform even play; avoid a cheap, second rate article, nine times out of ten it will be found to warp, crack, or snap off; or if it escapes these calamities, the ferrels will become loose, or the rings through which the line passes will check or chafe it at every throw. " (Soltau 1847 p 37). Soltau is prepared to spend what it takes to secure a rod that allows the angler to extend the distance that can be cast by shooting line into the forward or back cast.

    Looking through Hearder's 1875 catalogue I came across an entry for two rods by Copham:
  • 515 Copham's Fly Rod, 4-joint, 30/-
  • 515a Ditto, hollow butt and spare top, 40/-
  • 516 Copham's Split Cane Rods, from 4 guineas
  • (Hearder & Son 1875 p 40).

    Rod number 516 was the most expensive in the catalogue. Who was Copham, and was he making split cane rods circa 1847? Steven Woit (2019) refers to a rod made circa 1830 by William Copham living in Taunton (Devon) that later formed part of a collection by Jeff Hatton. The rod is described as  "made of whole Calcutta cane for the butt and mid sections and 3-strip scarfed nodeless bamboo for the tips. This is one of the earliest known examples of a rod that is made of whole and split bamboo from that timeframe and that makes it one of the first transition rods going from wood and partial bamboo to a rod made completely of bamboo."

    From 1866 to 1878 Soltau was an active member of the Tavy Walkham and Plym Fishing Club, chairing an Annual Meeting, sitting on the committee, and serving as chairman in 1877-78. It is likely that some of Soltau's colleagues read his book, and benefitted from his advice.

    What about rivers further afield. Soltau doesn't mention fishing the Devonshire Avon which is about 16 miles east of his home. Mr. J.B.S. "Jack" Notley fished the river for eighty consecutive years starting in 1899 when he caught his first trout, with a nurse beside him to prevent him falling in; he was six years old. It wasn't until the early years of the 20th century that Jack Notley was introduced to the dry fly: "Dr Perkins fished with dry fly, something quite new to me." (Avon Fishing Association 1979).

    Chas. A. Rabley, (1910). Devonshire Trout Fishing

    Mr. Notley wrote a detailed history of fly-fishing on the Devonshire Avon from 1880 to 1980. For the early years he relied on Rabley's 1910 book "Devonshire Trout Fishing", and concludes that Rabley only used wet flies: "Two noted rods on the Avon in those days were Capt. Lovell and Mr. Bidmead. Mr. Rabley had several days with Mr. Bidmead, who seemed easily able to land from 4 to 6 dozen trout in a long days fishing. Capt. Lovell was not so fond of moor fishing but preferred quality to quantity in the reaches below Brent Mill Bridge. Mr. Rabley left South Brent in 1881 for Exeter where he resided for 2 years and spent 6 weeks on the Avon during his summer holidays. In his book he gives a list of flies he and others used, wet flies, as dry flies were not in fashion in those days. March Brown, Half Stone, Blue Upright and Blue and Red Hares Ear, and Red Upright, Alder, Coch-y-Bondhu, Hawthorn and the Palmers. All the above information I have obtained from his book and gladly acknowledge it. "  (Avon Fishing Association 1979)


    I'm not convinced by Mr. Notley's conclusion that Rabley "only used wet flies". Rabley (1910 p53-4) concludes his book "with a [numbered] summary of practical suggestion:-"
  • 1. Always fish up the stream.
  • 2. Use two flies, winged for the leader, and hackle for the dropper.
  • 6. Don't forget to fish with flies below as well as on the surface.
  • This suggests that he was aware of Soltau's two-fly dry dropper upstream method.

    Rabley was born in 1863, he first saw fly-fishing on the River Erme when, aged 14, he was a pupil teacher at St Peters Church of England school in Plymouth. In the following years he fished the River Avon below Brent Mill bridge. He got to know two local fly-fishers Captain Lovell and Mr. Bidmead which enabled him to gain "a practical insight into fly fishing, and laid a good foundation to build on in the future"  In 1881 he left South Brent to live in Exeter, and spent six weeks of his summer holidays fishing the Erme and Avon "and had reached the first stage of proficiency in the use of the fly rod."

    In 1883 he moved to Ashwater School ( in north-west Devon ) as Head Teacher. It was not a very healthy place due to the contaminated water supply from the chapel graveyard. Rabley remained as Head Teacher until 1923. (Ashwater Council School 2009) He fished the Carey and Tamar "regularly for 30 years, with an occassional day on the Thrustlebook (Wolf), Torridge and Inney"  (Rabley 1910 p6-8).

    H.C. Cutcliffe (1863) The Art of Trout Fly Fishing on Rapid Streams

    In 1863 a North Devon medical doctor, H.C. Cutcliffe published The Art of Trout Fly Fishing on Rapid Streams. Cutcliffe makes no reference to Soltau's earlier book, but like Soltau he fished upstream with two flies, a ‘bob’ fly that floats on the surface to resemble a living insect above a ‘stretcher’ (i.e. a point fly). Cutcliffe viewed the bob fly as performing the function of what we would call a dry-fly indicator (p159-60). He expected to catch fish on his bob fly, and fashioned it to "act the more deceptive and quieter part", and resemble "any indeed which happen to be about the water at the time" (p118). Clearly he was fishing a dry fly, as were many others, before Halford popularised a restrictive form of dry-fly fishing on chalkstreams (Gingrich Chapter 10 1974).

    Further details of Cutcliffe's stiff-hackled wet flies are available here

    Books by Soltau (1847), Cutcliffe (1863) and Rabley (1910), as well as Hearder's catalogue (1875) indicate that a two-fly dry dropper upstream method was used on Devon rivers from the middle of the 19th century to at least the early years of the 20th century.

    The clearest evidence that I can find for use of the two-fly dry dropper upstream technique by some Devon anglers up to the 1950s, comes from Dermot Wilson who was a regular visitor to Dartmoor rivers after the Second World War (Voss Bark 1983 p 71). He recorded that :"Some experts in the West Country fish dry and wet at the same time and this can be a very successful method. They use two flies on their cast, a wet fly as a tail fly and a dry fly half way up as a dropper. They cast upstream and the trout can take their choice." Wilson (1970 p88, 1st published 1957). Wilson makes no mention of Soltau as the source of this technique, and gives no indication that he adopted this two fly method.

    Soltau and Rabley fished after dark. Rabley recommended the Grey Drake, White Moth and Coachman "for evening or after dark", Soltau recommended what must have been a popular fly at the time: "The white moth is sold at all tackle makers, and is a good fly on moon-light nights in June and July." (Soltau 1847 p45). Taverner describes this after-dark 'Bustard' fishing. The fly is cast across the river, and allowed to swing downstream at the pace of the current. On a warm night it will catch trout, sea trout and salmon . Bustard fishing is a lesser-known technique; Taverner explains why: "Fishing in this way is not suitable to the chalk and limestone streams...but can be used as an opportunity to catch cannibal trout on "rough streams".  (Taverner 1944 p259-61)

    Unfortunately, I only have a few photocopied pages from Rabley's book. An online search failed to reveal the book in any local (Devon) library, or surprisingly the British Library. However, collectors copies are available - at eye-watering cost !

    Garrow-Green (1920) Trout-Fishing In Brooks

    South Devon based author Garrow-Green included a chapter on the dry fly in Trout-Fishing In Brooks published in about 1920, which indicates that Halford's approach was also adopted locally. Perhaps sometimes too enthusiatically as the next comment illustrates.

