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

"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" (Dermot Wilson, 'Fishing the Dry Fly', 1957).


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 appear to have developed two separate paradigms for fly fishing with dry flies and nymphs respectively. A paradigm shift (Kuhn 1970) involves an old paradigm being replaced by a new, better one that may retain useful elements from the older paradigm; for example, in medicine, the shift from clinical judgment to evidence-based medicine. Paradigm shifts can be complex social events for the participants.

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

For anglers fishing rain-fed Dartmoor rivers, the fundamental element in Halford's revolutionary (Hayter 2002) dry-fly paradigm was the explicit rejection of any attempt to catch trout feeding beneath the surface. Halford did this by cutting the Golden Thread that joined a floating (dry) fly with a wet (sunk) fly.

To overcome this limitation in Halford's paradigm, Skues invented nymph fishing as a way of catching trout feeding beneath the surface. Skues followed Halford's precedent by cutting the Golden Thread that joined a wet (sunk) fly with a floating (dry) fly.

Peter Hayes' opinion of Halford and Skues is that "Together they made an absolute Horlicks of it" - and he didn't mean a warm, soporific, night-time drink! I agree with Hayes to the extent that Halford created several obstacles that have taken close to 100 years to circumvent; for example Leonard Wright's (1972 & 1975) challenge to drag-free drift , Bob Wyatt's (2013) critique of precise imitation, Hayes was particularly critical of Halford's focus on the dun and neglect of 'emergers'.

Basic Duo rig, from Gaskell (2021)

This essay examines a mid-19th century fly-fishing technique, used in Devon and further afield, that was ignored by Skues and Halford; it consists of two flies fished together, a dry fly above a sunk wet fly or nymph to tempt trout feeding on, and below the surface .

This effective technique came before the separate English chalk stream fly-fishing paradigms developed by Halford and Skues; it persisted in Devon to a very limited extent during the height of their influence, and re-emerged in the 20th century as the Dry-Dropper, 'Klink and Dink', Duo Method, New Zealand style as well as Fitton's neologism Wry fly (i.e. Wet and Dry Fly).

Writing in 2003, John Goddard sends a mixed-message; he speaks highly of the Wry fly: "The wry fly in my opinion not only offers an excellent alternative, [to a strike indicator]  but also provides the opportunity for taking trout both on and below the surface." 

But its use is restricted to freestone rivers: "It is not recommended on, and indeed not very effective, on clearwater streams such as spring creeks or limestone or chalkstreams , and certainly it is not a method you would even think of using on an English chalkstream, where if you were found fishing with more than one fly you would probably finish hanging from the nearest tree." (Goddard 2003 p127-9). Bear in mind Goddard's comments when trying to understand why a mid-19th century technique was not available to an earlier generation of anglers under the influence of the 'Horlicks Brothers'.



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 - somewhat patronising - description of the wet-fly fishing 'paradigm'. It was written in 1894 by 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). This is an early appearance in print of the 'educated chalk-stream trout' theme, introduced by Halford (1886 p117); "The English trout literature vaunts and debates the cleverness of the trout.." (Douglas 2003).

Hall (1887) also questions the effectiveness of wet-fly fishing on chalk streams: "a judicious cast of three flies ... for chance fish is seldom productive of any sport on chalk stream."

Field and Hall only give half the story - down and across wet-fly presentation. Voss Bark and Restall (1999 p 265) complete the picture - upstream wet-fly presentation. "Upstream wet-fly fishing for trout was developed to a peak of perfection in the Borders and North Country by the very early 1800s (... it may have been earlier). By the mid-1850s it had reached a sophistication which has never been surpassed."  In their opinion, Skues' chalk-stream nymph fishing was a version of upstream wet-fly fishing practiced in the North Country.


A Nascent Paradigm

Field's 1894 article  describes the first 10 years of growth of the dry-fly 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 heaps praise on Halford's books because they provided the theory and methods needed by the emerging dry-fly 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 dry-fly 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,"

Hall (1887) summarises Halford's dry-fly paradigm. Fishing is   "almost exclusivey with a single dry fly, and only when the fish are visibly feeding at the surface". On chalk streams "there is always an abundant store of ... trout food". A chalk-stream  "fish is always picksome and hard to please, and will only take the fly when the natural insects are sailing down in goodly numbers

Hall contrasts the implications of this abundance of food in chalk streams with the problem faced by "trout in a rapid or moorland stream [that] has to be on the look-out all day long for anything edible which comes within his ken". Consequently, chalk-stream trout are portrayed as more difficult to catch on a dry fly than Devon trout.

Hall compares the 'table manners' of trout in these different environments: "A movement of a few inches, a careful scrutiny, and a gentle unobtrusive 'suck' describes exactly the usual manner in which a chalk-stream trout takes his surface food. It is quite unlike the rush and the splash with which a Scotch or a Devonshire trout leaves the shelter of a submerged rock to secure the passing fly"

From 300 members in Field's time, membership of the Flyfishers' Club 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 (Fort 2021, Hayes 2016).


Halford: High Priest of the Dry Fly

The method of fly fishing that Frederic M. Halford (1844 – 1914)  was introduced to in 1868 on the River Wandle, was described by Francis Francis: "Now, there are two ways of fly-fishing, viz. with the dry fly and with the wet fly." He goes on to describe his method of fishing a dry fly. When the angler notices duns floating downstream "Taking, then, two or three turns of the fly in the air instead of one, so as to dry the tackle, let him deliver the fly straightly and well, a yard above the fish, and merely raising his rod, as the line comes home, allow the fly, sustained by the dry hackle and wing and by the dry gut, to float down on the surface like the natural fly, without motion." [emphasis added] (Francis Francis 1867 p 132, p152)

Francis Francis' phrase turns of the fly to describe a cast is unusual. His description resembles the overhead oval-shaped movement of the rod tip described by Paul Gaskell as a 'helicopter cast' practiced in Val de Sesia, North-western Italy using horsehair lines and long rods (Gaskell nd & 2020)

It's not clear if Francis used a single dry fly during the day. He may have been using two or more in daylight, because at night he advised: "the fewer flies the angler uses the better. He should never use more than two under any circumstances, and even one is better, as the slightest hitch or tangle, which in the daylight would be of no consequence, becomes fatal in the dark."  He adds this piece of advice based on personal experience at night  "He will often hear a 'suck,' like a slobbery kiss, that is not a trout feeding, it is an eel feeding."(Francis Francis 1867 p156-8).

In later years Halford, 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.

Nevertheless, bearing in mind Hall and Fields comments about the ease of catching Devonshire trout, some West Country anglers may have questioned why they should abandon effective local methods; wet-fly fishing was used in the West Country in the 19th century alongside a method of fishing upstream with two flies simultaneously, a dry fly above a sunk wet fly or nymph (Soltau 1847, Cutcliffe 1863).

North Country anglers also retained a degree of flexibility:  "It is, in fact, possible to fish successfully with a cast composed of two wet flies and one dry, or two dry and one wet, but as a rule a single dry fly is considered sufficient, especially on the chalk-streams of the south, which are the dry fly "purist's" hunting grounds par excellence."  "On a typical wet fly stream, you are of course handicapped to some extent by using a single fly, but as already mentioned you can, if you like, fish with a mixed cast of wet and dry flies. " (Clapham 1922 p68, 70)

R. B. Marston, Editor of the Fishing Gazette from 1879 to 1927

Although Halford was, and remains, a towering figure in dry-fly fishing, he was controversial even in 1886 when his first book was published. Criticism was expressed by influential figures including his friend  R.B. Marston  editor of The Fishing Gazette and founder of The Flyfishers' Club who "stood out for the rest of his life against the idea that the dry fly had banished the wet fly from the chalkstreams" and believed that "There is no great gulf fixed between the two systems" . Hayter describes how Halford ignored these voices of moderation from his chalk-stream peers, and instead stoked further antagonism by his remarks on the lack of skill employed by North Country wet-fly fishermen (Hayter 2002 p113-114).


