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

Humpty Dumpty hides on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the Kings' horses and all the Kings' men
wouldn't put a Janner together again


An approach to fly-fishing history

To borrow from John Gierach, 'Let me introduce an idea, just something to kick around.'

It may be useful to explore the history of fly-fishing for trout as a series of 'paradigm shifts', rather than a continuous linear accumulation of increasingly effective and sophisticated techniques. A paradigm consists of a theory and methods used by a group of people who share a common literature, set of beliefs, and values. On English chalk streams at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, Halford and Skues developed a paradigm for fly fishing. A paradigm shift (Kuhn 1970) involves an old paradigm being replaced by a new, better one that may retain some elements from the older paradigm; for example, in medicine, the shift from clinical judgment to evidence-based medicine. Paradigm shifts are complex social events for the participants.

This essay concentrates on a fly-fishing technique for catching wild brown trout, adopted in South Devon and further afield, that came before, persisted during, and re-emerged after the development of an English chalk stream fly-fishing paradigm.


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)

Here is a description of 19th century wet-fly fishing in the words of Basil Field three times president of the Fly-fishers’ Club   in London: "In the happy days of old, when fish were foolish, and fishermen were few, one, two, three, or more flies were fastened at intervals on a line; a cast was made across the stream, the rod-point was depressed, and the flies allowed to sink as they drifted down the current. When the line became fully extended, the flies began to rise to the surface, and to sweep round in a curve towards the bank on which the angler stood, the fly nearest him, called the “bob-fly,” tripping and dancing as it skimmed the water... This method of proceeding is still adopted with success in rapid, rocky, and turbid streams, but in our tranquil and transparent rivers of the south, the trout see, and have learned to fear, the angler and his wiles." (Field 1894)


A Nascent Paradigm

Field's 1894 article  describes the first 10 years of growth of a paradigm that was nurtured in the Flyfishers' Club. Field focusses on the books in the club's well-stocked library, and remarks on the growth in the fly-fishing literature since the club's foundation. He showcases Halford's books because they provided the theory and methods needed by the emerging paradigm: "And now I come to the books which are nothing if not practical. Of these, Mr. F. M. Halford’s Floating Flies and How to Dress Them, and his Dry Fly-fishing, in Theory and Practice, command the first place, as being, within certain limits, the best books on fishing with the artificial fly ever written."

In this way, Halford was identified as providing the core of a paradigm that contrasted with an earlier wet-fly tradition. Finally, to complete the requirements for a new paradigm, Field describes the Flyfishers' Club core values, and motto “Piscator non solum piscatur”, that distinguished it from other fishing clubs and associations: "It rents no water, it gives no prizes, it encourages no competition. But it does collect statistics, organise meetings, promote the reading of papers, and encourage discussion,"

From 300 members in Field's time, membership trebled over the next hundred years. A problem arose because Halford's paradigm did not accommodate a successful element from the older wet-fly paradigm - a way of catching trout feeding on subsurface insects. The problem came to a head when a club member, G.E.M. Skues, developed a technique to catch trout feeding on nymphs. In 1938, any possible resolution of the difficulty was badly handled in an unsatisfactory, so-called, Great Debate.

Frederic M. Halford (1844 – 1914) ,dubbed the "High Priest of the Dry Fly", was introduced to dry-fly fishing in 1868 on the River Wandle, about 10 miles outside London ( Herd 2002). In later years he, and his followers, were responsible for an imperious approach to fly-fishing on English chalk streams and beyond. J. Waller Hills wrote that "Halford ... considered that the dry fly had superseded for all time and in all places all other methods of fly fishing and those who thought otherwise were either ignorant or incompetent"  (Voss Bark 1992 p91).

It's tempting to criticize Halford, or blame his followers, for this type of forthright statement. But, it is clear and precise, and leaves no doubt about the boundaries of the paradigm; fly fishing is dry-fly fishing now and in the future, dry-fly fishing works universally, and a lack of success can be overcome through education.

I think it's fair to say that Halford's paradigm satisfies the needs of anglers and riparian owners to this day on English chalkstreams. It can be employed on my local rivers in South Devon, but there is room for improvement. Is it time for a paradigm shift in South Devon ? If it is, then a good place to start is by revisiting the fly-fishing technique(s) that were effective in South Devon before Halford and Skues constructed their chalk stream paradigm. The clearest early description is given by G.W. Soltau in his 1847 book Trout Flies of Devon and Cornwall and How and When to Use Them.

Halford 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, Andrew Herd (2002) makes the point that "dry-fly fishing was well established by the time Halford first came to use it" in 1868. When 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).

Conrad Voss Bark & Eric Restall (1999 p77-9) 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 chalk streams ...”.

Conrad Voss Bark  was well-placed to reach this conclusion. He wrote a History of Flyfishing (1992), and lectured at the Arundell Arms fly fishing school in Lifton, Devon. He was The Times Angling Correspondent for twelve years after retiring from the BBC as their Parliamentary Correspondent. Conrad Voss Bark's suggestion 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, is worth serious consideration.

Anglers in South Devon did not need to wait for the visit of “wise men from the East” with their systems for fishing dry flies and nymphs. In 1847, G.W. Soltau described an effective Dry-Dropper method for use on the freestone rivers of South Devon in his book  Trout Flies of Devon and Cornwall, and How and When to Use Them .

Adoption of this provincial innovation involved a collaboration between the author, and 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.



Who was 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 twice in 1838 and 1841 (Jewitt 1873).

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 was a member of the Plympton St Mary Board of Health during the 1832 cholera outbreak (Perkins 2021) 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 also suggested moving a dry fly to mimic the behaviour of the natural insect. The importance of dry-fly movement was rediscovered by the American fly-fishing author Leonard M. Wright in the 1970s, and more recently popularised by John Gierach (2005) and Tom Rosenbauer (2008).


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.

A difference of opinion ...

Soltau's book is of interest to serious collectors of English halieutic literature.
But there is a sharp difference of opinion between historians as to its merits.
This article explores two contrasting viewpoints:
  • In 2021, after reading Soltau's book, an anonymous fly-fishing historian concluded that "The reason Soltau's work isn't referenced is... because there is very little in it that is original." (Anonymous 2021).
  • In contrast, Steer (2021) came to the very different judgement that the techniques described by Soltau in 1847 became the foundation of all later dry-fly developments [emphasis added].
  • To what extent did Soltau's  fly-fishing technique  anticipate:
  • the  Dry-Dropper rig  described in the 20th Century (see Lawton 2020), and
  • Leonard Wright's (1972, 1975) advice that rather than being presented 'dead-drift', an artificial dry fly should be  'twitched'  to represent the movements of the natural insect ?
  • To what extent was Soltau using a  combination of the fly-fishing techniques  that were intentionally broken apart by Halford and Skues at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries ?