    Devonshire Avon Pembertons' Pool at Loddiswell described in 1893 by Page as "one of the untidiest villages to be seen outside Ireland"

    In 1915, Bradley recalls meeting a young marine on the Devonshire Avon who had been "sitting all the morning by the big open pool beside him waiting to see a fish rise. .. He proved dear fellow to be an embryo dry-fly fisherman, .. and a victim of dry-fly literature in what may be called its arrogant days. He honestly thought that 'chuck-it-and-chance-it' fishing, as he called it, had disappeared among sportsmen everywhere, and that waiting for a rise and throwing a dry fly over it was the only legitimate way of catching a trout." (Bradley 1915 p271).


    Did Dry Fly Elitism Displace Soltau's Duo Method in South Devon?

    The young marine's supposition about the invasive influence of dry-fly fishing is given authority by Lawrie: "Fly-fishing in the West-Country streams was restricted to the wet fly; but in the late eighties [1880s] and in the nineties [1890s] the floating or dry fly began to spread from the chalk streams as the teachings of F.M. Halford gained popularity."  (Lawrie 1967 p43-4). If Halford's influence had prevailed I would expect to find local fishing association rules that required anglers to cast only upstream to rising trout with an artificial dry fly that is a reasonable representation, in size and outline, of the insects upon which trout are likely to be feeding. I'm not aware of any local association that placed these retrictions on dry-fly fishing (Grimble 1913).

    Dry-fly fishing did acquire an elitist reputation (Wilson 1957), but dry-fly purists actively discouraged, disparaged, and regarded as "eccentric", using a dry fly on the moorland freestone rivers of Devon (Dewar 1910 p 4). Halford criticised the American La Branche for fishing the water rather than casting to a specific rising trout, and called what he was doing an 'affectation. This was necessary because of the river conditions La Branche faced - few rising trout and fast water (Kenyon 2020). These conditions will be familiar to fly-fishers on Dartmoor rivers.

    Would an angler, at the turn of the century, who had used Soltau's duo method abandon it for this dictum?: "The dry-fly fisherman never uses more than one fly on his cast at the same time"  (Dewar 1910 p 39). And would the same angler remove their wet fly to follow Skues? It would be against all reason to do so, and subsequent developments support that decision.


    The Return of Soltau's Duo Method

    Nowadays Soltau's (1847) method of fishing two flies, a dry fly above a wet fly or nymph, is universal. It is referred to by various names: 'Klink and Dink', Duo Method, Dry Dropper, New Zealand style, 'wry' fly (Fitton 1992). These are probably re-inventions, rather than being directly inspired by Soltau. A comment by Lawton about Greg Kelly who rediscovered the duo method for himself in the 1960s is revealing: Kelly thought that he had devised a system that led him to think that he had "something so good that for ever more I could catch trout when I wanted to"  Lawton (2020 p202) Lawton gives the 1930s as the date when the 'trailer nymph' was developed in New Zealand, and devotes a chapter Dry Fly and Nymph to tracing the history of the technique from the 18th to 20th centuries. It's as if the duo method left the field at half-time while the two captains - Halford and Skues - argued about how the game should be played in front of a divided crowd of 'dry bob' or 'wet bob' supporters.

    In the first half of the last century, several British authors described a two-fly technique, but only recently has the use of two flies fished simultaneously to represent different stages in an insect's lifecycle been widely adopted. "I just don't know why this method is not practised more widely. It combines the advantages of both dry-fly and wet-fly fishing, and avoids at any rate some of the drawbacks of both ... A countryman who never reads a book first showed it to me."  (Wiggin 1958 p103).

    Dr William Baigent (1862-1935) didn't publish a description of his 'Two Dry Fly Technique', but corresponded with fly-fishing author Keith Rollo who was an early advocate :“If trout are nymphing, a nymph or wet fly could be mounted on the point, whilst a dry fly could be mounted on the dropper.”. Rollo recommended this technique for fast-running streams in Devonshire (Rollo, 1944 p2-3, Smith undated).

    Baigent was a medical doctor in Northallerton, a market town in North Yorkshire (UK). He is remembered for Baigent’s Brown, and his influence on the Catskill tradition of fly-tying through correspondance with American authors George La Branch and Preston Jennings. (Smith undated)

    The duo method was mentioned by William Lawrie in 1939 but described in greater detail in his book published in 1947. Neither book refers to Soltau. Lawrie's duo method consisted of two flies, either two dry flies, or a point fly treated with "a touch of dry-fly oil ... designed to represent the dun at eclosion", and a dropper to "represent the mature larva floating inertly just below the surface." (Lawrie 1947 p 75-)

    In his enthusiatic book of rediscovery In Search of Wild Trout: Fly Fishing for Wild Trout in Rivers introduces a new term - 'wry' fly - to describe fishing two flies, a dry fly above a wet fly or nymph. Nicholas Fitton gives a detailed description of the history, and his experience using, this almost-forgotten technique. And of course going back even further, North Country spiders were - and continue to be - fished as a team of three flies or more, with close attention paid to the position of the top fly (Rob Smith personal communication, 2020). Fitton makes no mention of Soltau as the source of this technique, but suspects that it was developed in the West Country: "I am inclined to think that wry fly [his term]has its origins in upstream wet fly and was first evolved during the last century .. a method so deadly that those anglers who mastered it kept it to themselves ..." Fitton (1992 p17).



    Did Skues Invent Nymph Fishing?

    Title page of The North Country Angler: Author unknown (1789 edition).

    There's a temptation to think that fishing a nymph beneath a dry fly is a recent development. In fact it is a very old technique described by an unknown angler in the last quarter of the 18th century. This quotation reveals an appreciation that trout took artificial flies on, and under the surface; the angler tied the 'drop fly' with a hackle "as near the colour of the wings of the fly, as they appear when flying, as possible".  The 'end fly' was tied with a "dubbed body". (Unknown 1817 p54-5)

    "When I fish with these flies , I let one of them, the hackle or drop - fly, only touch the top of the water; the uppermost only sometimes; for I have observed, that the fish strike the boldest at those flies , that do not touch the water; because they appear to be upon the wing, and are making their escape from them . But the end fly I let sink two or three inches sometimes, having observed, that it is often better taken a little underwater , than on the very surface, the reason of which, I suppose, is , that these flies are bred in the water , under the stones and among the gravel ; and as soon as their wings are grown, they come to the top of the water , before they can fly, and are an easy prey to the lazy trouts, who feed on them under the surface"  (Unknown 1817 p55)

    Lawton credits this angler with "fishing with a dry fly and a sunk fly" in 1786 and comments: "Here we have an eighteenth century angler aware of nymphs and that trout feed on them yet Skues, the acknowledged founder of nymph fishing, was seemingly unaware of nymphs and their significance until the 1890s. Did he not read old fishing books ... ". (Lawton 2020 p15; Lawton 2005 p 17)Skues had a reputation for composing well researched articles as a result of spending time in the Reading Room of the British Museum consulting the fly-fishing literature.

    Berls in an Afterword to Robson's book  The Essential G.E.M. Skues,  confirms Skue's scholarship: "As a young angler he had spent much of his off-season time in the British Museum reading the fly fishing literature and was aware of the wet fly history on the chalk streams." (Robson 1998 p245).