Francis Francis and his gillie
Frontpiece - A Book on Angling

Perhaps Francis Francis (1822–1886) was the one person who could have influenced Halford. He was described as cheerful, bright, sympathetic, and independent (Watkins nd) which may have enabled him to deal with the rigid side of  Halford's personality.   Francis was editor of The Field, had an established reputation as a fishing writer with the publication of A Book on Angling in 1867; he was 22 years older than Halford when they met in 1879 (Hayter 2002 p71). Francis fished wet-fly or dry-fly as the conditions demanded, and continued to catch trout on sunk flies until shortly before his death in 1884. In conversation with fellow anglers towards the end of his life he remarked "I wish the dry fly had never been invented!" (Hayter 2002 p129). This has been interpreted to be a criticism of the way in which dry-fly fishing was moving under Halford's influence.

Taverner put it bluntly:  "Halford throughout his life did not understand the wet fly and as he grew older he wished to understand it less, until he adopted an attitude of hostility to its use on chalk streams ... the wet fly was in his opinion unfruitful, positively harmful, or, illegitimate according to the need of the argument."  (Taverner 1933 p33).

Halford's biographer Hayter regretted that:  "The puzzle over Halford and the wet fly has never been resolved"  (Hayter 2002 p127). Skues may have realised that Halford had a tendency to display 'concrete or literal thinking', and that he stuck rigidly to beliefs based solely on personal experience. Skues expressed it thus: "Halford was not the man to go back and continually to revise his opinions and to bring them up to date in the light of later experience. Once having established a proposition to his satisfaction it became fact." (Skues, Flyfishers' Journal, Winter 1935 reproduced in Robson 1998 p212).

Hayter reviews Halford's personal lack of success with the sunk fly, despite the list of influential chalk-stream peers who continued to catch fish on wet flies during the height of Halford's influence. Skues may have found it difficult to sit down with Halford to calmly discuss their different points of view, and explore a possible compromise.

I was struck by the directness and brevity of Skues' account of a contretemps with Halford in the Flyfishers' Club around 1910:  "For some years prior to that I had been fairly intimate with Halford, but as my views widened with experience he became hostile and after publication of the book he took me aside and said, “you know, Skues: what you say in that book  [i.e. Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream 1910}  can’t be done. Mind, I’m not arguing, I’m telling you.” I replied “Halford! What good do you think you are doing by telling me anything can’t be done which I have done scores of times.” He got up and left me and never spoke to me again"  (Hayes 2016 p. 60, emphasis added).

This breakdown in communication between two great innovators was very unfortunate for the subsequent development of fly-fishing, especially given that one of the founding functions of the Flyfishers' Club was to  encourage discussion.  Perhaps, because he was a solicitor, it was natural for Skues to revert to an adversarial position in his future attitude to Halford's writings. For example, the phrase Authorities darken counsel in the Foreword to his 1921 book  The Way of a Trout with a Fly

George La Branche (1875-1961)

Dry-fly purists could be just as blunt as Halford in their reaction to anglers who deviated from Halford's teaching. In 1914 the American George La Branche published The Dry Fly and Fast Water. In contrast to Halford and dry-fly purists, La Branche advocated fishing the water rather than casting to a specific rising trout.

Paul Schullery refers to a letter donated to the American Museum of Fly Fishing by George La Branche's daughter written by her father probably in the 1950s in which La Branche describes the prominent American fly-fisher Theodore 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 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 was upset more than a little, but persevered with my idea."  (Schullery 1987 p119-120)

Nevertheless, it's fair to say that the separate paradigms introduced by Halford and Skues largely satisfy the socioeconomic needs of anglers and riparian owners to this day on English chalkstreams. Unfortunately, echoes of the 1938 Great Debate between chalk-stream followers of Skues and Halford rumble on to some extent.

The dry fly is effective on my local rain-fed rivers in South Devon. Mike Weaver has provided the monthly Trout & Salmon reports since the mid-1970s, and wrote the standard text on fishing for wild brown trout  The Pursuit of Wild Trout. Mike had this to say about dry-fly fishing "A newcomer .. could still be excused for thinking that the angler on the rain-fed streams usually fishes with a wet fly ...but at least 90 per cent of my fish are taken on a dry fly, more than half are taken by casting to rising fish" (Weaver 1992 p55).

When Mike wrote these comments thirty years ago, fishing the Dry-Dropper Duo had not made its 'second coming' to Devon. For example, in 1991 John Goddard wrote this about 'Indicator Fishing':  "So far this has not caught on either in Great Britain or Europe and little is known about it on this side of the Atlantic." 

Goddard then immediately makes this prophetic statement: "This is a method that has been devised to enable the fly fisher to fish an upstream nymph in fast or roilly water where it would under normal conditions be all but impossible to detect a take by watching the top of the leader. "  But in those early days the indicator was a device made of fluorescent wool or plastic (Goddard 1991 p190). Some of the early types of indicator would qualify as banned 'floats' under local EA fishing byelaws in the South West.

Perhaps not surprisingly - given the ersatz nature of the early indicators - they were slow to catch on. Goddard appreciated that even "this method may not appeal to the dry fly purist".  I only saw a fold-over indicator used once, and that was by a visitor.

Until recently - because of the difficulty detecting a take - Skues' nymph technique was rarely effective on local freestone rivers. Therefore, there remained a need for an effective dry- and sunk-fly technique when trout are feeding on or below the surface on our rivers.

It is worth revisiting a fly-fishing technique that was effective in Devon - and I suspect in one form or another in other places - before Halford and Skues constructed their separate chalk stream paradigms. In my opinion, the best early description of such a technique is given by G.W. Soltau in his 1847 book Trout Flies of Devon and Cornwall and How and When to Use Them.   Soltau fished with two flies simultaeously, a dry fly above a sunk wet fly or nymph.

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. 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 separate systems for fishing dry flies and nymphs. In 1847, G.W. Soltau described an effective Dry-Dropper method in 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 benefited from 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 methods 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.
His wife cut up the drawing room carpet to make rugs for the poor (Gill 1979 p163)

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).

Basic Duo rig, from Gaskell (2021)

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.

In addition, Soltau moved his flies to mimic the behaviour of the natural insects. 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 copy of Soltau's (1847) book was included in Charles Thacher’s gift in 2021 to the American Museum of Fly Fishing. They described his collection of fly-fishing literature in glowing terms:  "Extraordinary. Matchless. Meticulously curated. These are the adjectives which come to the fore in beginning to describe Charles Thacher’s uncommonly generous gift to the American Museum of Fly Fishing of his superb collection of fly fishing literature. Mr. Thacher’s collection  is as notable as it is because of two attributes he possesses: first, he is knowledgeable, more knowledgeable in fly fishing literature than a great many book collectors; second, Mr.Thacher is discerning, he knows what merited addition to his collection and what did not."

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 the  fly-fishing technique  described by Soltau 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 ?


  • Fly Fishing in South Devon in the last Quarter of the 19th Century

    South Devon freestone rivers are very different to the chalk streams fished by Halford and Skues. Reading Walter Gallichan's book  The Trout Waters of England  (1908), provides an interesting comparison of fishing on Dartmoor rivers, and chalk streams at a time when Halford's dry-fly fishing reigned supreme:
  • "The favoured mortals who own stretches of such rivers as the Test and the Itchen are much to be envied. Fortunate, too, are those anglers who have occasional access to these rivers, as the guests of riparian owners or tenants of fishing lengths."
  • "The trout-fishing on Dartmoor often yields very good baskets, but the bigger trout are in the less rugged stretches of the rivers...Short-period tickets at a very moderate cost are issued for these streams"
  • 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.