  • The South Devon rivers fished by Soltau

    South Devon rivers are very different to the chalkstreams fished by Halford and Skues.

    Results of Fisheries Survey Devonshire Avon (1962)

    In 1875, the Plymouth fishing tackle retailer J.N. Hearder offered this overview of the fishing in nearby 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.


  • Frank Sawyer: 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.



    La Branche The Dry Fly and Fast Water

    Paul Schullery (2006) includes a useful chapter that distinguishes between the different ways that artificial flies have been moved to mimic the behaviour of a live insect on, and above, the surface: Skippers, Skaters, Dappers, and Dancers.

    Halford's introduction of a dry fly fished dead-drift for rising trout, put these techniques to one side. The impact of Halford's writing on a young George La Branche illustrates this point.

    It is noticeable that La Branche was aware that some early anglers who used a dropper-fly and a tail-fly simulated living insects by twitching them over or under the surface of the water - a practice that is the exact opposite of the method of the dry fly fisher, who casts a single fly lightly upon the surface of the water and permits it to float with the current ... (La Branche 1914 p5).

    La Branche also used a floating fly in conjunction with the wet fly until he "read Mr. Halford's 'Dry Fly Fishing' when, recognising his great authority and feeling that the last word had been said upon the subject, I used the dry fly only on such water as I felt he would approve of and fished only rising fish.

    Subsequently, La Branche read Dewar's 1910 book which called fishing a dry fly in fast water an affectation. La Branche's initial reaction was that he "felt inclined to listen to the voice of authority and felt that I must abandon the dry fly ." But he reconsidered his initial inclination, and "continued the use of the dry fly and abandoned the use of the wet fly for all time." (La Branche 1914 p12-13).

    However, La Branche did not abandon his attempts to impart movement to his single dry fly. He developed what was termed a 'fluttering' or bounce' cast(ibid p35-7); a now forgotten, difficult to perform cast, that mimicked dapping.

    Most importantly, La Branche remained convinced by the importance of fly 'action' in eliting trouts' feeding behaviour. Thus La Branche kept alive the importance of fly movement during the heyday of the Halfordian paradigm. There is remarkable overlap between our current understanding of possible search image features, and the suggestions made by George La Branche in 1914 for features to incorporate in an artificial fly. Note the position of 'action' in his order of importance.
    "My own experiences have convinced me that imitation of the natural insect is absolutely necessary, and I put the forms this should take in the following order — the order of their importance :
  • 1st — Position of the fly upon the water, [i.e. location]
  • 2nd — Its action  [i.e.movement]
  • 3rd — Size of the fly.
  • 4th — Form [i.e. shape, appearance] of the fly.
  • 5th — Colour of the fly."


  • Edward Fitzgibbon: Surface movement

    Edward Fitzgibbon (1803–1857)  was a contemporary of Soltau (1801-1884). His 'Handbook of Angling' (1847), published in the same year as Soltau's book, has been described as "the very best of the enormous number of manuals on fishing which are extant."

    Fitzgibbon's description of how and why to move the dry fly on the surface is very similar to Soltau's. The angler must cast the fly  " to drop lightly on the water, because the natural fly does so; he must cause them to swim down as near the surface as he can, because the natural fly moves upon the surface of the water, and he must impart motion to his flies, a species of fluttering, generally speaking, being the best. All this is comprehended by the expression " humouring " one's flies. To do it, the moment your flies alight upon the water hold up your rod, so that the drop-fly next to it may appear skimming the surface ; the other two, if properly proportioned and attached to the casting-line, being ever so little under water... When you keep your last dropper on the surface of the water, impart to it a slight skipping motion, by a tremulous wrist shake of the rod, and the flies that are just under water will receive the most natural motion you can give them. Never drag your flies straight across the water towards you, and never work them against the current."  Fitzgibbon (1847 p25-6)

    In 1847 Soltau and Fitzgibbon independently described how to move a dry fly to mimic the behaviour of the natural insect. I don't think they invented this method. A more likely explanation is that both authors were recording a method they had observed, and personaly found effective, on rivers in their locality.

    The British historian Dr. Andrew Herd (2020) described Fitzgibbon as " one of — if not the most — influential angling writers ever."  A computer-based search of Halford's 1886, 1889 and 1913 books revealed no mention of Edward Fitzgibbon or Soltau.

    Lawton (2005 p 19) quotes from Francis Francis - who may have known Fitzgibbon personally - writing in  The Field  in 1857, that it was impossible "to imitate the motions of a live fly, that skips, hops, and whirls along the top of the water, as most flies do ..".



    Leonard Wright: Surface movement & the induced take

    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. "

    Leonard Wright is listed alongside fellow Americans Cutter, Harrop, Harvey, Lafontaine, Marinaro, Proper, Schullery and Swisher & Richards for their dominant role in  "imitative flyfishing innovation"  by the British author Peter Hayes in his 2016 book Imitators Of The Fly: A History (2016 p 88-9) that covers in detail the years from 1800 to 1950.

    Nowadays, the Dry-Dropper has breached the Halfordian one-fly-only taboo. This opens the possibility of greater exploration of the role of movement in eliting a trout's feeding behaviour.

    I suspect that the effectiveness of attempts to mimic a live insect with a dry fly have been hampered by the lack of Soltau's use of a wet fly to act as an anchor beneath the dry fly. This point was recently  appreciated by Tom Rosenbauer.

    Commercially-tied flies designed to be 'twitched' in the ways described by Soltau, and Leonard Wright, are now available. For example, The Devon company Turrall offer the Turrall Wulff Dry Grizzly  : " .. the best way to present this dry fly is with a floating line and tapered leader that's been de-greased using something like Ledasink; this will make sure there is no shine, and not spook your quarry. The basic technique for fishing the Wulff Dry Grizzly Trout Fly is to drift it on the surface, occasionally pull it for a small distance to make it look like it is accelerating attempting a take off. Leave the fly to sit for a while then repeat, often this will stimulate trout to attack. This is the same if you see a trout swimming near your Turrall Wulff Dry Grizzly, but not biting, twitch, the trout may believe that it could miss its opportunity."



    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 chalk stream - 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)


    Why is a 'twitched' dry fly effective?

    Leonard Wright gives a very perceptive answer to that question: "Whether this presentation works because it brings out the cat-and-mouse instinct of the predatory trout or simply because it makes the artificial more alive is a question for the animal behaviorists. I do know that it produces handsomely, as do other moving fly techniques, even when fish seem to be off their feed. " (Wright 1972 p98). This is similar to how I would explain the effectiveness of movement to an angler who doesn't want a lecture on ethology. The only change I would make, is to use the word 'ribbon' or 'string' instead of 'mouse'. The word mouse suggests the need for precise imitation.