    In the Foreword to The Way of a Trout with a Fly and some Further Studies in Minor Tactics  Skues gave this justification for rejecting much of what he read: "Authorities darken counsel. An authority is a person engaged in the invidious business of stereotyping and disseminating information, frequently incorrect. Angling literature teems with examples. From Dame Juliana to the latest issue of the press there is scarcely a book on trout-fly dressing and trout fishing which I have not studied and analyzed, and this conclusion seems to me inevitable. It was not until I realized this that my reading became any use to me. Up to that point I had been swallowing wholesale, with my facts, all sorts of fallacies and inaccuracies, alike in the matter of dressings and their use, and what they were intended to represent. From that point on an author became merely a suggester of experiment — a means of testing and checking my own observations by the water side, and no longer a small god to be believed in and trusted as infallible." (Skues 1921 pix)

    One way of interpreting Skue's rejection involves considering several factors: "Authorities darken counsel" note the position and self-confidence shown in this opening sentence in his book; the temporal breadth of his rejection - "From Dame Juliana to the latest issue of the press" - a rejection of everything previously written, including Halford; "dressings and their use" [emphasis added] signals Skue's realization that he was entitled to rely on his own observations.

    Four editions of The North Country Angler were published between 1786 and 1817. I think there may be a good reason for Skues turning a blind eye to this author's work on and off the page !

    'Unknown' may have wanted to remain unknown because a remarkable amount of his 'fishing' involved trespass at night in pursuit of game. In the 18th century the penalties for poaching at night were especially severe (Jones 1979, Kirby 1933).

    Skues would have realised that a fly-fishing technique developed by a poacher would not be acceptable to his audience of purist and ultra-purist Halfordians. "Those of us who will not in any circumstances cast except over rising fish are sometimes called ultra purists and those who occasionally will try to tempt a fish in position but not actually rising are termed purists... and I would urge every dry fly fisher to follow the example of these purists and ultra purists." (Halford 1913 p 69-70)

    In this next anecdote Unknown describes his nocturnal activities with a set-line - a simple, weighted, line tied to a stick with baited hooks attached.: "This was in June , when trouts are in their prime: I put in two lines there with eight books a-piece , and went up to the high end of the pool where there was a broad shallow stream,from which about a dozen trouts , upon seeing me , came down to the deep , two or three of them large ones . I laid two other lines here with eight hooks a-piece ; and having ten more baited , I laid two short lines in a little narrow strong stream ,above. I went then up to the town , where two Gentlemen had appointed to meet me , from Morpeth . We supped, and drank till twelve; we laid in the same room: I got up at four , called the two , but only one would leave his bed so soon; we got a glass of wine , and went down to my lines . I had promised them to see such fishing as they had never seen before. .I drew my two short lines ,and at the ten hooks got nine trouts ,the tenth was broke , four of them eighteen or twenty inches long .My Gentleman would not be persuaded to stay any longer; so we went up to the inn ; he awakened his friend , and shewed him the trouts ,telling him I could catch as many more ; he got up , yawned, and swallowed a gill of mulled wine; then we went down to mv other lines; he said he would have given a crown to have seen the nine taken, and could not imagine how it could be done in half an hour's time .When we came to the two first lines , he saw the trouts struggling, but did not observe the lines : I got twelve at these two ; three or four of which were about twenty inches: at the other two I got but four , one a salmon trout , and that great trout I had seen feeding, as I supposed, by his size , which was twenty-three inches. We dined on trouts; and I sent my two friends, home at three o'clock , with fourteen large trouts, such as they had never seen before, " (Unknown 1817 p 30)

    I reckon that's 42 baited hooks, 3 drunks, and 25 trout. I don't think that tale would have gone down well with Skues (a solicitor), or G.W. Soltau JP (Justice of the Peace)! "A typical punishment for day poaching of game and fish in the 1860s was a £2 fine plus expenses ... but night poaching was a more serious matter ... Two thirds of those convicted between 1834 and 1871 were sentenced to a minimum of six months imprisonment, and most of the remainder suffered transportation and penal servitude. " (Jones 1979 p856)

    Skues may not have come across Soltau, but he certainly read a book written in 1863 by the North Devon angler H.C. Cutcliffe (1831-1873) who fished upstream with two flies, a ‘bob’ fly that floats on the surface to resemble a living insect above a ‘stretcher’ (i.e. a point fly) which Cutcliffe described as a gaudy fly. Skues wrote a patronising criticism of his flies: "Cutcliffe's "Trout Fly Fishing on Rapid Streams", one of the most intelligent works on fly fishing ever written, explores a corner of the subject, but his patterns are mainly lures, and when he comes to deal with patterns which are, or purport to be, imitations, representations or suggestions of the natural fly, he is manifestly out of his depth." (Skues 1914 pX)

    Skues stinging critique may explain why “hardly anybody has heard of Dr. Henry Charles Cutcliffe in fly fishing today” (Gaskell 2019). To rectify this situation, Dr. Paul Gaskell published the text of Cutcliffe's 1863 book, and high quality photographs of John Shaner's collection of Cutcliffe's flies tied by Roger Woolley.


    Did Skues ignore Soltau's 1847 book?

    It's conceivable that Skue's ignored Soltau's book because it did not contain any information about the materials used to construct the flies recommended by the author. On the other hand, Skue's may have rejected the use of movement in Soltau's method of fly-fishing.

    Steer (2021) concluded that Soltau's 1847 book "became the foundation of all later dry-fly developments"

    I think the ideas presented for the first time in Soltau's book, are the forerunners of modern developments such as the Dry-Dropper rig (Burgert 2020), and induced movement of the artificial fly to mimic the behaviour of the natural nymph (Sawyer, Kite), and dry fly (Leonard Wright). But these modern developments were not inspired by Soltau, instead they arose in reaction to limitations in Skues and Halford's approach. Skues fished a nymph dead-drift - without movement - to targeted fish. These limitations were, to a certain extent, imposed on Skues.

    Imparting movement was criticized because it was a deceptive technique employed by wet-fly anglers: "Downstream fishing, therefore, is the usual way amongst wet-fly anglers. The flies, cast across stream and worked downwards, speedily sink from sight. Sometimes — it depends on the character of the water and the style of angling — no motion is given to the cast of flies, whilst in others they are worked backwards and forwards by a slight up-and- down movement of the rod-point, the object of this being to deceive wary trout and prevent them critically examining the flies to see whether they are really worth eating, or whether they come from a fishing-tackle shop." (Dewar 1910 p37)

    Lawton implies that Skues avoided moving the nymph because Halford objected that "the slightest movement of the trout  [towards the nymph]  is answered by a quick and somewhat violent strike" (Lawton 2005 p35). This could lead to fish being pricked, or at the worst foul-hooked which could be used to cover deliberate poaching by snagging the fish. In addition, it could be argued that Soltau's technique created drag. Marinaro states: "Many books by competent writers and fishermen contain learned discussions about drag and its effects. ... All conclude that that a dragging fly frightens the trout. I do not agree with that at all."  Marinaro (1995, p 29)

    Much has been made of the importance of avoiding drag in fly-fishing books and articles. The fly may be 'refused' if it drags on the water surface. Therefore anglers strive for a drag-free drift. Some anglers believe that drag actually scares fish (Kenyon 2020).

    Why has Soltau's book been overlooked in the wider literature on fly-fishing history? The American fly-fishing historian Paul Schullery (1987) points to the paucity of books written by presentationists compared to the large imitationist literature. Schullery describes presentationists as anglers without social trappings who were seen as "primitive, unsophisticated, or simply unfashionable" (Schullery 1987 p85).

    Saltau takes a fundamentally different approach to fly-fishing than that put forward in multiple books by Halford (1886-1913) and Skues (1910-1939) based on earlier work by Ronalds (1836) and Blacker (1842). Soltau's' method is to present the artificial fly in a way that mimics the behaviour of a trout's prey. Thus, Soltau emphasized presentation at the expense of imitation.