    But these rivers are host to larger trout (Salmo truta) that compare favourably with the size of the larger chalk-stream trout caught by Halford and Skues :   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 even from this enlarged picture of 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)

    There are no surviving examples of Soltau's flies, and it is impossible to reconstruct them because he provided no details of their component materials.

    Cutcliffe's flies from the John Shaner collection

    In his 1863 book, the North Devon angler Cutcliffe gave sufficient detail for the flies he used to be subsequently reproduced by Roger Woolley in the 20th century. Woolley's copies are now part of the John Shaner collection, and were photographed by John's brother for a book published by Paul Gaskell in 2019.

    Cutcliffe was born in 1831, he joined the Indian Medical Service in 1858, but returned to London in 1860 to convalesce before returning to service in India in 1863 - the year that his book  The Art of Trout Fly Fishing on Rapid Streams  was published. Gaskell (2019 p6) concludes that "it would seem that he must have acquired his fishing knowledge throughout his childhood and into his late 20s"  - initially from his friend Dr. Thorne of South Molton in North Devon (Gaskell 2019 p32-3).

    Although Cutcliffe's 1863 book does not mention Soltau's account published in 1847, they both fished in Devon in the middle years of the 19th century.

    There can be little doubt that John Shaner's collection provides an important, unique, and accurate, record of the flies used by Cutcliffe in North Devon (and possibly are similar to those used by Soltau in South Devon) in the the first half of the 19th century.

    In addition, Cutcliffe's and Soltau's flies conform to Lawrie's description of West Country flies,  "the hackling [preferably from the Game Cock breed] is generous and sometimes even bushy.. the almost exclusive use of carefully dubbed bodies .. Wings, in general, are not favoured"  (Lawrie 1967 p31-41).

    Soltau and Cutcliffe both fished with one fly that floated on the surface of the water. They did not use the later expressions 'floating fly', 'dry fly' and 'wet fly'. Soltau refers to 'bob fly' and 'stream fly'; but the meaning is clear:  "the bob fly will rest on the surface of the water"  above the 'stream fly' (Soltau 1847 p48). Likewise for Cutcliffe:  "you may raise your rod, so as to keep the bob-fly on the surface"  above the 'end fly', or 'stretcher' (Cutcliffe 1863 p114). It will become clear why this alteration in terminology is  important later  when the term 'dry fly' emerges.

    In 1933, Eric Taverner commented that Cutcliffe [and Soltau]"wrote before the fishing world had lost its sense of proportion over Precise Imitation." [capitals in original]. Taverner quotes with obvious approval what he calls Cutcliffe's pregnant sentence about the lack of attention paid to a trout's underwater food sources:  "I find so much spoken about the natural fly and its imitation, but little about the insect before arrival at maturity. How seldom does one imitate the larva or pupa of the several insects!"(Taverner1933 p28)



    Soltau's Fly-Fishing Technique

    The more detailed 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

    Soltau used a 12 foot rod with a casting line (i.e.leader) seven or even eight feet long, 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.


  • Pulman: A Dry-Fly Hero or Keeper of the Wet-Fly Flame in Devon?

    George Philip Rigney Pulman (1819–1880) had a branch of his newsagent's and tackle shop in Totnes, a town in South Devon on the banks of the River Dart. Pulman gets a good press from fly-fishing historians; some even propose that he was the first to suggest fishing trout flies as dry flies ( Sylvester Nemes 2004).

    Dry-Fly Hero

    Others regard Pulman's Vade Mecum of Fly-Fishing for Trout,  first 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". (Herd 2003)

    Voss Bark and Restall (1999 p183) gave a more qualified opinion: Pulman has "the reputation, given to him by J. Waller Hills, of being 'the father of the dry fly'."

    Here 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 (Fogg 1979 p38-42). 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.

    The American fly-fishing historians Gordon M. Wickstrom (2013) and Glenn Law (2015) express the stronger view that G.P.R. 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.

    The earlier British fly-fishing historian John Waller Hills (1921 p122-123) felt that Pulman's 1841 book was not the finished article. In Hills' opinion, Pulman supplied the final definition in a famous passage in the third edition published in 1851: " Now, the angler's fly is wet and heavy, and .. has a certain weight of line in addition. Let a dry  [emphasis in original]  fly be substituted for the wet one, the line be switched a few times through the air to throw off its superabundant moisture, a cast made just above the rising fish, and the fly allowed to float towards and over them, and the chances are ten to one that it will be seized as readily as the living insect. This dry fly, we must remark, should be an imitation of the natural fly on which the fish are feeding," [emphasis added] (Pulman 1851 p132)

    A wet heavy line will cause a floating fly to become waterlogged and sink. In my opinion, Pulman was helping his readers cope with this problem by describing steps taken to dry their line after attaching a fresh (dry) fly taken from their fly box.

    Hills came to a very different conclusion: "This is the earliest mention I know of the intentional drying of the fly. The remarkable thing about this description is its completeness. The dry fly springs to view full grown: there are no tentative fumblings ..." (Hills 1921 p123). Much has been made of the impact of Pulman's statement: "Anglers at that time had listened to this and Halford was entranced" John Bailey (1990 p49)

    Tony Hayter has reservations about the significance of Pulman's suggestion. He quotes H.R. Francis writing about the 1840s :"Every fly-fisher must have occasionally seen a fly, which he had just bent [tied] on, being taken by a fish before it had ceased to float".  Pulman was just passing on this useful hint to novices. Hayter is also critical of the significance given to Pulman by fly-fishing historians: "The well known passage from Pulman (1851) is often quoted as if it was a milestone in practice" (Hayter 2002 p54). A clear example of this are the introductory comments in Gingrich's chapter Halford and Purism (Gingrich 1974 Chapter 10 p198-).

    In Conrad Voss Bark's opinion ( Voss Bark, Ann 1983, p 113-) Pulman did not invent dry-fly fishing; that was to come later with the publication of several books by Halford.

    Roger Fogg administers the coup de grâce. He suggested that we should "Forget the false assertion that George Pulman introduced the dry fly in 1841 and reconsider the whole question. Indeed, we may as well throw the cat among the pigeons and begin with the seemingly outrageous proposition that fly-fishing began as near as dammit with the dry fly."  Fogg (1979 p39). The same point was made by Richard Walker : "It seems to me that it is almost certain that the dry fly was invented long before anything about fly fishing was ever written; that the very first artificial was fished dry." (Walker 1982 p144) Fogg extended his historical 'heresy': "Yes, I am actually suggesting that not only does dry-fly fishing have a much longer history than normally is accepted to be the case, but nymph fishing as well." Fogg (1979 p41) [emphasis added].

    Keeper of the Wet-Fly Flame in Devon

    George Pulman set up Pulman's Weekly News and Advertiser in 1857; it's in the role of reporter that he made a significant contribution to fly fishing in Devon and beyond.

    Pulman's books remain important for a reason that is often overlooked; they contain a description of a method of fly-fishing with two flies simultaneously that probably existed in several locations, including Devon, in the early, and mid-19th century.

    This - recently rediscovered - Dry-Dropper method was largely abandoned in the wake of Halford's dry-fly revolution.


    In the 3rd edition of his book Pulman (1851 p158-160) quotes at length from Edward Fitzgibbon's 1847 book Hand Book of Angling which he describes as 'admirable':The angler must cause the flies  "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 * [sic] , if properly proportioned and attached to the casting line [or collar], being ever so little under water. If you allow your upper dropper to be under water, all the flies below that dropper will be sunk too deeply to appear living insects to the fish, and therefore any motion you may give them will be useless. They then can only be taken by the fish for dead flies. When you keep your last dropper on the surface of the water, impart to it a slight skipping motion, by a tremulous 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. A small fish may, perchance, rise at them when so worked, but seldom or never a large one." ( Pulman 1851 p159-160).