    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.


    The 'twitched' dry fly comes of age

    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. Perhaps Soltau's technique could be implemented with a light fly line on a longer euro-nymphing rod.


    A marriage of convenience: Wet-fly science and dry-fly art

    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."  

    Berls (1999) records that in 1899, Skues recognised that eventually there would be a reconciliation of dry - and wet-fly fishing: In the past, he (Skues) observed, "anglers used to get good baskets on Itchen and Test with the wet fly. Thev will have to come back to it again. Someday they will learn to combine . . . wet-fly science and dry-fly art . . . ".

    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.


    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). Field's desciption of  wet-fly fishing  illustrates the point that wet flies can be used to catch fish that are not seen rising to duns on the surface.

    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 because he was not "fishing the rise." 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 (Hayes 2016). 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).

    Clip from   Underwater World of Trout Part Three | Trout Vision

    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 Devonshire fisherman, prolific author, and newspaper owner. He had a fishing tackle shop in East Devon at Axminster, and a branch in Totnes in South Devon. He was an accomplished fly-tyer awarded a bronze medal for his flies at the 1851 Great Exhibition (Pulman Wikipedia).

    In Conrad Voss Bark's opinion ( Voss Bark, Ann 1983, p 113-) Pulman did not invent dry-fly fishing, but he was the first to describe in print a method of fly-fishing that already existed in Devon.

    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).

    Pulman's 1841 contribution is partly semantic. 'Floating' describes the behaviour of the artificial fly on the water surface. 'Dry' describes the physical state of the artificial fly before it lands on the surface. Anglers had been fishing floating flies for centuries. Pulman recognised that floating flies had a tendency to become wet and sink below the surface especially when drawn down by the weight of the line. Pulman's advice to use a dry fly - "a fly that he had just taken out of his box to replace a fly that had become soaked" (Voss Bark 1992 p 83)" - was to overcome the problem of a soggy floating fly passing beneath a fish looking for food on the surface. 'Dry fly' probably replaced 'floating fly' because the phrase rolls off the tongue.

    Soltau does not refer to Pulman's 1841 book. He may not have read it. It is unlikely that he read Fitzgibbon's 1847 description of dry-fly fishing because his own book was published the same year.

    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 suspiciously 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."



    Soltau's attitude to precise imitation

    Towards the end of the 19th century Halford championed the need for an artificial trout fly to resemble as closely as possible the natural insect. This idea had much earlier roots. In 1838, Shipley and Fitzgibbon went to great lengths in their support 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, their 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).

    According to Pulman (1851), the merits or otherwise of precise imitation had been discussed since at least 1830 in Devon by "anglers of different grades of intelligence and skill"

    Pulman was a robust critic of precise imitation: "we unhesitatingly say that much of the exact imitation system appears to us very much like quackery ... an old-womanish fastidiousness about the minutest colours," He came to the conclusion that "the main points of imitation to be size, colour, form, character, and more important than all, action, — which last depends, of course, upon the angler, and not upon the fly-maker." (Pulman 1851 p 125- )

    What did Pulman mean by 'action'? 'Action' was not a property of the artificial fly per se. For Pulman 'action' involved the angler taking steps to ensure that the fly was presented in the location in the water column where trout were expecting food. If that was a dun on the surface, Pulman describes substituting a dry fly for a soggy floating fly "We mention this as an illustration of the importance of imitating action,"

    The action he referred to was a reflection of the angler's 'skill':   "a difference in the imitation of that action (all other circumstances being equal) constitutes, to a great extent, the various grades of skill possessed by different anglers."

    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 down the road of simplifying fly choice: 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).I can find no record of either fly, but it is reasonable to conclude that the Red Bob was fished on the surface as a dry fly, and the Blue Stream was fished as a wet fly below the surface. Today we would characterize that approach as favouring good presentation over precise imitation.

    That is a remarkably modern approach to fly selection that is receiving increased consideration (Kenyon 2021). For example:

    "Although suggestions abound for what artificial lures an angler should use under what conditions, few or none of these recommendations are based on experimental records. Most seem to be somewhere between witchcraft and snake oil. But, then, those promoting the use of one fly or another are often attempting to catch anglers, not trout." (Grubb 2003 p171).

    "In my opinion ninety-nine per cent of the new patterns we see are completely superfluous and they do fly fishing a disservice by confusing beginners and obscuring real innovation." (Herd 2003 p358)



    Soltau on casting

    Thankfully, Soltau had remarkably little to say about casting: "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."

    Casting a fly is notoriously difficult to describe in words (e.g. Fitzgibbon 1847). Nevertheless, Soltau gives some important clues; he advocates letting the rod do the work, and puts emphasis on the elbow and wrist. I think he was using a 'roll cast' rather than an overhead cast where the line extends behind the angler. Monahan (c2011) offers some well-informed speculations on early 19th century switch / roll casting.

    It is much better to use a roll cast than an overhead cast on the tree-lined rivers in South Devon. On well-managed chalk streams there is less impediment behind an angler. The overhead cast enables false casting which was used in the 19th century to drive water out of the line and fly. This was less of a problem for Soltau and Fitzgibbon who kept the line clear of the surface to allow delicate controlled movements of the dry fly.



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

    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.

    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. 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 (Cavicchi 2005, Ryles ?2020 a & b).

    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.



    Dr. J. N. Hearder's Fishing Tackle Catalog

    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 Hearder 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."


    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 was taught to fish by his friend, a local surgeon Dr. Thorne of South Molton; "From him did I glean my elementary knowledge of up-stream fishing. It was from his instructions I began to see things as related to the rapid streams in a new light, and from these I was set a thinking on the subject ..." (Cutcliffe 1863 p ix)

    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 chalk streams (Gingrich Chapter 10 1974).

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


    Local Fishing Associations

    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.

    Reverend James Notley photographed outside Diptford
    Rectory in 1908. He founded the Avon Fishing Association
    in 1885

    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).

    The relatively late introduction of the dry fly on the Devonshire Avon is interesting. Jack Notley's father fished the river from about 1880 and founded the Avon Fishing Association in 1885.



    Chas. A. Rabley's Devonshire Trout Fishing (1910)

    Rabley's book is interesting because it describes fly-fishing in South Devon from 1877 to 1910. The author lived through a unique period in fly-fishing history - the paradigm shift brought about by Halford's Dry Fly Revolution (Hayes 2016). Rabley's book is now a scarce collectors' item, and commands a high price on the second-hand market.

    [ My justification for employing the concept 'paradigm' is available here. ].


    J.M.W. Turner RA: 1813 watercolour of the bridge across the Erme
    in Ivybridge, near Plymouth, Devon.
    He often combined painting outdoors with fishing.