    Paul Schullery sums up Ronalds' lasting importance: "Competing theories as entrenched as these do not disappear, and never have, but what did happen both in England and much later in America, was the production of ever more sophisticated tracts on imitation theory"...Ronalds set a course for fly fishing that has never been changed significantly. (Schullery 1987 p85).

    In a way Soltau was forced down the road of presentation because of the limitations of the imitationist literature available to him pre 1847.

    William Blacker's short 48 page book Blacker's Art of Fly Making was first published in 1842. It gives the components (patterns / dressings for) 31 named trout flies, and the months when they should be used. On a preliminary unnumbered page ahead of the text) Blackler identifies specific trout flies "best adapted" to use on rivers within a 20-mile radius of London, as well as the rivers Dove and Derwent in Derbyshire. This geographical emphasis may have deterred Soltau from using Blacker's flies on West Country rivers.

    Nowadays. it would be hard to find a serious proponent of imitation over presentation, or vice versa, on chalk streams or freestone rivers. In my opinion Soltau is important in the history of fly-fishing because he clearly articulated the presentation method long before the imitationist school was developed on English chalk streams.

    A lot of Americans have been given the impression that dry-fly fishing was invented by Halford around 1886 on the River Test, and consequently have an English chalk stream on their bucket list.

    Maybe some of them might - after they have seen the Mayflower Steps from where the Pilgrims are believed to have finally left English soil - consider visiting the rivers outside Plymouth to see where dry-fly fishing has earlier roots !



    Soltau's advice on salmon and sea trout

    The South West rivers fished by Soltau benefit from a run of migratory salmonids. He provided this characteristically detailed description of fishing for salmon and sea trout by moving the fly.

    Soltau fished across-and-downstream for salmon and peal (local name for sea trout). He provides a diagram to describe his method of moving the fly: "Commence fishing at the head of the pool Z., instead of at the tail, as in trout fishing. Throw the fly directly across the river, from where the fisherman stands at A., to B. Let it sink a little below the surface; then guide it from B. to G., forming the segment of a circle; give it, during this passage, a jerking or sliding motion, such as water-spiders exhibit when sporting on still pools by the side of rivers; at each jerk draw the fly gently towards you, two feet or two and a half for salmon, seven or ten inches for peal. For instance, your fly having lighted at B., draw it to C., then pause a moment, when the stream will carry it down to D. again; draw it to E., and let it fall back to F.; pursue the same process until the curve from B. to G. is completed. By giving this motion to the fly, it appears to be struggling against the stream. In drawing it towards you the wings collapse, when you pause they expand."  (Soltau 1847 p70). Soltau does not describe the flies he used for salmon, but his description of the action of the wings in the water is interesting. They may have been based on 'feathers' used for sea-fishing consisting of feathers lashed to a hook (e.g Schullery 1987 p147).

    Harris and Morgan (1989 p61) have reviewed the early sea-trout literature. It's sparse: "... it is surprising that so little has been written about sea-trout angling ...". The oldest book they consider is Maxwell's Salmon and Sea Trout published 50 years after Soltau. Maxwell (1898 p 203) advocated casting down-and-across and stated that the flies should be worked at a moderate rate. This is the technique used by Soltau 50 years earlier. The early literature tended to be dominated by books that briefly covered sea trout as an adjunct to salmon fishing. In the smaller West Country rivers sea trout outnumber salmon, and enter the river in the summer to be followed by autumn salmon runs.

    Soltau discusses at length 19th century scientific research on salmon conservation, as well as opinions expressed by anglers. For example, the author of Days and Nights of Salmon Fishing  William "Scrope argued that, despite the opinions of naturalists and much of the public to the contrary, parr were in fact “the young of the salmon, that their destruction was habitual amongst certain sections of society and that, therefore, the matter was of consequence to the prospects of salmon fishing and the national interest"  (quote from Scrope within Message 2019). At that time it was thought that parr were a distinct species Salmo salmulus.

    "The parr was at one time so wonderfully plentiful, that farmers and cottars who resided near a salmon river used not unfrequently, after filling the family frying-pan, to feed their pigs with the dainty little fish ! .. it never occurred either to country gentlemen or their cottars that these parr were young salmon." (Bertram 1873 Chapter VI - Natural History of the Salmon).

    Steer (2021) gives a list of names mentioned in Soltau's text. Some familiar, others less so; for example, there are four mentions of a person named 'Shaw' who observed in 1837 the development of salmon from ferilized egg to smolt (Soltau p84-9). Soltau describes in considerable detail Shaw's findings.

    Who was Shaw? Shaw was probably a Scottish gamekeeper named John Shaw who " made fundamental contributions to the natural history of the salmon, and, in particular, to what became known as “The Parr Controversy"... was the parr a distinct species, or merely the young of the salmon? "   Anglers were interested in this question because "parr may not be distinct fish after all, but rather juvenile salmon, and their unfettered capture by all and sundry might be damaging the stock." (Message 2019).

    Lord Kelvin's Keith medal in the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow

    Dr. Message focusses on the difficulties from educated 'gentleman scholars' that Shaw experienced as a scientific outsider in the mid-19th century. But Shaw was ultimately successful; Message lists three scientific papers Shaw published between 1836 and 1840 in The Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal and Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, as well as a book Experimental Observation on the Development and Growth of Salmon Fry  ( Shaw 1840). Shaw was awarded the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s prestigious Keith Medal (1837–39) for his published research on the "Development and Growth of the Salmon" rather than resolving the parr controversy. (Message 2019).

    Soltau is quite right to describe that scientific record as the result of "patient and minute enquiry"

    The parr controversy is now resolved, but a similar misunderstanding involves the relationship between sea trout and brown trout.

    It is now generally accepted that sea trout and brown trout are the same species (Salmo trutta). Brown trout that migrate to sea, return as sea trout to their river of birth..

    But it was not always so. Writing in 1948 - about attitudes held by Devonshire anglers - Jeffery Bluett reported "There were for many years two distinct schools of thought - one claimed that the sea trout was a distinct species, and the other held that it was simply a variant of the brown trout"

    Bluett expressed his views cautiously. I suspect he realised they might not be welcomed by some of his readers.

    For example: "I may say straight away that I have for many years looked upon the sea trout as a brown trout, and I will go so far as to affirm that I consider that a brown trout may become a sea trout ; i.e. A fish hatched as a brown trout, of brown trout parents, may go to sea and return to the river as a sea trout. Whilst many may not be prepared to go as far as this, opinions of a somewhat similar nature have been advanced by those whose opportunity for investigation has placed them in the best position to judge." (Bluett 1948 p10-11)

    This misunderstanding of the relationship between brown trout and sea trout was held by very experienced anglers. Writing in 1979, of the period after the Second World War, Mr. J.B.S. "Jack" Notley who fished the Devonshire Avon for over 80 years blamed sea trout for the decline in brown trout fishing "Sea trout were increasing in numbers and the Trout fishing was deteriorating each season, chiefly owing to the influx of the Sea Trout which spawned on the same beds as the trout, but unfortunately after the latter had spawned, and so most of the trout ova was disturbed and floated away, to be devoured by other fish etc." (Avon Fishing Association 1979).


    A mid-19th century attempt to improve salmon fishing

    Soltau devotes space in his book to salmon fishing. What were the prospects of catching a salmon in South Devon rivers in the middle of the 19th century? Poaching was rife: "An examination of the statistics of rural crime in the nineteenth century reveals that, together with theft, trespass, vagrancy and Poor Law offences, poaching offences absorbed a major amount of the magistrates' time... In the second quarter of the century poaching was regarded as one of the fastest growing crimes in Britain... (Jones 1979 p825)

    MacLeod makes the important point that this was a problem of preserving salmon as a food source rather than simply providing sport for a wealthy elite: "Because, by the middle of the [19th] century the growth of the population had begun to outstrip the nation's meat producing capacity, and methods for preserving and importing food from abroad had not yet been developed, the reduced supply of salmon caused increased concern. ... salmon which had sold fifty years earlier at 1 1/2 a pound was now thought cheap at 2 shillings, ..." MacLeod 1968 p115).