    Crucially, Pulman added the following footnote that refers to the * he placed within the quotation from Fitzgibbon:  " * Our author is speaking of a collar fitted up with three or more flies ; but there will be no difficulty in applying his remarks to one fitted up only with two, as we advise" [emphasis added] ( Pulman 1851 p159). Pulman is advocating a 'drop' fly on the surface, with an underwater 'stretcher' fly. This advice is repeated: "If but a single dropper be fished with (and we advise no more) it should be placed about half a yard down the collar"  This is the same as the two-fly arrangement described by Soltau in 1847.

    For this reason I believe that Fitzgibbon, Pulman and Soltau are describing a method of fly-fishing with two flies simultaneously that already existed in Devon. Pulman ran a branch of his newsagent and fishing tackle business in Totnes in South Devon. By 1851 he had accumulated twenty years experience of listening to Devonian anglers (Pulman 1851 p125). I think several writers have assumed that Pulman fished with a single fly. The dry fly taken from Pulman's box was destined to replace the waterlogged 'drop' fly on his 'collar' (leader). It was only in Summer "when the weeds are usually high, we dispense entirely with a dropper, and use only a single fly, at the point " to prevent loss of fish, and damage to rod and line ( Pulman 1851 p85).

    As well as fishing simultaneously with two flies, Pulman had strong views about exact imitation: "At the outset, then, we unhesitatingly say that much of the exact imitation system appears to us very much like quackery. We have been for twenty years mixed up with anglers of different grades of intelligence and skill, and have invariably found that what is commonly called imitation — namely, an old-womanish fastidiousness about the minutest colours, the most daguerreotype [ an early photographic ] copy of some fancied facsimile of nature, selected as a " pattern fly," — is by no means a proof of the existence of an amount of practical skill and consequent success."

    With a few exceptions to deal with peculiar circumstances, "As a general rule, and for ordinary circumstances, we believe that a very few sorts of flies (say the red palmer and the duns) are sufficient for every useful purpose." ( Pulman 1851 p125-6).

    Pulman favoured impressionism in fly design, rather than exact imitation: "And so, as regards flies, we conceive 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. "

    As a tackle dealer in Devon he was aware of the ultra-imitationists error in paying too much attention to the fly, and assuming that " Because A. caught fish yesterday with a particular fly," argue they, " therefore B. must do so to-day." instead of being aware of what Pulman termed action; today we would use the term 'presentation'.

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

    Did Pulman, as some historians claim, define the method of fishing a dry fly that was adopted on chalk streams? I don't think so; Pulman was using two flies - one floating, the other sunk. Halford would have classified this as wet-fly fishing. Halford's over-arching purpose was to draw a sharp distinction between two fly-fishing methods: 'dry-fly fishing' and 'wet-fly fishing'. Halford did this by cutting the Golden Thread that joined a floating (dry) fly with a wet (sunk) fly, and fishing with a single dry fly. This is reflected in the reception Charles Kingsley received from fly-fishing historians when, in 1858, he wrote about using the Devonian two-fly method on chalk streams.


    Charles Kingsley & James Anthony Froude - Chalk Stream Heretics?

    Charles Kingsley

    Charles Kingsley (1819 – 1875) and James Anthony Froude (1818 –1894) interest me because they were close friends who, as young men fished for trout on Dartmoor rivers in the same era as Soltau and Cutcliffe, and later on chalk streams, using an early version of the Dry-Dropper arrangement (Burgert 2020.

    Their writings gave to a wide audience a picture of fishing on chalk streams, and Dartmoor, in the years before Halford and Skues developed their separate dry-fly and nymph fly-fishing paradigms.

    Kingsley lived in interesting times; the years leading up to the emergence of Halford's dry-fly fishing on chalkstreams, and the publication of Charles Darwin's  On the Origin of Species  in 1859. Both events were to have significant impacts, albeit in major and minor ways. Kingsley has been criticised as an ignorant bystander in one, and lauded by others as an active influential participant in the major event.

    The author Charles Kingsley was born at Holne Vicarage beside the River Dart. Shortly after his birth the family moved to Clovelly (from 1831-36) in North Devon. He was proud to say "I am a West Country man born and bred" ( Kingsley, F. (Ed) 1882b). In his mid-20s, he moved to Eversley in Hampshire. His article,  Chalk Stream Studies  published in Fraser's Magazine  in 1858, was "read and loved " by Skues (1921 p104-106).

    The impact of Kingsley's writing on fly-fishing's popularity

    The history of fly fishing is dominated by the series of books written by Halford (1866-1913) and Skues (1910-1951). Although Soltau's (1847) and Kingsley's (1858) output was much less, they provide an interesting first-hand account of fly-fishing techniques in the middle of the 19th century before the advent of the two chalk-stream giants.

    Kingsley is perhaps best remembered as the author of the childrens' book The Water-Babies. But he was also praised by the  Marquess of Granby  (1852 –1925) for bringing fly-fishing to a wide audience:  "Charles Kingsley undoubtedly contributed largely towards the popularising of trout fishing. It would be scarcely possible to read his delightful descriptions of Devonshire and Hampshire without feeling a desire to attempt, in however small a degree, some such piscatorial deeds as those recounted in Chalk Streams Studies"

    Predictably, this increased popularity had an effect on the value of fishing rights, particularly those within a few hours of London by train: "the owner of a good trout river .. has now a safe and certain source of income ; indeed, should he be the fortunate possessor of a part of one of the favourite southern streams, he can ask and obtain a price for his fishing which but a few years since it would have been considered an act of lunacy to mention." (Granby 1899 p6-7).


    Granby's comment on the value of chalk-stream fishing rights remain true to this day. In 1913, Halford engaged in a clever piece of financial shroud-waving to promote dry-fly fishing over fishing with a sunk fly on chalk streams. He cautioned riparian owners against allowing anglers to fish with sunk wet flies lest they should devalue their fishery: " Mile for mile wet-fly -fishing is not worth a quarter of the sum paid on the Hampshire streams, and nothing more surely tends to develop further the increasing shyness of the fish than the presence of a few persistent downstream fishers with the sunk fly" . The sunk flies included the   winged fly, nymph, or pupa, and upstream fishing with these flies (as advocated by Skues) came in for similar criticism (Halford 1913 p74-5).

    Halford's advice to riparian owners is one part of a two-pronged attack on wet-fly fishing. The other involved promoting social ostracism as a way of dealing with anglers who flouted dry-fly ethics.


    Compared to Halford's comment, it is more difficult to judge Granby's assessment of the impact of Kingsley's 1858 article Chalk Stream Studies on the growth of fly fishing in the 19th century.  Fraser's Magazine, published monthly, was founded in 1830 with a circulation estimated at 8,700 copies. In 1847 ownership changed hands; the new owner abandoned the earlier  rollicking style of personal attack and high-spirited joking ... in favour of high-minded fiction and articles by the likes of  [Charles]  Kingsley (Leary 1994 p120).

    In 1860 and 1865 circulation was estimated at 8,000. It was referred to as "an important organ of opinion referred to in the contemporary press. Readers were middle to upper class of good education, seriously minded "  (Ellegård 1971 p18-19). Kingsley's article appeared at a time when the  "new upper-middle-class was expanding rapidly and gaining rapidly in disposable income and in leisure time, gentlemen" (Hayes 2016 p28).

    Kingsley's Chalk Stream Studies got further exposure when he included it in his book   Prose Idylls  published in 1874. Much later, extracts of Kingsley's fly-fishing writing appeared in modern anthologies such as Mansfield (1968), and Profumo and Swift (1985).

    Kingsley was clearly a man of many talents: chaplain to Queen Victoria, canon of Westminster Abbey, Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge, and 'Darwin’s Other Bulldog'.