    Charles Alfred Rabley was born in 1863. He saw fly-fishing for the first time on the River Erme in 1877, when he spent three weeks on holiday in Ivybridge with his sister in her cottage at Harford Bridge which spans the river Erme. He, and his brother, fished for trout with a worm above Harford Bridge with limited success: "although there were plenty of trout to be seen our tackle only frightened the fish, and we caught nothing," During the second week of their holiday, several fly-fishermen passed by: "..failing to open up a conversation on fishing with some of them, I followed one fisherman, intently watching all his movements. While taking his lunch he showed me his rod, fly-book, and the cast attached to his line, giving also a general idea about fly fishing. After seeing him and three trout I left, and firmly resolved to be a disciple of the ‘gentle craft.’"

    Devonshire Avon: Bickham Bridge

    In 1880 Rabley moved with his parents to South Brent which is about six miles east of Ivybridge. At that time the fishing on the Devonshire Avon was free from the source on Dartmoor to Bickham Bridge. (Hearder 1875 p 68).

    Bickham Bridge crosses the river at Diptford, a village six miles by road, downstream of South Brent.


    Devonshire Avon: Brent Mill Bridge

    The move "opened up the opportunity of trying the Avon, which was considered a much better trouting stream than the Erme, as bigger fish could be caught in its lower course below Brent Mill bridge "  in South Brent.   He got to know two local fly-fishers Captain Lovell and Mr. Bidmead that enabled him to gain "a practical insight into fly fishing, and laid a good foundation to build on in the future"

    Rabley spent several days fishing with Mr. Bidmead on Dartmoor "who seemed easily able to land from four to six dozen trout in a long day’s fishing. "  Captain Lovell preferred to fish the Avon below the moor, he "contented himself with quality instead of quantity in the reaches of the river nearer South Brent. He delighted in the long, summer evenings to carefully whip the deep pools in which he had spotted the big ones, and his basket generally held fish above the average"

    In 1881 Rabley left South Brent to live in Exeter, but 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 until he retired in 1923 (Ashwater Council School 2009). He fished the Carey and Tamar "regularly for 30 years, with an occasional day on the Thrustlebook (Wolf), Torridge and Inney"  (Rabley 1910 p6-8).

    It is clear that Rabley was keen to learn how to fish with a fly from local anglers during the six years from 1877 to 1883, and the lessons he learnt stayed with him throughtout his life. For example, "I read books on angling 30 years ago [i.e. around 1880], and obtained initial help from them, but shall make no use of the knowledge thus gained, or copy their style. This book contains statements from my own observations"

    Reading Rabley's book conveys the impression that, by the age of 20, he had adopted the West Country two-fly paradigm described by Soltau in 1847, and even by the early years of the 20th century had not embraced the chalk stream single dry-fly paradigm introduced by Halford in the 1880s.

    For example, like Soltau, Rabley recommended fishing with two flies, and firmly rejected using three flies on the leader: "Two flies weight the cast best for throwing". Both authors adopted a two-fly approach to enable presentation of a dry fly on the surface, and a subsurface wet fly. This two-fly arrangement is significant. An often unremarked but central element of the chalk stream approach to dry-fly fishing demanded the use of a single fly: "The dry- fly fisherman never uses more than one fly on his cast at the same time ...." (Dewar 1910 p 39).

    The Three Fates in Strudwick's 1885 painting "A Golden Thread"

    The chalk stream dry-fly paradigm explicitly abandoned any attempt to catch trout feeding beneath the surface. Halford cut the golden thread that joined dry with wet fly. But then Fate intervened in the shape of a Skues' nymph. In contrast, Rabley maintained the link between dry and wet fly because he was " .. convinced that trout do feed freely below the surface on insects ..". Rabley's book was written before Skues made the same point about the importance of subsurface feeding.

    Skues followed Halford's lead and made no attempt to restore the link between surface and subsurface artificial flies despite having read Cutcliffe's 1863 book. Peter Hayes (2016) has written a detailed account of the prolonged tension between Skues, Halford and their followers over a suitable fly-fishing paradigm for chalk streams. Hayes captures the vitriol of this disagreement in this synopsis: "Only dry fly fishing was flyfishing, and subsurface fishing was not"  . This culminated in the Great Nymph Debate held in 1938 on the eve of war. Ironically "Both sides got completely hung up on the forensic niceties of whether nymphs wriggle when rising through the water to hatch"  Apparently the Nymph Debate lingers on in the 21st century within some sections of the chalk stream community (Hayes 2016 p 75).

    Rabley provides a numbered  "summary of practical suggestions" for anglers fishing Devon's freestone / spate rivers that included:
  • 2. Use two flies, winged for the leader and hackle for the dropper.
  • 6. Don’t forget to fish with the flies below as well as on the surface.
  • The suggestion in point #6 is that the fly on the end of the leader may not sink. This is not surprising; a number of fly-fishing historians go to great lengths to point out that for centuries anglers had been fishing with flies that had an inbuilt tendency to float on, or in the surface; essentially dry flies according to Vince Marinaro's definition of a dry fly. Soltau and Rabley were advocating a "killing two birds with one stone" system for taking fish focussed on surface or sub-surface food. An early, and perhaps more worldly-wise version of selective feeding based on food location.

    Soltau and Rabley offer an approach to fly selection based on light conditions.  "I hold that light is the first thing to be taken into consideration when selecting the lures for any particular day. " (Rabley 1910)
  • Soltau advises  "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."
  • Rabley made the same point:  "From the patterns illustrated a good selection of flies, suitable to all degrees of daylight, can be made. It will be noticed that those suggested for sunny days have black or dark coloured hackle and shining bodies, while for cloudy days they are dressed in lighter shades "
  • Soltau and Rabley's advice contrasts sharply with Halford's instruction, based on the principle of exact imitation, to use an artificial dry fly that represents in size, colour and shape, the insects that trout are seen to be eating. Rabley was probably aware of this "established principle" taken by followers of the chalk stream single dry-fly paradigm, but completly rejected it: "Anglers know the March brown, blue or red upright, alder, hawthorn, May fly, yellow dun, and other flies when they see them on the water, and as a rule use counterfeits to imitate the natural insects. There are exceptions however to all rules, and I beg to differ entirely from this established principle. " [emphasis added]

    Like Soltau before him, Rabley advocated casting upstream: "Always fish up the stream, as the trout lie with their heads against the current, and you approach without disturbing them."

    Soltau and Rabley fished after dark. Rabley recommended the Grey Drake, White Moth and Coachman "for evening or after dark ... I have seen Avon trout killed in this way up to 2lb 3oz, but the largest caught by myself weighed 1lb 12oz ".

    I think fish of that size, caught on the Devonshire Avon after dark, were probably sea trout.