    As a magistrate and an angler on South West rivers, Soltau writes about salmon from a uniquely broad perspective. He understood the range of man-made problems faced by salmon in Devon and Cornwall, and championed a set of remedies that he may have based on the 13 recommendations made by a Parliamentary Select Committee in 1825. Given his role and civic responsibilities it's not surprising that salmon, as an important source of nutrition, was at the core of Soltau's comments: "Fly-fishing for salmon is seldom pursued in these counties. The fish meets with such a host of formidable enemies as soon as it quits the sea, that comparatively few ascend our rivers. ... in season and out of season are they caught, sold, and devoured, as openly as if no penalties were incurred by the act. That food, which under proper regulation would soon become abundant and reasonable, can only now be placed on the tables of the affluent.The preservation of salmon I hold to be a question of national importance; so much so, that I consider conservators should be appointed to protect them, as well from the unlawful proceedings of the owners of fisheries, as from the unscrupulous acts of the poacher. Weirs should be so constructed as to admit of their ascending whenever the waters are swollen by floods; hutches should be kept open at least forty-eight hours during the week." (Soltau 1847 p65-6)

    Then Soltau makes a point that appears not to have been given the attention it deserved by the Parliamentary Select Committee in 1825 "Besides the perils which await the parents on their journey from the sea, their young are also in imminent danger on their route towards the sea. The millers take them in traps, by thousands, and dispose of them by the gallon to the neighbours; indeed, at times they are taken in such vast quantities that pigs are regaled upon their delicate flesh." (Soltau 1847 p65-6) Much more attention was paid to impediments to the upstream migration of adult salmon at the expense of protection the downstream migration of smolts. The sale of immature fish was prohibited in the 1861 Salmon Act, but that does not cover Soltau's point that immature fish were being disposed of without payment.

    MacLeod (1968) describes how increasing concern from a range of interests, including anglers and riparian owners, led to a Royal Commission in 1860.   "Although formal recording of fish stocks prior to the 19th century was extremely patchy, there was a general perception that at the onset of the Industrial Revolution fish stocks were depleting, as a result of obstructions built across rivers, and over-zealous netting of fish is some rivers and estuaries. .. A Royal Commission was set up in 1860, with a remit ...to enquire into the Salmon Fisheries of England and Wales, with the view of increasing the supply of a valuable article of food for the benefit of the public.." (Ayton (1998); Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1923 Wikipedia)

    I am grateful to Gordon Bielby for a copy of minutes 15,117 to 15,161 on page 452-453 of the Royal Commissioners' 1860 visit to Totnes "To inquire into salmon fisheries (England and Wales"

    In Totnes on 1st December 1860 the Royal Commission on Salmon Fisheries (England and Wales) heard evidence about the state of salmon stocks and fishing methods on the Devonshire River Avon.

    A leister found by the author in the Devonshire Avon

    The first witness, Rev. H. Hare lived "on the banks of the Avon", had "more than a mile of the river boundary" and was "perfectly acquainted with the whole of the Avon"

    In reply to the question "Is there any poaching on the river?", The Rev. H. Hare stated (minute 15,123) "The moment the floods go back, and the river gets clear, it is infested by spearers from one end to the other; but no one interferes. I should mention that there is a private association of gentlemen who protect the river for angling; but I am told that when a man is detected by the keeper, he can do nothing, there being no public prosecutor. He is told, you can do nothing unless the landowner chooses to prosecute."

    Rev. Hare was asked "Will not the landowners co-operate?". He replied (minute 15,124) "It is a very unpleasant thing to do, and nobody does it. I have more than a mile of the river boundary, but I have never done anything of the sort.  I do not fish myself, but I wish to see it preserved. Salmon spearing will never be prevented, unless the police or some public officers are authorized to take any man who is found poaching before the magistrates, and get him fined. I would be glad to do it, if others would co-operate with me; but one does not like to put oneself forward, and incurr all the expenses and odium of prosecuting. On Sunday at his time of year, in the course of three or four miles, you may meet with 10 or 20 fellows spearing salmon.

    The witness was asked "Are many members of he association landowners?" to which he replied (minute 15,125) "Not many; the association is more for trout.

    The next witness - Mr. Thomas Harris - describes himself as the honorary secretary of the fishing association.
    He was asked by Sr William Jardine who chaired the Royal Commission "Are you acquainted with the river Avon?". Mr. Harris replied "Yes, I am honorary secretary to an association for fishing in the Avon; we fish from the weir that Mr. Ellis (a previous witness) speaks of, some seven or eight miles up the river for trout, and we would catch salmon if we had a chance. I belive four were caught last year by men who were fortunate enough to fall in with them."

    This witness then goes on to argue that the close season for salmon which was from 15th January to 6th May was unsatisfactory because he had bought fish up to the 15th January that were full of spawn and quite unfit to eat. He comments "It has been said by a member of the medical profession that nothing can be more prejudicial to health than the fish sold from the Avon after the month of November". He goes on to complain that "The weir at Marsh mills has been raised very considerably long since I can remember; it has been raised to so as to keep the water running down to the mill dam..." it is quite impossible, except in high flood, for fish to get over the weir." He then remarks that "20 years ago we used to take salmon peal (sea trout) above the weir, and now we never see such a thing, and that I attribute to the weir having been raised. The fish spawn below the weir because they cannot get up, I have seen them there repeatedly." .

    MacLeod points out that the legislation that will emerge from this inquiry has "been called the first permanent attempt by Parliament to protect and regulate private property in the public interest." MacLeod(1968 p114) The evidence from the Devonshire Avon highlights the variety of private, and often conflicting, interests involved in just one river: anglers, netsmen, riparian owners,and mill owners. The only missing element is industrial pollution because the river runs through farmland. The Salmon Fisheries Act 1861 addressed most of the issues, with the Home Office given responsibility for fisheries. But some probems remained that were dealt with in the Salmon Act of 1865; locally elected boards of conservators were appointed to impose and administer rod licenses, and bailiffs were employed to police the Act. MacLeod(1968 p123)


    Were the Salmon Acts successful? A mixed picture

    The Salmon Fishery Act (1861) addressed most of the issues revealed by the 1860 Royal Commission including: obstruction, fixed engines, close seasons, illegal fishing, pollution, and making the Home Office responsible for fisheries. "JPs appointed conservators who had limited powers, undefined duties and no pay." In 1865 some of these management shortcomings were remedied; paid bailiffs, funded by rod and net licence duties, were employed to enforce the law.(Ayton (1998 p7). But a problem remained: "Who was to pay for all this?" That problem persists to this day; net and rod licence fees remain insufficient to cover costs Ayton (1998).