    Kingsley's fly fishing on Dartmoor

    Charles Kingsley offers what may be a unique personal account of fishing on the freestone rivers of Dartmoor (Devon UK), as well as Hampshire chalk streams over at least a 14 year period between 1844 and 1858. Of particular interest is his apparent use of the same fly-fishing technique in these very different locations in the middle of the 19th century.

    James Perrott in 1862, age 47.

    Kingsley was a close friend of the Dartmoor fly-fishing guide  James Perrott (1815-1895) (Crossing 1902). As a young man, Kingsley fished on Dartmoor, and later in life fished chalk streams like a Westcountryman !

    In 1842 Kingsley planned to spend time in Holne to recover from preparing for his university examinations (he was awarded a first class in classics and mathematics), and invited a friend to visit him with the promise of evening trout-fishing ( Kingsley, F. 1882a p39, Hale 2011).


    In September 1849 he stayed for three days at the Globe Inn in Chagford, a short distance from the Perrotts' fly fishing shop. In a letter to his wife he describes fishing two miles away from Chagford where he killed a dish of fish (op cit p172). Later he describes the fishing around Two Bridges on Dartmoor: The day was burning bright, so I only killed a dozen or so of fish. Every valley has its beautiful dear stream, with myriad fish among great granite boulders. To-day I walked over, after breakfast, to Cherry Brook, the best fishing on the moor — the sharp easterly wind made the fish lie like stones — and down Cherry Brook and up Dart home, and I only killed seventeen...It is an infinite relief and rest to me to have seen even some little of the Moor. I was always from a child longing for it, and now, thank God, that is fulfilled. (op cit p174-5).

    It's no surprise that Kingsley's letter home did not describe the fly-fishing method he used on Dartmoor. It is reasonable to assume that he employed the local Devonshire techniques in use in the middle of the 19th century. These were  described by Soltau.  Soltau did not - unlike Halford and Skues who came later - describe a novel fly-fishing technique. Soltau's aim was to present a clear account of an existing technique. This intention is expressed in the opening lines of his 1847 book: "I am induced to offer the following pages to the youthful aspirant after piscatory fame, from the belief, that the 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, and which are generally learnt by slow degrees; either from some experienced angler, or by the accidental discovery of the noviciate."

    Kingsley  continued to use  two flies when he fished on chalk streams; a 'floating' fly resting on the surface, and the sunk fly beneath. 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). This technique was revived in the UK and America in the 1990s (Goddard 1991, Hughes 2002). It fell out of favour partly as a result of adverse comments made by fly-fishing historians writing in the wake of the Halfordian revolution.

    The fly-fishing historians' assessment of Charles Kingsley

    There is a bust of Charles Kingsley in Westminster Abbey. He was lauded as a writer and poet, but treated less kindly by some fly-fishing commentators. One eminent fly-fishing historian provided Kingsley's fly-fishing epitaph: "... while Pulman [in 1841] provided the fanfare that introduced the dry-fly method, Kingsley resisted such innovations throughout his life, and his fishing is perhaps an epilog to many centuries when the wet fly reigned supreme." (Schwiebert 1979 p 108) [emphasis added]
  • Here are  my comments  on Pulman's so-called fanfare to the dry-fly method.
  • Charles Kingsley was in very good company; R.B. Marston (editor of the  Fishing Gazette  and founder of the Flyfishers Club), and Francis Francis (editor of The Field),  were critics  of Halford's rejection of fishing with a wet/sunk fly.
  • The fly-fishing historian John Waller Hills states that Kingsley's "knowledge of natural insects was far in advance of his time" , but adds this limitation: "Yet, though of all men he would appear to be the most open to the new idea, he never mentions the dry fly.  [emphasis added]  It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he never saw it.. When he wrote "Chalk Stream Studies" in 1858 he had clearly never heard of it, for he insists not only on two flies, but on sunk flies too. He tells his pupil that a trout is more likely to take underwater than on the top.  (Hills 1921 p128). Taverner (1933 p27) and Hayter (2002 p53) follow Hills and label Kingsley as a wet-fly fisherman.

    The American fly-fishing historian  Ernest Schwiebert makes a more nuanced double-edged assessment: "Canon Kingsley was a superb fisherman and amateur naturalist ... who chose to ignore the floating fly method that had begun to evolve on his rivers. His catches and his character, with its commitment to the wet fly traditions of earlier centuries, both demonstrated convincingly that the sunk techniques remained viable on the chalkstreams in spite of dry-fly dogmatics." (Schwiebert 1979 p104-5)

    Kingsley was certainly open to new fly-fishing ideas. For example, within a year of publication he embraced advice given by W. C. Stewart in The practical angler (1857) "The next mistake, natural enough to the laziness of fallen man, is that of fishing down-stream, and not up. What Mr. Stewart says on this point should be read by every tyro." (Kingsley (1858). Hills comments that Kingsley's advice to cast upstream on the River Test was something unusual in the middle of the 19th century (Hills 1941 p28).

    Personally, I don't think Charles Kingsley deserves the verdict of some fly-fishing historians that he was a wet-fly fisherman who ignored the dry fly. Kingsley refers several times to Ephemera, the pen name of Edward Fitzgibbon whose book Handbook of Angling describes a method of fly-fishing with two flies simultaneously: a 'drop' fly floating on the surface, with an underwater 'stretcher' fly. The Devon tackle dealer and writer Pulman  quotes at length  from Fitzgibbon's 1847 book which indicates that using a 'floating' fly was well established in Devon during the 19th century.

    Dry fly or floating fly? What's the Difference?

    The problem starts with a subtle change in the meaning and use of the terms 'dry fly' and 'floating fly' in the fly-fishing literature. Recall that Kingsley's  Chalk Stream Studies  was published in 1858. Fly-fishing historians have, wrongly in my view, labelled Kingsley a wet-fly fisherman because "he never mentions the dry fly" (Hills 1921 p128). Maybe Kingsley didn't use the term 'dry fly' because it wasn't in common use. Francis Francis makes this distinction in 1867 (p132):  "Now, there are two ways of fly-fishing, viz. with the dry fly and with the wet fly." Francis goes on to describe his method of fishing a dry fly (p152).

    An earlier term was 'floating fly', and it remained in common use for many years . Halford used 'dry' and 'floating' interchangeably. For example, Halford's first book in 1886 was titled Floating Flies and How to Dress Them. [emphasis added]. Even in his next book, Dry Fly Fishing in Theory and Practice  (1889) the words 'dry' and 'floating' were used as synonyms "With the dry or floating fly the angler has in the first instance to find a rising fish."  (p36) [emphasis added].

    The revolutionary polemicist Halford's over-arching purpose was to draw a sharp distinction between two fly-fishing methods: 'dry-fly fishing' and 'wet-fly fishing'. The term 'floating fly' had a prominent position in his last book (1913) which argues that the use of a floating fly defined a method of fishing - dry-fly fishing: "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"  [emphasis added] (Halford 1913 p61).

    For Halford there were only two types of artificial fly: dry or wet. Nowadays there is a third type - the emerger. Emergers do not fit into Halford's binary classification of wet and dry flies. By the 1860s, plaited silk fly lines dressed with linseed oil allowed dry-fly anglers to make long accurate upstream casts with short stiff-actioned single-handed rods (Herd 2003 p277; Voss Bark & Restall 1999 p 138). The fly lines used by earlier angles (e.g. Kingsley, Soltau, Fitzgibbon) were made of horsehair (e.g. Hearder offered horsehair and silk fly lines in his catalog - Hearder 1875 p42).