    Soltau also recommended the White Moth: "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)

    In the first half of the last century some influential  Devonshire Avon  anglers viewed sea trout as a piscivorous pest that should be removed to protect brown trout stocks. Sea trout in their spawning colours were labelled as 'cannibals' and removed from the river.


    At one time, fishing after dark was viewed with suspicion, as reflected in this Avon Fishing Association (AFA) rule from 1903, and probably earlier: "Fishing is not allowed on Sunday, or during the night viz. from an hour after sunset until an hour before sunrise except during June and July, when it may be prosecuted until 10 p.m." (Grimble, 1913). Rabley would not have been restricted by this rule; he moved to Ashwater in 1883, two years before the formation of the AFA.

    Rabley complained that a 12ft fly rod " took the skin off my hand". He was reluctantly persuaded to try a much lighter 10 ft rod by tackle dealer Mr. Chas. Hayman, of Launceston.

    But he recognised that, even with a shorter rod, the angler is still faced by a formidable problem on many Devonshire rivers. "The easiest casts are in the open water, but the fly finds the least number of trout in them. The best baskets are taken from water wooded just enough to make casting somewhat difficult, as so many anglers pass by these places for fear of losing gear. The trout are bolder in sporting at the flies, and an expert angler is well rewarded in this choice of fishing water."

    Rabley warns against taking the easy way out of this problem. "In all rivers there is water wooded over so thickly as to prevent casting altogether, but such reaches aid in maintaining the stocking of the river, and there should be no feeling of covetousness at seeing so many speckled beauties swimming about in safety. I have known such water cleared altogether of wood, but many of the trout leave for other wooded haunts. It would be much better to open several places large enough for casting instead of such wholesale stripping. "

    Jack Notley  was well aware of a problem if you only use the overhead cast. Jack began teaching fishing and fly casting on the Devonshire Avon in 1919 and continued for over 50 years. He was years ahead of his time - he taught what is known today as 'Single-Handed Spey Casting'.

    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."


    Dermot Wilson and H S Joyce

    There is evidence that some Devon anglers continued to use Soltau's two-fly dry dropper upstream technique in the middle of the 20th century. It 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.

    I can only speculate who these experts were. I discuss the possibility that they were father and son Dartmoor fly-fishing guides - James and Richard Perrott - below.

    H.S.Joyce's A Trout Angler's Notebook (1948) is another unpretentious book that recommends using a dry fly as dropper above a wet point fly on Dartmoor. He prefers hackled flies, a dark rusty Blue Upright as the tail fly with a light red-hackled fly as dropper.

    He is very critical of fishing with a team of wet flies: "I will not descend to this water-raking business".  Joyce recognised the skill involved in fishing a single dry fly: "It is admitted by every fly-fisher that dry-fly fishing is the highest form of the art, and I think quite justly, the dry-fly man is usually looked upon as a more artistic angler than any other; but it is well known that the dryfly has its limitations, and, under certain conditions, and at certain times, the method is almost useless if one wishes to capture more than a very occasional trout." Joyce restricted his use of a single dry fly to  dead low  water conditions.

    Books by Soltau (1847), Cutcliffe (1863), Rabley (1910), and Joyce (1948) 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 the middle of the 20th century (Wilson 1970). I think the reason for this is easy to appreciate; the West Country fly-fishing paradigm was successful on local rivers, there was no compelling reason to replace it with the chalk stream single fly paradigm.

    There is one element in Soltau's technique that was not adopted by Rabley, or any other commentary on West Country fly fishing - actively moving the dry fly to mimic the behaviour of the natural insect. That would have been anathema to Halford and Skues. They rejected moving the artificial fly because it smacked of fishing with wet flies. They strove to present their surface and subsurface flies dead drift. Soltau's insight remained hidden until it was rediscovered by the American fly-fishing author  Leonard M. Wright,  and more recently popularised by John Gierach (2005), and Tom Rosenbauer (2008).

    Perhaps a particular way of fly fishing developed in the West Country because of the nature and variety of fishing available as shown by this quote from the closing page in Rabley's book: "A river in Devonshire, whether it passes through rough moorland and granite rocks, or through meadows, woods and cultivated slopes, always provides the choicest scenery in the country side, and happy should be the man privileged to take his pastime amongst such delights of natural beauty. "


    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 Chalk Stream Techniques Replace Soltau's Methods in South Devon?

    The young marine's supposition about the invasive influence of dry-fly fishing is shared 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).

    Peter Lapsley had this to say about the influence of chalk stream based fly-fishing authors: "It is a pity, too, that chalk stream fly fishing writers dominated the game angling media for much of the past century and a half. Their publicising of the sport’s development on the chalk streams has caused those developments to be much copied on other river systems throughout Britain, stifling the continuing evolution of regional flies and fishing styles and tending to homogenise the flies we use and the ways in which we fish them." Available online

    In one sense, Halford simplified fishing with a dry fly. He cast a solitary dry fly, rather than Soltau's two flies.

    Fishing with a dry fly is certainly popular in the West Country. But we don't follow Halford's paradigm - to sit by a pool waiting for a fish to rise to an identified insect. And thankfully early-adopters in the West Country ignored the dry-fly purist (Dewar 1910 p 4) who actively discouraged, disparaged, and regarded as "eccentric", using a dry fly on the moorland freestone rivers of Devon .

    If Halford's fly-fishing philosophy 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 currently place these retrictions on dry-fly fishing, or did so in the past (Grimble 1913).

    Anne Voss Bark MBE  owned and ran the Arundell Arms Hotel in Lifton, Devon from 1961. On her retirement in 2008 she was made an honourary member of the Internatinal Fario Club.  Anne edited the anthology West Country Fly Fishing  published in 1983 , with contributions from acknowledged local experts, that reveal that appropriate chalk stream tactics were adopted without fuss on local rivers. Her book on West Country fly-fishing is devoid of any hint of chalk stream elitism.

    On Dartmoor rivers, from the early years of the 20th century, the dry fly became more popular than the older approach of fishing a team of two or three flies: "..from the middle of April on, the dry fly will on most occassions take more and better moorland trout than the wet .." (Weaver 1983 p 58 emphasis in original).

    But if necessary, West Country anglers are happy to use a wet fly. David Pilkington, an angling instructor at the Arundell Arms Hotel from 1976, wrote about the effectiveness of wet flies fished upstream or downstream in all types of water: "I do believe that if trout cannot be taken on a correctly presented wet fly then the angler is very unlikely to do much better with the dry." (Pilkington 1983)

    Like Halford, Skues used a single fly. He developed a technique to cope with 'bulging' trout "taking nymphs as they come up to hatch", because "Halford had advised dry-fly anglers to leave bulging fish alone. " (Berls 1999).