    Grimble paints a mixed picture of the benefits to the Devonshire Avon that flowed from the Royal Commission; poaching was reduced in the middle and lower reaches, but - due to a lack of funds, and indifference from riparian owners - continued in the upper sections where salmon gathered before spawning: "In 1860 the Avon was infested with poachers, chiefly spearers no one interferred with them; while at Aveton Gifford there was a mill and fishery weir, which was so nearly insurmountable that proceedings were taken against the owner to compel him to place a fish pass in it. In 1866 a Board of Conservators was formed, in which the Erme proprietors did not join. This Board was in addition to a local Angling Association already formed, and, combining together, they attacked the poaching evil with such vigour that prosecutions and convictions were so plentiful that at length the wrongdoers desisted, when they found that they could no longer carry on the industry with impunity... Poaching was still prevalent in the upper waters, where there were many small proprietors who took no interest in salmon preservation, while the funds at the disposal of the Conservators were not sufficient to protect the whole river." (Grimble 1913 p 51)

    Grimble gives details (where available) for each year from 1868 to 1902 of the number of salmon licences issued per year, as well as the number of salmon and sea trout caught by anglers and netsmen. These reveal some of the problems faced by the Conservators: "It is also remarkable that, while the Erme gives no statistics as to the take of migratory trout by the rod, but full ones so far as the netting is concerned, the Avon reverses the position, and withholding all netting returns, it gives in most years full details of the rod captures." In 1888, the start of the close time for nets on the Avon had to be brought forward from the Ist November to the 30th September because of: "The many complaints made by the London fish salesmen of the bad condition of the salmon sent for sale in October ..."

    The national statistics for offences under the Fisheries and Salmon Fisheries Acts show the "highest national figures were for the late 1860s and the early and mid 1880s. By the mid-century the advent of new fishery boards, byelaws and licences had increased the conflict over traditional fishing rights ... (Jones 1979 p831).

    At their formation in 1864, the Tavy Walkhahem and Plym Fishing Club took the decision to make available 'Special tickets' for 'labourers' that would mitigate the loss of traditional fishing rights (Tavy Walkhahem and Plym Fishing Club history).

    Photograph of Bickham Bridge c1945 downstream of South Brent

    The national resurgence of poaching was also reflected on the Devonshire Avon, possibly fueled by a tradition of poaching by the local population, and a lack of conservators with responsibility for a large section of river around South Brent. Hearder described the situation as it was in 1875 : "The fishing on the river is free from the source to Beckham Bridge [sic] , [Bickham Bridge is an ancient crossing over the river near Diptford on the southern edge of Dartmoor] ... but the remaining portion to the mouth of the river is at present, in some parts, under a double conservancy; namely, the Avon Fishery Association , who grant season and day fishing tickets, and the Avon Fishery Board of Conservators, who grant salmon licenses."

    "This river has for the last few years given marked evidences of what ought to be done by a stringent application of the Salmon Fisheries Act. Certain nefarious fishing practices having been abolished, fresh-run Salmon have occasionally made their appearance during the spring season, and there is every reason to believe that the Avon would, if properly protected from poachers, receive the visits of early as well as late fish. There is still, however, much poaching to be looked after, and very much more to be done towards the improvement of the condition of its weirs. "(Hearder & Son 1875 p 68)

    Mr. Notley explains the role played by his father in forming the Avon Fishing Association in 1885.: "My Father became Rector of Diptford in 1881, aged 27, he was a keen sportsman, shooting, fishing and hunting and won the Clinker Fours Cup (Rowing) at Cambridge University in 1876. After fishing the Avon for 4 or 5 years he decided that it would be of benefit to the river if an Association was formed, as there was a lot of poaching of salmon and many other ways of removing the trout;' as by liming the water, netting pools and setting night lines," (Avon Fishing Association 1979). The Avon Fishing Association was formed in 1885. It rented water from riparian owners, and transferred surplus income to Conservators: "The surplus funds of the Association, after providing for rents, expenses, and a reasonable working balance, shall be handed over to the Board of Conservators for the Avon district, to be used by them in such manner as they may deem most expedient for the protection and improvement of fishing in the district." (Grimble 1913, p 56).

    In his study of the Victorian poacher, Jones (1979 p844) makes the point that "Few permanent labourers were convicted n their employers' land the most feared men were those on contract work .. " Here is a local example: "In 1891 the Brent-Kingsbridge Railway was completed and needless to say those working on it did some salmon poaching. Dynamite was used in some of the cuttings and this meant that some pools containing salmon were dynamited."

    Salmon kelt found by the author and Graham Stickland (SWW, NRA & EA fishery warden) on the Devonshire Avon estimated to have weighed 37lb when alive.

    In his record of the period 1899 - 1914 Mr. Notley reported: " The chief run of salmon was in December and some of the fish were very large, I saw one weighed at Diptford Rectory, 41! lbs. It was poached at Bickham Bridge and the poacher was caught with it by the Bailiff, who took it to my father, who was Chairman both of the A.F.A  [Avon Fishing Association]and the Board of Conservators. A 381b Kelt was taken out of the leat at Gara Bridge and weighed on the Station scales, it was found dead and starting to decompose. Far more salmon ran up the Avon then than do now. Whilst my father was preaching one Sunday in April two local farmers removed eleven kelts from the Rectory pool, they had been there for several days waiting for a flood to take them down to the estuary." (Avon Fishing Association 1979)

    One benefit of the Salmon Fisheries Act 1861 was that the Home Office was given responsibility for fisheries, rather than relying on local private citizens taking legal action. This overcomes the problem identified by Rev. Hare to the Royal Commissioners in 1860 (see above minute 15,124). - "The weir at Silveredge a stone weir, had broken away and it was very difficult for salmon to get up into the pool above. Eventually Sir Charles Fryer, President of the Board of Fisheries and Agriculture in London came down to view the pool and weir, this was in April 1908. My father was Chairman and I was on holiday from school and was allowed to go down with the Committee, the following were present: H.J.B. Turner, Commander F.H. Eagles, B.F.T. Hare, A.J. Mitchell and probably others. Mr. Ellis from Aveton Gifford was there with his boat. The pool had several salmon in it awaiting a flood to get back to the sea. Ellis netted the pool but the first haul only produced one salmon, the second haul netted 51. These were weighed, measured and tagged in the dorsal fin and returned to the river. 5/- reward was offered to anyone who returned a label. None were returned, but two fish were found afterwards one an otter killed and one was found dead..After Sir Charles Fryers visit to Silveredge a concrete weir and salmon ladder were constructed. "(Avon Fishing Association 1979)

    The salmon trap mentioned here is now owned by the Environment Agency "Mr. Ellis was the owner of the salmon trap on the weir at the end of the A.F.A water. The Association and the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture offered him 800 pounds. for it, but in spite of his usual statement that he caught very little, he refused to sell." (Avon Fishing Association 1979)

    During the First World War (1914 -1918): "Salmon poaching was rife all through the river, chiefly the kelts and these were sold mainly to farmers at 4 pence per lb and called Red Hake! "

    Jack Notley's local reports are consistent with MacLeod's analysis of what was going on at a national level. MacLeod traces how the increased salmon production expected as a result of the 1861 and 1865 Salmon Acts failed to materialize. At the end of the First World War, "It was clear that what had begun boldly had lapsed into a pathetic history of indifferent half measures. The overall outcome for the British salmon fisheries had been a short burst of improvement, followed within a decade by a sluggish rate of growth ... the three fundamental principles of 1861 - the preservation of salmon during a fixed close time, the free ascent of salmon, and the prevention of pollution - were still widely disregarded." MacLeod(1968 p147).

    I came across this reference to the size of Avon salmon and an unusual fisheries management proposal.

    Salmon kelt found by the author and Graham Stickland (SWW, NRA & EA fishery warden) on the Devonshire Avon estimated to have weighed 37lb when alive.