    In the 20th century, Conrad Voss Bark made a horsehair line, and reported several important observations about its performance:
  • "I could cast the horsehair line not only across the wind, provided that the wind was not too strong, which experts had told me was impossible with hair lines. It wasn't impossible at all."
  • "What I had not realised and what the experts had not told me was that a hair line cannot sink. The fly  [a size 10 loch fly] " did not have sufficient weight to pull it down. It remained visible in or just under the surface film. In modern parlance it was behaving like an emerger  [emphasis added]
  • When the fly first landed on the water "it floated on the top of the water - it looked like a dry fly - and for the rest of the distance it assumed its natural role as an emerger."
  • "But the greatest surprise of all was that the flies would not sink. This explains why our ancestors never bothered to talk about dry fly or wet fly fishing. There was no need. Their flies did both." (Voss Bark 1992 p8-9).
  • Halford's simplistic binary (mis)classification system for fly fishing explains, to me at least, why Kingsley was classed as a wet-fly fisherman.

    Incidentally, "More or less submerged" is a problem if you are fishing a chalk stream under a strict 'Dry fly only' rule (e.g. Tyjas 2012). Vince Marinaro's   definition of a dry fly  is more 'user-friendly', and avoids arguments about the definition of 'floating'.

    In my opinion:
  • 'Dry' and 'floating' are interchangeable (synonymous) words that Halford used to describe the same physical object. I think this is important because several historians use  Pulman's  Vade Mecum of Fly-Fishing for Trout  published in 1841, as marking the start of an important transition in the language describing the dry-fly fishing method. For example, "the final metamorphosis of the floating fly into the dry fly .. during the second quarter of the nineteenth century". (Herd 2003) According to Herd (2011): "The first mention of the [phrase] dry fly in print is in the issue of The Field dated December 17th 1853. In an article by-lined "The Hampshire Fly Fisher" (Richard Clark Sewell).
  • A floating fly does not metamorphose into a dry fly just because it is used within Halford's fly-fishing method; that would involve linguistic magic.
  • Dry Fly, Wet Fly, Nymph, Emerger, Flymph

    In nature a nymph does metamorphose into a dun. Modern anglers call this stage 'emergence'; Hayes complains that Halford, and his entomologist collaborator Mosely, ignored this stage: "if you look in his book The Dry Fly Fisherman’s Entomology (1921), you will find no reference to emerging, or emergers, or eclosion, or ecdusis. "  (Hayes 2016 p. 78).

    The first use of the word 'emerger' was in 1953 to describe an artificial tied by Ted Rogowski. Hidy used to term 'flymph' to describe a fly that was neither a wet fly nor a nymph but used  "for trout feeding selectively beneath but near the surface."  They were designed to represent an insect "at the moment of their dramatic metamorphosis near the surface when they are neither nymphs nor adult winged flies." (Lawton 2020 p 130-132).

    It is possible that Charles Kingsley and other mid-19th century anglers who fished with floating flies were successful because - as their flies became waterlogged and sank - they represented a vulnerable fly at the stage of emergence into a dun.

    I discuss the evolution of the wet fly from drowned insect to 'emerger' here

    A comparison of chalk-stream and Devon flies

    There was a significant change in the construction of chalk-stream (dry) flies from the middle of the 19th century: The commercial fly tyers  "Ogden and Foster were certainly part of the generation who began the transformation of the floating fly into the hackled dry fly during the years 1840 to 1850."  (Herd 2011).

    But, according to Lawrie, it was at least 15 years after Kingsley's death that this had an influence in the West Country: From the 1890s  "as the teachings of F.M. Halford gained popularity ... with the arrival of dry-fly fishing, hook sizes began to be reduced to accord more closely with the size of the natural insects imitated or suggested." (Lawrie 1967 p44). In other words, chalk-stream flies became smaller and lighter. They were designed to be models of the natural insect, to be fished singly on the surface, and to satisfy Halford, sit on top of the water. Writing in 1967, Lawrie remarked that chalk-stream patterns "have altered little in the last-half century, and the evolution of the South-Country dry fly seems to have come to a virtual standstill " due to scarcity of high quality cock hackles (Lawrie 1967 p103).

    Because of their design, chalk-stream artificial flies would have sunk under the additional weight of a sub-surface fly. Whereas the design of the older West Country flies made them more suitable for using in combination with a sunk (wet) fly.

    From: Halford (1886).Floating Flies and How to Dress Them

    The Dartmoor fly-fishing guide  Richard Perrott (1840-1936)  had the skills needed to construct the delicate split-wing dry flies that were popular with an impressive list of customers who fished on chalk streams. However, on Dartmoor rivers, Perrott recommended 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 )


    Devonshire flies from Soltau (1847)

    Taking the mid 19th century Devonshire author  Cutcliffe  as his exemplar, Lawrie describes this earlier components of West Country flies, "the hackling  [preferably from the Game Cock breed]  is generous and sometimes even bushy.. the almost exclusive use of carefully dubbed bodies .. Wings, in general, are not favoured"   (Lawrie 1967 p31-41).

    Using this style of fly enabled Cutcliffe, Soltau and Kingsley to fish 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 (Cutcliffe 1863 p159-60). The flies used by Soltau, Kingsley and Cutcliffe would have been designed with this purpose in mind. This style of fly is ideal for use in a modern Dry-Dropper rig.


    The invention & spread of 'dry-fly fishing'

  • In the fly-fishing literature the phrase 'dry-fly fishing' has come to mean a particular method of fly fishing invented by Halford that involves a solitary dry or floating fly.
  • There is no doubt that Halford invented a unique method of fly fishing with a dry or floating fly that is effective on freestone rivers as well as chalk streams. Tony Hayter makes the point that "Halford had an excellent library of books: he just did not rely on them ... As a revolutionary, he wished to break with the past, not study it. He was too busy esablishing his own system" Hayter (2002 p234).

    Given this free-spirited approach by Halford, and  Skues' failure  to even refer to earlier 18th and 19th century accounts of fishing with a nymph in books in his library by 'The North Country Angler', Fitzgerald and Soltau, it is not surprising that fly fishing with either a single dry fly, or a single wet fly flourished on chalk streams.

    In contrast, fishing with two flies simultaneously, in what amounts to a Dry-Dropper arrangement, continued in the background in Devon; it was described in a number of unpretentious books by Joyce, Rabley and Wilson.

    The fact that this provincial technique was recently rescued from oblivion attests to its effectiveness. Lawton (2020)  traces its history . It was rediscovered in the UK and America in the 1990s (Goddard 1991, Hughes 2002). This repatriated method,  "A dry-dropper rig .. a dry fly with a nymph tied to it"  (Burgert 2020) is now widely used on the rivers I fish in South Devon, and admirably described by Nicholas Fitton in his book In Search of Wild Trout.

    Halford brought about a partial localised fly-fishing paradigm shift.  He succeeded in creating a revolutionry change on chalk streams that motivated Skues to mount a counter-revolution.

    Waiting for the rise

    The hallmark of Halford's revolutionary idiosyncratic system is a code of practice to be followed by 'dry-fly fishermen' (see Halford 1913 Chapter 3). Andrew Herd (2011) provides this summary of Halford's fly-fishing method: In 1886 Halford "attempted to define dry fly fishing as "… presenting to the rising fish the best possible imitation of the insect on which he is feeding in its natural position. Which he broke down to four conditions:
    1. finding a fish feeding on winged insects.
    2. presenting to him a good imitation of the natural insect both as to size and colour.
    3. presenting it to him in its natural position, floating and "cocked".
    4. putting it lightly on the water so that it floats accurately over him without drag.
    5. that the four previous points should have been fulfilled before the fish has caught sight of the angler and his rod."

    Halford's biographer concluded that during the last years of the 19th century Halford's way of fishing the dry fly revolutionised fly fishing on English chalk streams (Hayter 2002 p172-), and outside observers agreed:   "It may, I think, be safely averred that nearly every one of the great army of anglers nowadays fishes up-stream with the dry fly " (Granby 1899 p8).