    But the method of nymphing developed by Skues on chalk streams has limited usefulness on West Country freestone rivers. The chalk stream angler casts to a fish that is visible in the water. This is rarely possible on our rivers that invariably carry a tinge of colour: "Nymphing is primarily a technique for the hot still days of July and August ... The rough and tumbly water of the high moorland rivers is not really suitable ..." (Pilkington 1983 ).

    Chalk stream anglers also had problems detecting the trout's take: "..you had to strike a trout before you felt him, often without seeing the rise ... by instinct or some sixth sense" (Hills 1941). Pilkington decribes one way to overcome the problem of detecting the take by greasing the leader and watching the point where the leader penetates the surface.

    Nowadays, the problem of detecting the underwater take is reduced by adopting the relatively recent New Zealand style of fishing with two flies, a nymph suspended below a dry fly. Movement, or disappearance of, the dry fly signals the underwater take to the angler. This 'Dry Dropper' rig is now increasingly seen on West Country rivers. But I think that this technique - described by Soltau in 1847 - may have been in continuous use because it was still being used on Dartmoor 100 years later.

    The clearest evidence that I can find for use of Soltau's 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).

    Wilson reported 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).


    I think Soltau's 1847 book was among the fly-fishing books at the Arundell Arms Hotel; Conrad Voss Bark appreciated its significance, and quotes at length from it on the perils faced by salmon on their journey to and from West Country rivers (Voss Bark, Ann. 1983).

    I expect that a local angler, who had used Soltau's duo method, would not be deterred by the following dictum from the dry-fly purist Dewar (1910 p 39) ?: "The dry-fly fisherman never uses more than one fly on his cast at the same time"  [emphasis added] (Dewar 1910 p 39). Dewar was critical of using more than one fly on the leader because wet-fly fishing often involved two or more flies.

    Likewise, would an angler - exposed to Soltau's writing - remove their dry fly to follow Skues who relied on a single nymph? It would be against all reason to do so, and subsequent developments support that decision.

    For example, Dick Perrott (1840-1936) and James Perrott (1815-1895) were fishing tackle manufacturers and guides on Dartmoor. They, and their clients, were catching large numbers of moorland trout before Halford introduced his dry-fly philosophy on chalk streams. It is concievable that they fished with a leader that consisted of a dry fly above a wet fly (or flies) possibly inspired by Soltau's two-fly Dry-Dropper rig. But the evidence is circumstantial, and therefore is discussed in a  separate section below ; a story with a surprising twist at the end!

    Berls (1999) records that in 1899, Skues recognised that eventually there would be a reconciliation of dry - and wet-fly fishing: In the past, he (Skues) observed, "anglers used to get good baskets on Itchen and Test with the wet fly. Thev will have to come back to it again. Someday they will learn to combine . . . wet-fly science and dry-fly art . . . ". That reconciliation was sparked by the return of Soltau's Duo Method many miles away from English chalk streams. And the rediscovery of the  role of movement  in inducing the rise to a dry fly. It took a long time to resolve, not least because of what Skues withheld about nymph movement (see Berls 1999) ...


    The Return of Soltau's Duo Method: A Journey 'Back to the Future'

    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, as well as Fitton's neologism Wry fly (i.e. Wet and Dry Fly). 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  (1992) Nicholas Fitton introduces a new term - 'Wry' fly - to describe fishing two flies, a dry fly above a wet fly or nymph. 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 because of this passage in Dermot Wilson's book Fishing the Dry Fly: "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).

    Fitton reaches this conclusion: "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). To some extent I agree. Without naming him, Dermot Wilson provides a clear summary of Soltau's two-fly dry dropper upstream method. Personally, I don't think lack of public exposure is the whole explanation. In fact, in 1986 Fitton wrote an article, and refers to another by James Langan, that described the dry + wet duo system in the UK Trout and Salmon magazine. Both articles "elicited no resonse from readers."

    In a way Nicholas Fitton's 'Back to the Future' journey was relatively straightforward. His route followed the signposts planted by Maurice Wiggin, Keith Rollo, W.H. Lawrie and Dermot Wilson. Others were less fortunate, and encountered distractions along the way. In 2002 the prolific American fly-fishing author Dave Hughes included a chapter Nymph Tactics in his book Trout from Small Streams. It was agony to read. It kept me on the edge of my seat. It was like reading a detective story where you thought the crime would remain unsolved.

    Hughes describes starting to fish with weighted nymphs on long leaders; progressing to using a painted cork as an indicator; that was replaced by a yarn indicator dressed with dry-fly floatant. I checked ahead to see how many pages were left in the chapter because he was getting very close to discovering Soltau's Dry-Dropper rig. At this point Rick Hafele entered the story. Rick and Dave fished together and co-authored Western Hatches. I knew what was about to happen, anyone who fishes regularly with a friend is prepared for some 'leg-pulling at some stage. Sure enough it came: "Rick fiddled with his rigging about the same time I did, but he kept his back to me while he did..He had not, it appeared to me, even bothered to change flies. I needn't go on with the story. You know that Rick had dangled a nymph on a couple of feet of tippet, tied to the hook bend of the same dry he'd been using when he was catching the same thing I was: Nothing." Hughes (2002 p118)



    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).

    Of course, it is difficult to know precisely what books Skues did, or did not, read in the British Museum. However,  Skues' copy  of Edward Fitzgibbon's A Handbook of Angling  published in 1847 was  donated by Charles Thacher  in 2021 to the American Museum of Fly Fishing. In 1847, Fitzgibbon gave a description  of fishing a wet fly beneath a dry fly which is very similar to the arrangement described by the earlier unknown 18th century author, and Soltau.

    Soltau's 1847 book is listed next to Fitzgibbon's in the list of Thacher's donations, but it also had no influence on Skues. A computer-based search of Skues' 1914 and 1921 books revealed no mention of Edward Fitzgibbon or Soltau.

    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?

    Skues used a sub-surface fly - a nymph - to overcome the problem that 'bulging' trout would not take a dry fly because they were focussed on taking a nymph rather than a dun. Why on earth did Skues not recognise that Soltau's use of two flies - a dry fly on, and a wet fly beneath the surface would attract fish feeding on both stages of an insect's life cycle?

    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.

    With regard to salmon, once again we see Soltau’s emphasis on moving the fly. Soltau's diagram and explanation clearly shows that he cast across the river, and alternated upstream pulls, with pauses during which the fly was allowed to drift downstream. His approach is quite different to A.H.E. Woods' popular ‘greased line’ technique  - ( a drag-free drift to present a broadside view of the fly of the fly to the fish) for salmon and sea trout developed in the 1920s (Harris and Morgan 1989). In contrast, J.C. Mottram recommended a fast-moving fly in warm water, greased line, conditions. "I think that if the salmon sees the sudden change in motion of the fly, from drag to drift, it is especially likely to take the fly ... it has a nearly irresistable attraction for the predatory fish"  Mottram (1948 p 20-1).