    "There is a river in South Devon which nowadays has only a very late autumn run because a reservoir built in the headwaters  [ i.e.the Avon Dam built in 1927 on the Devonshire Avon]  retains so much of the water that it is only in autumn and winter that salmon can exist in the river or reach the spawning beds. For some years the local Fishery Board took a number of these salmon for examination, and there was a project to try and exterminate them since, as they only began to run in late December, which is in the close season for the district, they are useless, and the young consume food which would be better employed in feeding the brown trout. The condition of these kelts in January is better that that of many fish in the other rivers in the area in September before they have spawned , simply because they fed up to within a few weeks of spawning. Another interesting thing about these very late runners is that, although the river is a very small one, the average size of the salmon is much higher than those in the bigger rivers in the district. This also is obviously the direct result of their long stay in the sea and short fast in the river." (Kenneth Dawson "West Country", circa 1948)

    A similar plan was suggested in the 1930s for dealing with the PLym's 'late-running' salmon. It was suggested that if late-running stock was destroyed it could be replaced with 'early-running' salmon ova from Scotland which return to the river during the fishing season. A committee was set up to suggest ways to eliminate undesirable late-running salmon including "a high weir, electric screening, a revolving grating, or possibly some form of trap" . Because of cost, none of these ideas met with the Fishery Boards approval, so the bailiff was instructed to gaff salmon before they spawned "Of course, gaffing killed a few but did not exterminate the undesirables, nor did the sticks of dynamite periodically lobbed into Plym pools by impatient fishermen." (Bielby 2001 p53-4)


    Casting a Fly on South Devon Rivers

    In 1847 Soltau was using a 12 foot rod with a 7-8 foot gut leader. He describes casting with what today we would call a 'soft-actioned rod', and 'rotating' the wrist, as well as 'loading the rod', rather than throwing the rod forward with the shoulder. This description of rod action, before the introduction of split cane, is typical of rods at that time: "It was undesirable to have a rod too whippy but yet not too stiff. All the writers of the period favoured a rod that could play easily and bend slightly throughout the whole length. " (Graham Turner 1989 p46)

    The next remarks on casting a fly cover points that still apply. For example, letting the rod do the work, avoiding 'creep', and his remark on the role of the wrist. It's often said that you can't learn to cast from a book. Soltau recognises that point.

    "The casting the fly well and lightly is a knack which can only be acquired by experience. The spring of the rod should do the chief work, and not the labour of your arms. To effect this, you should lay the stress as near the hand as possible, and make the wood undulate from that point, which is done by keeping the elbow in advance, and doing something with the wrist which is not very easy to explain. Thus, the exertion should be chiefly from the elbow and wrist, and not from the shoulders." (Soltau 1847, p47) [underlining represents the emphasis in original]

    More than half a century later, Halford (1913) devotes a chapter to fly casting that manages to illustrate Soltau's point that it's very difficult to describe in words fly-casting, particularly the role of the wrist. Halford encouraged his readers to cast with either hand, and offered this route to success: "A scientific friend of mine established a rule in his household that the table should be laid right and left-handed in alternate weeks... His wife, children, and even guests were expected to conform to this rule. I commend it to my readers." Personally, I wouldn't try that in my home !

    Many of my generation learnt how to cast a fly by reading a book or watching more experienced anglers, and inevitably picking up, bad as well as good, habits. But nowadays there is an increasing number of professional qualified casting instructors.

    One of the earliest instructors was Mr. J.B.S. "Jack" Notley (1893-1988). Jack went to Keble College, Oxford and fought in the Great War where he contacted trench fever. He was in 9 hospitals (3 in France) for 23 months during WW1 and was unable to follow his father's profession (the Church) as intended. Jack began teaching fishing and fly casting on the Devonshire Avon in 1919 and continued for over 50 years. He knew John James Hardy personally and through him he "got more pupils than I could deal with and had to turn some down" (Avon Fishing Association 1979). Two of his first clients were Their Royal Highnesses Prince and Princess Arthur of Connaught. The Prince was a grandson of Queen Victoria.


    Jack didn't write any books or magazine articles, but I have this leaflet designed to promote his fledgling business venture.

    He was years ahead of his time - the leaflet shows that he taught what is known today as 'Single-Handed Spey Casting'

    He was well aware of a problem if you only use the overhead cast. On the backcast flies can get caught in trees and bankside vegetation. This can be particularly frustrating on the Avon, and other tree-lined South Devon rivers.

    In Jack's words: "To some it may come as a surprise to learn that with a high bank or bushes 10 ft. behind it is a simple matter to cast 30 ft. or so straight out or to either side; this is done by means of the switch cast [ now called the roll cast ], which can be learnt in one or, at the most, two lessons."



    A surprise in the 1856 reprint of Soltau's book

    Bookstamp of Arthur Howard Thompson in his copy of the 1856 reprint

    Alexander (1976) lists Thompson as a keen collector of angling books. Alexander advises book collectors to look out for surprises that have been left by previous owners.

    That begs the question : Why did Thompson insert a 1934 newspaper report about a 95 year old fly-tier living in Chagford, on the edge of Dartmoor, into his copy of a rare book written by the Deputy Lieutenant of Devon in the mid 19th century?

    Burbridge (2021) adds detail to the newspaper cutting : "In 1934, 2 years before his death, Old Dick read of the forthcoming marriage of Princess Marina of Greece to the Duke of Kent. He took it upon himself to make a salmon and trout fly in royal colours, and sent them, in a presentation box to the Princess."

    Item about Mr. Dick Perrott (1840-1936) in the Evening Standard (Dec. 12th 1934) tipped-into Soltau 1856 reprint

    Soltau's book contains precious little information on the actual flies; no names and no pattern details. Based on reading the 1934 newspaper report, A.H. Thompson may have explored the possibility of asking Dick Perrott (1840-1936) to recreate Soltau's flies. It would be reasonable for Thompson to suppose that, as a Devonian, Perrott might have knowledge of Soltau's patterns. Thompson had an interest in recreating old flies. For example, in 1943 Thompson privately published Notes on the Tying of Certain Flies by the late Dr. W. Baigent , another angler who fished a dry and wet fly together.

    Baigent may have been influenced by Soltau's book. Dr William Baigent (1862-1935) lived in North Yorkshire, and like Soltau he fished a dry and wet fly together. “If trout are nymphing, a nymph or wet fly could be mounted on the point, whilst a dry fly could be mounted on the dropper.”  (cited by Rob Smith undated).

    If he did want to bring Soltau's flies back to life, then Thompson's choice of Dick Perrott (1840-1936) would have been an excellent one, but sadly Dick Perrott died two years after the newspaper article appeared. The Perrott family made an important contribution to the development of angling-tourism on Dartmoor in the 19th and 20th centuries.


    The Perrott Family

    James Perrott in 1862, age 47
    From (Devon Perspectives undated) The birth of Dartmoor tourism.

    Mr. Dick Perrott (1840-1936) was the son of James Perrott (1815-1895). Both father and son were fishing guides on Dartmoor.

    The railway reached Devon by the middle of the 19th century. This led to the birth of Dartmoor tourism, and an increase in visitors who employed local guides: "The most renowned of these was the estimable James Perrott of Chagford whose lifelong experience of the moorland routes was coupled with great skill and enthusiasm for angling in the locality"   (Devon Perspectives undated)

    Burbridge (2021) adds this detail: " James [Perrott] was for over 50 years a Dartmoor touring guide, a renown angler and a maker of fine fishing tackle and flies, such as Blue Grizzle, Red Palmer, Blue Upright and Red Maxwell."  The last three named flies were also recommended by Rabley (1910).

    Dick Perrott's followed in his father's footsteps, his "finest skill was the making of small, intricate flies for fishermen. Among his customers for flies were, Charles Dickens, Baring Gould, Lord Grey of Falloden, R.D. Blackmore and Charles Kingsley." (Burbidge 2021).