    In addition, Halford's influence spread overseas; Oliver Kite (1968) describes in detail the influence in France of "Albert Petit's La Truite du Riviere (1897) that familiarized French anglers with the theories and methods of Halford".

    The persuasiveness of Halford's early work is illustrated by the reaction of the American convert  George La Branche  (1914) who had enjoyed early success using a floating fly in conjunction with a wet fly. But Halford's book Dry Fly Fishing-In Theory and Practice had a profound effect on La Branche "For several years after my first experience with the floating fly I used it in conjunction with the wet fly, and until I 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."  [emphasis added] (La Branche 1914 p12).

    Hayter uses the word 'revolution' and, as in every revolution, there are converts, followers, counter-revolutionaries (e.g. Skues), and  others   who, instead of attempting to reverse the revolution, stuck to the pre-revolutionary system.

    Earlier anglers - such as Charles Kingsley - who fished with a floating fly often used two flies - a dry fly above a sunk wet fly or nymph. Halford's method is unique; but it was not the only method of fly fishing with a dry or floating fly; this was recognised by the Marquess of Granby.

    The Marquess of Granby
    8th Duke of Rutland

    Granby: A sense of moderation

    Reading Granby's book gives the impression that he was neither a counter-revolutionary, nor a Halfordian dry-fly purist. Granby was writng in 1899 but he gives advice that still applies to fly fishing for wild brown trout in South Devon's freestone rivers.

    Before describing in an instructive and detailed way a day's dry-fly fishing, he cautions his readers: "I would point out that dry-fly fishing can only be followed under certain conditions, and that excellent sport and capital fun are to be obtained by the other forms of fly fishing .." (Granby 1899 p9)

    He warns against sticking rigidly to Halford's dry-fly creed; "On a favourable day it is well worth the angler's while to put on a couple of flies instead of one only, and to fish either up or down stream as seems best to him. It would be folly on such an occasion to be tied by any hard-and-fast rule condemning one to use only a single fly or to fish solely up-stream". (Granby 1899 p27). Please do not follow that advice on a chalk stream unless you have the riparian owner's permission, or the fishery rules allow it !

    Despite writing at length about chalk-stream dry-fly fishing as he found it close to the end of the 19th century, Granby does not reference by name Halford's two earlier books published in 1889 and 1895.

    ( Colonel F. H. Custance - who contributed a chapter to Granby's book - does quote with approval from Halford's 1895 book Making a Fishery.)

    I think Granby is an another example of an influential angler resisting  Halford's dry-fly purism.

    Kingsley's fly-fishing approach

    The May-Fly or Green Drake (Halford 1886)

    The questions are: Did Kingsley ignore the dry fly as stated by Hills (1921), and the dry-fly method as claimed by Schwiebert (1979)?

    Consider this advice given by Kingsley in 1858 to a beginner with what starts as a 'floating fly' : "Now--put your Green-drake on; and throw, regardless of bank-fishing or any other rule, wherever you see a fish rise. Do not work your flies in the least, but let them float down over the fish, or sink if they will; he is more likely to take them under water than on the top. And mind this rule: be patient with your fish; and do not fancy that because he does not rise to you the first or the tenth time, therefore he will not rise at all. He may have filled his mouth and gone down to gorge; and when he comes up again, if your fly be the first which he meets, he will probably seize it greedily, and all the more so if it be under water, so seeming drowned and helpless."  [emphasis added].

    Kingsley is initially casting upstream with a floating (dry) fly to a fish seen to be rising to take an insect on the surface. He is allowing a drag-free drift. In Kingsley's time artificial flies tended to sink because of a lack of effective fly-floatants. Kingsley is certainly not insisting on fishing with a sunk fly. Furthermore, he did not insist on using two flies simultaneously: "Put on a dropper of some kind, say a caperer, as a second chance... and for your stretcher, of course a green-drake"

    Schweibert is right when he states that dry-fly fishing  "had begun to evolve on his rivers"  when Kingsley's essay Chalk Stream Studies was published in 1858. But this was twenty-eight years before Halford's first book Floating Flies and How to Dress Them. In my opinion, in 1858 Kingsley was a long way down the road to describing the methods of fly-fishing brought to wider attention by Halford and Skues.

    But there is one striking diffence between Kingsley and Halford's approach to fly fishing. Precise imitation as described in Halford's desideratum #2
  • "presenting to him a good imitation of the natural insect both as to size and colour."
  • Kingsley was not an advocate of 'precise imitation', and, I think, for good reason.

    Kingsley recommended a relatively small selection of flies which he considered to be copies of live insects on chalk streams: "To name them:- 1. The caperer. 2. The March-brown. 3. The governor. 4. The black alder. And two or three large palmers, red, grizzled, and coch-a-bonddhu, each with a tuft of red floss silk at the tail. These are enough to show sport from March to October; and also like enough to certain natural flies to satisfy the somewhat dull memory of a trout."

    Kingsley adopted a 'good-enough' approach to fly selection that contrasts with Halford's insistence on precise imitation. Pulman (1851) comments that "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. The long history of this debate is  discussed here. The Devonian G.P.R. Pulman was born in 1819; his comment suggests that he had an interest in the  finer points  of fly fishing from the age of 11. I'm prepared to accept that an eleven year old can absorb a surprising amount of information about a topic that interests them.

    Was Charles Kingsley a chalk stream heretic? Kingsley died in 1875; if he had lived to read Halford in 1886 he might have been declared a heretic because he was not averse to fishing with two flies simultaneosly, and he ignored Halford's definition of dry-fly fishing: "… presenting to the rising fish the best possible imitation of the insect on which he is feeding in its natural position."


    Colonel Peter Hawker

    Colonel Peter Hawker

    The use of two flies may already have been a well-established technique on the River Test from the early years of the 19th century. In a diary entry for 12th April 1814, Col. Peter Hawker recorded: "Went out fly fishing, and, notwithstanding a bright sun the whole time, I in a few hours killed 36 trout. N.B. — My flies were (what I always use) the yellow dun at bottom, and red palmer bob." (Hawker 1893 Vol 1 p94).

    Lawrie (1967 p49) gives Austin's dressing for the Yellow Dun.
    The Red Palmer is a very old pattern 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.  At the end of the 19th and early years of the 20th century the Red Palmer was a favourite fly for catching trout (Courtney Williams 1979 p279).

    Hawker was an experienced, and successful chalk-stream angler: "The bags of trout caught by Colonel Hawker in the river Test at Longparish are only recorded occasionally, and the entries that are to be found under this head but roughly indicate the numbers taken by his rod. The trout killed in the fifty years of the Colonel's sporting life could not (from the allusions to angling in his Diary), at a low estimate, have been less than twelve thousand "  (Hawker 1893 Vol 2 p374).


    Flies used by Charles Kingsley

    For 'tailing' trout, instead of a dry fly, Granby recommends using Kingsley's Alder: "cast down-stream with a long line, and to work the fly a little." (Granby 1899 p27-8). That's two of Halford's rules thrown out of the window.