    Moving the fly remained a recommended local technique; Conrad Voss Bark (1983) records that: "When I first came down to Devon from fishing in Scotland one thing that surprised me was the speed at which many of the experienced fishermen fished the fly. They fished very fast indeed, and I was advised to do the same." This sounds like the method developed by E.M. (Ernest) Crosfield (1856-1925).


    Soltau on scientific research on salmon conservation

    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."



    The Perrott Family

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

    James Perrott (1815-1895) and then his son Richard (1840-1936) were fishing guides on Dartmoor rivers from the middle of the 19th to the early 20th century.

    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)

    James "Perrott became close friends with many well-known West Country writers including novelists Charles Kingsley and R D Blackmore. " James Perrott "had guided many men of divers minds, some very great men, across the dreary Devon wild, and had learnt something from each. Though chained to a remote moorland village, he then became somewhat of a cosmopolitan in his mental outlook, .... He had picked up during his long life a vast amount of useful knowledge as well as out-of-the-way lore, antiquarian, folk, natural historic, and what not." (Devon Perspectives, undated))

    Burbridge (2021) adds this detail that shows that his career as a guide began in the 1840s: " 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"

    I think we can assume that Red Maxwell and Blue Maxwell are synonymous with Maxwell's Red and Maxwell's Blue. Taff Price remarks that "The West Country seems to have a penchant for the hackled fly. .. the Maxwell Red and the Maxwell Blue .. are probably not so popular .. but they do have their adherents in parts of Devon and Cornwall"  For example, Hearder (1875 p59) advised "As a general rule, however, it may be observed that Red and Blue Hackles, with or without Gold or Silver Twist, will kill throughout the year." Taff Price (1976 p128) gives these dressings:

  • Maxwell Red: Hook 14-12; Tail Natural red cock fibres; Body Rusty red seal's fur; Rib Fine gold wire; Hackle Natural red cock hackle.
  • Maxwell Blue: Hook 14-12; Tail Medium blue dun; Body Grey seal's fur; Rib Silver wire; Hackle Medium blue dun.
  • Here is a  discussion  of the colour theory behind Sir Herbert Maxwell's Red and Blue trout flies. J.C. Mottram refers to these as dry flies that Maxwell " used for the taking of trout rising to natural Mayflies, and proved successful - quite as successful as, or even more successful than, artificial Mayflies of the usual patterns. "  (Available online).

    The Red Palmer is a very old pattern (1700's) with an origin buried in the mists of time. The dressing is very similar to Maxwell's Red : Body: red wool or seal's fur, Rib: oval gold tinsel, Hackle: palmered brown hen.

    The Blue Upright (similar to Halford's Blue Quill and Hackle Blue Quill ) is a dry fly created for Devonshire rivers by Tiverton-based professional fly-tyer R S Austin - famous for the Tup's Indispensable.

    The 1895   obituary notice by  F B Doveton  hints at the number of flies on James Perrott's leader: "I suppose no man in England threw a better fly; he once caught a thousand trout in a week, all with the fly, though strange to say, through all his long life he never caught three trout at once, as I have done several times, nor did he ever land a fish above a pound and a quarter. " This suggests that James Perrott fished with three flies on his leader.

    Delicate split-wing dry flies recommended for chalk streams
    by Lord Grey of Fallowden in Fly Fishing

    Richard Perrott followed in his father's footsteps, and no doubt benefitted from his father's contacts. His "finest skill was the making of small, intricate flies for fishermen. Among his customers for flies were, Charles Dickens,  Baring GouldLord Grey of Falloden   [author of Fly Fishing (1899),  R.D. Blackmore  and Charles Kingsley"  (Burbidge 2021b). C. Kingsley was born in Holne, a village on Dartmoor.

    This list of customers shows that Perrott had the skills needed to construct the delicate split-wing dry flies (shown here) that were popular with anglers (such as Lord Grey of Falloden and Charles Kingsley) who fished on chalk streams. In contrast, on Dartmoor rivers, the Perrotts used larger traditional West Country hackled flies without wings. Towards the end of his life Richard Perrott commented that: "The modern fly is too small. Fish rise to them but do not take.” (Western Times interview 1932 )

    The Western Times on May 6th 1890 carried this report on the success enjoyed by anglers guided by Richard Perrott on the River Teign : "... three gentlemen went to the river in the company of Mr Richard Perrott, son of the local fly and fishing tackle manufacturer. Their sport was spendidly fine, though the river was full, one of the rodsmen securing six and a quarter dozen, another three dozen, but the other had to put up with a much smaller creel. Mr. Perrott landed over four dozen... The fly chiefly in use is a small brown Palmer. "

    Modern anglers are notorious for exaggerating the size of fish they catch. Was this newspaper report about the success of anonymous anglers a variation on this theme to drum up business for Richard Perrott! I think not, one week later the same newspaper reported that "Dr. Hunt, one of the best all round sportsmen and expert anglers in the county," took seven dozen trout, and his 11 year old son Edgar landed nine and a half brace.

    By modern standards, that was an impressive number of trout to catch in a day's fly-fishing; five visitors and one local angler caught 222 trout over 6 inches - only trout over 6 inches could be retained from the River Teign at that time. Writing in 1875 about rivers in the vicinity of Plymouth, Hearder (p58) commented: "A good sportsman vill catch from four to eight dozen [trout] per day." Catches of a similar size - from 4 to 6 dozen trout in a long days fishing on Dartmoor - were mentioned by Rabley (1910). The River Avon in South Devon also saw impressive catches at the turn of the 20th century; Jack Notley reported" Best [season's] trout bag by Captain Vickers .. 1,467 in about 1910."

    I find it hard to believe that Perrott, and his clients' success in 1890, was due to the influence of Halford's 1889 book, or his earlier work Floating Flies and How to Dress Them published in 1886. I think it's more likely that Richard Perrott learnt from his father James , and that the Perrotts, and local anglers, would have been influenced by several earlier published works that specifically recommended techniques for Devonshire rivers:
  • Soltau's  Trout Flies of Devon and Cornwall, and How and When to Use Them, first published in 1847, and reprinted in 1856
  • Cutcliffe's  The Art of Trout Fly Fishing on Rapid Streams. Published in 1863.
  • Hearder's   Guide to Sea Fishing and the Rivers of South Devon ...  Published in 1875.
  • The following comments, from the Western Times interview of Dick Parrott in 1932 when he was 92, reveals the productivity of Dartmoor rivers, his 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.” .