    This comment reveals the productivity of Dartmoor rivers, Dick Parrott's skill as a fisherman, and a familiar prejudice against salmon. "Trout are not so numerous as in the old days. They were more plentiful when the lead mines at Christow prevented the salmon from getting into the upper reaches. On one occasion I killed 1000 trout in 10 days and on one day alone, 122. I started at 5 a.m. and finished at 2p.m. It is not the neatest fly that kills. The modern fly is too small. Fish rise to them but do not take.” (Burbidge 2021).


    About the author

    Paul guiding ITV News reporter in June 2019

    with sea trout in camera range ...

    Paul Kenyon lives in Ivybridge on the southern edge of Dartmoor about 6 miles from the Upper Yealm Fishery.

    He retired in 2006 from the Department of Psychology, University of Plymouth where he lectured in behavioural neuroscience and evolutionary psychology.

    He now devotes more time than is reasonable to his love of all things associated with fish, fishing, instruction and guiding on Dartmoor rivers.

    Paul is the author of a series of web-based essays on fly-fishing: The Heuristic Trout

    email paul@flyfishingdevon.co.uk

    The author's  YouTube channel


    Acknowledgements

    In this video Bob Wyatt ties his Snow Shoe Hare Emerger

    Bob uses this material in place of CDC because he has found that CDC tends to be "a one fish fly" which is an absolute no-no for guides on local rivers.

    These articles would not have been possible without the help and encouragement of Bob Wyatt. Bob is an artist, author, Certified Fly Casting Instructor and long-time angler. Born in Canada, he fished the freestone streams of southwestern Alberta in the late 1950s. He now lives on New Zealand's South Island. His articles have appeared in Fly Fishing & Fly Tying(UK), Gray's Sporting Journal, Fly Rod & Reel, and Flylife Magazine (AU). He has published two books: Trout Hunting: The Pursuit of Happiness (2004) and What Trout Want: The Educated Trout and Other Myths (2013). In this interview by April Vokey he discusses his “prey image” theory, trout fishing and the early days of steelhead fly fishing.


    John Shaner has been a constant source of encouragement, and source of hard-to-find fly-fishing literature.


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  • Credits

    Photo of Bickham Bridge © The Dartmoor Trust Archive. History of Bickham Bridge avavailable online

    Magnus Angus for permission to use his picture of Bob Wyatt's Snowshoe Hair Emerger (SHE).

    Tom Sutcliffe for permission to use his picture of Kite's Bare Hook Nymph from Sutcliffe (2016)

    Tim Sandles for permission to use his picture of the rivers of Dartmoor.

    Mayflower Steps: RobertBFC at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

    Lord Kelvin's Keith medal in the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow By Stephen c Dickson - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67455885

    I am grateful to Gordon Bielby for a copy of minutes 15,117 to 15,161 on page 452-453 of the Royal Commissioners' 1860 visit to Totnes ""to inquire into salmon fisheries (England and Wales".

    I am grateful to Kevin Lyons for bringing my attention to his friend Leonard Wright' s influential book "Fishing the Dry Fly as a Living Insect".


    Footnotes

    #33. The Plymouth Athenaeum (Wikipedia).Available online. Accessed 28 May 2021.

    #34. Compiled by Shirley Paterson, Jo Power, John Power, Richard Wilcockson, and Sheila Wilcockson for the Council of the Plymouth Athenæum The Plymouth Athenæum 1812 –2012. (Plymouth . Devon, The Plymouth Athenæum, 2012) . Accessed 29 May 2021.

    36. Obituary Notice: Jonathan N. Hearder, D.Sc., Ph.D., F.R.S. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. Vol. IX, Part 2, (1877), pp. 55-60. by The Rev. W. Harpley, M.A., Hon. Secretary of the Association. Prepared by Michael Steer.Available online . Accessed 29 May 2021. Obituary Notice. Chemical Society Anniversary Meeting. Chem. Soc., 1877,31 501. Available online. Accessed 29 May 2021.

    #37. Annual Report and Transactions of the Plymouth Institution and Devon and Cornwall Natural History Society. Vol III Part II. 1868-9. (I.W.N. Keys and Sons. Plymouth 1868) 85-8. Available online. Accessed 29 May 2021.

    #44."The Voyage of the H.M.S. Challenger 1873–1876" Available online Accessed 30 May 2021. Trevor John Kenchington. The Introduction of the Otter Trawl . The Northern Mariner / Le marin du nord, XVIII, No. 4 (Autumn 2018), 327-46. Available online . Accessed 30 May 2021.

    U and non-U English, "U" standing for upper class, and "non-U" representing the aspiring middle classes. Wikipedia Available online Wikipedia

    "Jacques de Neuflize was rather better known in the world of high finance and fly-fishing than in bibliophilic circles. He was Regent of the Banque de France and in that capacity negotiated the the Great War lease-lend arrangements with the United States in 1916. Soon after World War II he engineered the merger of the Neuflize and Schlumberger banks. " (Christie's 1999)

    "Managing partners of the Neuflize & Cie bank in 1944: Jacques de Neuflize, Baron de Neuflize, Louis Monnier, Pierre Girod, Lucien Ménage, Philippe Cruse and Christian Monnier. In 1936, the bank of Neuflize et Cie had a capital of ten million francs: three and a half million for Jacques and André de Neuflize, two million for Louis and Christian Monnier, one million for Mr. Lucien Ménage, one million for Mr. Pierre Girod, five hundred thousand francs to Mr. Philippe Cruse (cf. The Masters of France , Vol. 1 - by Augustin Frédéric Hamon, Éditions sociales internationales, 1936, page 234)" From Neuflize OBC. Wikipedia Available online

    From (Hamlin 2008). "There was also a very short-lived Plymouth Health of Towns Advocate (1847). Its activities, reflected in its publications, were of three sorts. One mission was didactic, to reiterate the principles of the new sanitary science or detail the workings of new sanitary appliances. Another was inspirational. Writers and speakers sought to make urban sanitation the crusade of the day. They catalogued the sins of existing urban administration, commemorated martyrs to the sanitary cause, celebrated the sanitary kingdom to come, and presented petitions for the committed to sign. Finally, as in its lengthy critique of Lord Lincoln's 1845 Public Health Bill, the association was also concerned with the technical, legal, and financial minutiae of legislation." (Hamlin 2008)

    George Soltau was an early follower of the Plymouth Brethren, and Plymouth mayor in 1841-2 (Worth 1871 p132). His wife cut up her drawing-room carpet to make rugs for the poor. (Gill 1979 p151)

    "The Liberal leader George Soltau had led the formation of the Plymouth of the Health of Towns Association in 1846 two years after its national inception. " (Gill 1979 p163)

    Prince Arthur of Connaught, grandson of Queen Victoria. Wikipedia entry

    Plymouth, St Peters Church of England. Further Infomation For Record Ref 1462/2. Description written in 1868. Available online

    Charles Edward Fryer, Esq., Superintending Inspector, Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. 1907 Birthday Honours list. Available online

    In the United Kingdom, a deputy lieutenant is a Crown appointment and one of several deputies to the lord lieutenant. Wikipedia entry

    A justice of the peace (JP) is a judicial officer of a lower or puisne court, elected or appointed by means of a commission (letters patent) to keep the peace. Wikipedia entry

    The Keith Medal was a prize awarded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland's national academy, for a scientific paper published in the society's scientific journals, preference being given to a paper containing a discovery, either in mathematics or earth sciences. The medal is no longer awarded. Wikipedia entry Available online