    Among his most cherished possessions are his hackles which, owing to the great demand for his flies, are gradually diminishing. Most West-Country flies were tied without wings and therefore fly-tyers prized "...first-quality cock hackle, preferably from the Old English Game cock or the bantam cock of the same breed" (Lawrie 1967 p31). The interviewer "called in the dim light of a foggy December evening, Mr. Perrott was putting the finishing touches to a Red Maxwell. He last went fishing on April 5, 1930, but as the water was very high and the weather very cold, he only got two trout. On his eightieth birthday he walked eight and a half miles and caught eighteen..."

    It's rather poignant that in his 92nd year Richard Perrott was tying a  Red Maxwell,  the fly that was used by his father James nearly a century before. Father and son were professional fishing guides. It's very unlikely that they would have continued to use a particular fly if it was ineffective. Their catches show that it was effective, very very effective. This shows that in Devon an artificial fly survived the influence of chalk stream flies and methods. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that the Perrotts had contact with experienced chalk stream fishermen. The fly-fishing historian Andrew Herd commented: "It is a sobering thought that in some respects we are no nearer to a solution to the problem of colour than our ancestors were a hundred and fifty years ago. " (Herd 2003 p 359). I think that misses the point that Maxwell was making with his Red and Blue flies - that colour is much less important than the shape and movement of a fly. This explanation may also have occured to the Perrotts.

    Hearder was making the same point several years earlier when he recommended Soltau's technique of fishing upstream with two flies, a 'bob' fly on the surface and a sub-surface 'stream' fly: "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).

    These Devonshire anglers stuck with flies that were successful on their local freestone / spate rivers. Their livelihoods depended on practical effectiveness. But they were clever men and probably pondered on why some flies were more effective than others. But the question remains; Why have some flies and techniques stood the test of time?

    Nicholas Fitton (1992 p46-7) uses scientific advances in the study of how external environmental stimuli influence animal behaviour to suggest that some trout flies are successful: " because instead of imitating faithfully some species of fly, they highlight or exaggerate a mere feature in the species they are mimicking. "

    He provides examples of sign stimuli and supernormal stimuli throughout the animal kingdom that have been shown experimentally to have increased attractiveness. He concludes: "Successful flies are not necessarily the most realistic therefore, but sometimes the most stimulating" [emphases in original]

    Fitton issues this challenge: "Fly-tiers should bone up on psychology rather than concern themselves with endlessly attempting to mirror Nature"

    The Heuristic Trout includes an essay on Supernormal Sign Stimuli & Heterogeneous Summation that is part of my attempt to meet Fitton's challenge.


    How did Soltau and the Perrotts cast their flies?

    In his 1847 book Soltau advised readers to "procure a twelve-foot rod". Only a few rods from the mid-19th century survive. This fishing rod, in the Royal Academy of Arts collection, belonging to J.M.W. Turner RA (1775 - 1851). Crisp  comments that Turner's six-sectioned rod "bears a considerable resemblance" to one made of greenheart, lancewood & split cane retailed by Ebenezer Creed in the mid 19th century (1839 - 1865). Turner may have fished the River Erme during his visits to paint the Ivy Bridge in 1811 and 1813. "Fishing often featured as a subject in Turner’s paintings and he often combined painting outdoors with fishing." (Royal Academy Collections Team 2015)

    Construction of a greenheart fly rod (1939)

    Mr. Perrott made rods of lancewood made from the shafts of old carriages that took his visitors to the moors...I hope to go out fishing on my next birthday," said Mr. Perrott fondly caressing his old greenheart rod, a well-balanced weapon" (Burbridge 2021b, Old Sport 1932). This suggests that Perrott did not progress to make rods from split cane (bamboo). Greenheart and lancewood could be tapered on a lathe, were simpler to construct and repair than split-cane rods, and therefore remained popular with provincial tackle shops. (see Crisp "Early British Made Rods" for details of these rods Available online).


    Crisp commented that greenheart fly rods in the 1880s tended to be soft-actioned, and: "... were consistently long and heavy, the majority of anglers still fishing teams of wet flies downstream. False casting was little known and the flies were delivered by the simple action of "whipping" the line. "

    I haven't been able to find a clear description of "whipping" the line, but I suspect it resembled the one employed in modern Euro-nymphing. Today we might call it a switch cast / continuous tension cast / Belgian cast / dynamic roll cast. Here's an interesting if inconclusive discussion between fly-fishing historians about the origin of the switch cast.

    Soltau  was probably switch casting. The Roll Cast and its many variations is very useful in coping with overhanging vegetation on South Devon rivers (Kenyon 2020c)


    A surprise in the 1856 reprint of Soltau's book

    This essay began with the comment that Soltau's book is now a collector's item, as evidenced by this bookstamp of the American collector Arthur Howard Thompson in his copy of Soltau's book Trout Flies of Devon and Cornwall and How and When to Use Them” .

    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.


    For example, this item about Mr. Dick Perrott (1840-1936) in the London Evening Standard (Dec. 12th 1934) was 'tipped-into' Thompson's 1856 reprint of Soltau's book

    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."


    Plate 1 from Notes on the Tying of Certain Flies

    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.



    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.

    Alex Jones (fly-fishing instructor and guide at the Arundell Arms, Lifton, Devon) for providing an important element in Soltau's story - Hearder J.N. & Son's (1875). Guide to Sea Fishing and the Rivers of South Devon and Descriptive Catalogue of their Prize River and Sea Fishing Tackle Cricket, Archery, Croquet, Umbrellas, Parasols, &c . Seventh edition. Published by Hearder & Son. Plymouth.

    Kevin Lyons for his enthusiasm in bringing Soltau to the attention of an American audience, and gently pointed out a gaping hole in my reading - the pioneering work of his friend Leonard Wright author of Fishing the dry fly as a living insect: an unorthodox method; the thinking man's guide to trout angling (1972) and Fly-fishing heresies: A new gospel for American anglers (1975)

    Colin Burbridge and Geoff Stephens for sight of extracts from the Western Times for May 1890

    Jonathan Ward-Allen (founder of the Medlar Press) for sight of the complete text of Rabley, Chas. A. (1910). Devonshire Trout Fishing. W. S. Cater & Co., Launceston, Cornwall (1910)


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  • NOTE: For this essay, I used the Internet Archive digitized copy of Hearders' catalog from the University of California Libraries. The  Internet Archive  gives 1800 as the publication date for the catalog. This is clearly wrong - Soltau was born in 1801 ! The ?date? 1875 is written in pencil on a clear page inside the cover.

    The date for the 11th edition is given as 1892 by the  British Library  for a "Microfilm. Made from a copy in the Bodleian Library" .

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  • Credits

    Picture of Brent Mill Bridge. Mr Brian Richards. Source: Historic England Archive

    Joseph Mallord William Turner. Ivy Bridge, Devonshire. c.1814–15. Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

    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.

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

    #46 "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