    Kingsley probably realised the futility of attempting to precisely imitate specific insects; he was familiar with the work of the Swiss scientist Pictet (1834) on caddis, and knew, for example, that "Caperers--Phryganeae--of which one family nearly two hundred species have been already found in Great Britain." (Kingsley 1858)

    Professor of Zoology James Rennie (1833) had put it more bluntly: "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,"

    Governor dry fly (from Halford 1886)

    Kingsley fished with dry and wet flies, sometimes simultaneously. The Governor is clearly meant to represent a floating (dry) insect. Here is Kingsley's (1858) description of the natural insect, and how to present it on the surface: "The ‘governor.’–In most sandy banks, and dry poor lawns, will be found numberless burrows of ground bees who have a great trick of tumbling into the water. Perhaps, like the honey bee, they are thirsty souls, and must needs go down to the river and drink; perhaps, like the honey bee, they rise into the air with some difficulty, and so in crossing a stream are apt to strike the further bank, and fall in. Be that as it may, an imitation of these little ground bees is a deadly fly the whole year round; and if worked within six inches of the shore, will sometimes fill a basket when there is not a fly on the water or a fish rising. There are those who never put up a cast of flies without one; and those, too, who have killed large salmon on him in the north of Scotland, when the streams are low... there is no better rule for a chalk stream than this--when you don't know what to fish with, try the governor." [emphasis added]

    Kingsley (1858) refers several times to Ephemera's (aka Edward Fitzgibbon) book Handbook of Angling  published in 1847. In the passage above, Kingsley may have been influenced by Fitzgibbon's  description  of how and why to move a floating (dry) fly on the surface. Fitzgibbon's description is very similar to Soltau's.

    Fitzgibbon fished with two or three flies (Fitzgibbon 1847 p19). Kingsley also recommended using two flies simultaneously, particularly the Governor (dry) together with a Black Alder (wet). The Alder is generally regarded as a wet fly, possibly of great antiquity (Hills 1921 p166), and remarkable, if inexpicable, effectiveness in the hands of another prominent chalk-stream angler - G.E.M. Skues (1858–1949).

    Dave Hughes & Skues - a Charles Kingsley fans

    Dave Hughes, the American author of Wet Flies is a fan of Charles Kingsley's Alder because it "is still effective in its original tie, with a turkey feather wing section... The Alder is a dressing that takes a lot of trout for me each season to this day, much more than a century after it was first tied by its originator." (Hughes 2015 p150).

    Although Skues "read and loved Charles Kingsley's 'Chalk-Stream Studies,' it was not till 1904 that I had any success with his favourite fly. " - the Black Alder.  He procured Alders that appared to be "the genuine Kingsley tie". Later that year in Bavaria, Skues spent "sixteen days' fishing ... I had two hundred and forty- nine trout, of which fully half were taken with the wet Alder. "   Back in southern England, Skues continued to enjoy success with Kingsley's Alder on chalk streams "including the upper Kennet (twenty brace in two days), the Nadder (forty-four brace out of fifty-four brace taken in three days), and have always found that it fished better sunk than dry."  (Skues 1921) Courtenay-Williams (1979 p75-81) gives Kingsley's Alder dressing, and is perplexed by Halford's negative attitude to this fly.

    Skues' success echoes Schwiebert's (1979) comment about Kingsley; both anglers "demonstrated convincingly that the sunk techniques remained viable on the chalkstreams in spite of dry-fly dogmatics."

    Although he was not an advocate of Halford's precise imitation school of fly-dressing, Skues did want fish to take the artificial fly for a natural fly (Skues 1921 p 73). He knew that trout were unlikely to encounter the natural alder at the depth attained by the artificial 'fly', and someone had suggested to him that it was taken as a tadpole ! "The thing is an insoluble puzzle to me. The pattern is too successful to be readily surrendered. It is obviously accepted gleefully as food, but what does it represent ?" [emphasis in original] (Skues 1921 p104-106).

    Because of this uncertainty, in his later writings, Skues steered away from discussing why trout could be caught on nondescript artificials at unlikely water depths. I regard Halford's code of practice as a rigid template that exerted considerable control over what Skues wrote about nymph fishing. Skues chalk-stream nymph fishing is basically sub-surface dry-fly fishing. Skues' subsequent contributions to the fly-fishing literature (see quotes in Gingrich 1974 p225, 228, 236), were shaped to assuage criticisms from Halford and his followers:
  • he concentrated on creating "a more exact copy of the nymph"  which he defined as the larval stage of the Ephemeroptera
  • he designed flies to mimic nymphs rising to hatch in order to catch trout feeding just beneath the surface, rather than in mid-water, or at lower depths.
  • he objected, like Halford before him, to chalk stream anglers 'fishing the water' with a wet fly, or a team of wet flies
  • Skues' abandonment of earlier fly-fishing techniques created problems that exist to this day, for anglers fishing freestone rivers, I will discuss this topic below.
    The chalk stream angler and author  Peter Lapsley  regretted that chalk stream methods came to dominate the fly-fishing literature, and stifled regional fishing styles.

    The American fly-fishing author Al Simpson echoes Lapsley's comment. Simpson (2017) regards Halford as arresting the further development of nymph fishing techniques in England. Why, you might ask, did nymph fishing require further development. For the same reason that prompted  Emlyn Gill  to relax Halford's strict chalk-stream dry-fly code of practice; it didn't suit the conditions found in American freestone rivers. Instead of adopting Skues' technique, Americans developed a partial solution: tight-line nymphing. Nymphing was virtually abandoned in the West Country, but has recently returned in both countries due to the popularisation of various 'indicators' to overcome the problem of detecting sub-surface bites in freestone rivers.

    Kingsley fished with other wet flies - Palmers: "red, grizzled, and coch-a-bonddhu, ea ch with a tuft of red floss silk at the tail". He made this advice on fishing them as wet flies: "They must not be worked on the top of the water, but used as stretchers, and allowed to sink as living caterpillars do; and next, they can hardly be too large or rough, provided that you have skill enough to get them into the water without a splash. "

    Kingsley regarded the Caperer as the best of all flies to represent a range of flies including ephemera spinners and Phryganidae (caddis), and may even tempt a sea trout. For midges he recommended Stewart's small Black Spider.

    Basic Duo rig, from Gaskell (2021)

    In one sense, Kingsley was in advance of subsequent developments. He fished with two flies - a dry fly above a wet fly. The dry fly acts as the indicator for the wet fly or nymph. This arrangment was silently deprecated by Halford and Skues. It was rediscovered and is now 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).


    In addition, Kingsley 'worked' his Governor fly to represent the behaviour of an insect struggling on the water surface. The importance of dry-fly movement was  rediscovered  by the American fly-fishing author Leonard M. Wright (1972, 1975).

    Kingsley's support of Charles Darwin

    Bishop Samuel Wilberforce & biologist Thomas Huxley debated Darwin's theory at the
    1860 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

    Respected fly fishing historians have given the impression that Kingsley resisted innovations, e.g. Schwiebert (1979 p 108), and Hills (1921 p128). Personally, I feel that Kingsley - an Anglican theologian - was surprisingly open to new ideas. For example, in 1859 he received a review copy of Charles Darwin's book On the Origin of Species, and commented favourably on its thesis:

    "From two common superstitions, at least, I shall be free while judging of your books:
  • 1) I have long since, from watching the crossing of domesticated animals and plants, learnt to disbelieve the dogma of the permanence of species.
  • 2) I have gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that he created primal forms capable of self development into all forms needful pro tempore and pro loco, as to believe that He required a fresh act of intervention to supply the lacunas which He Himself had made."
  • (quoted in Flannery 2011)

    For many years, Christian churches took a different view because Darwin's theory conflicted with the literal biblical account of creation (New Scientist 2008). Charles Kingsley was the first cleric to embrace Darwin's theory of evolution - albeit with a touch 'intelligent design' - to retain his Christian belief in a devine Creator: "Kingsley had misunderstood that the main point of Darwin’s book was to remove the Creator from nature” (Flannery 2011). Hale christened Kingsley alongside  Thomas Huxley  as "Darwin’s Other Bulldog" .. at every turn he sought to promote Darwin’s ideas as theologically orthodox, a life-long campaign in which he was eminently successful (Hale 2011)

    Charles Kingsley's later novels were influenced by his friend Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, but to the best of my knowledge, Kingsley did not write anything more on fly fishing after 1858, so we will never know if his thoughts on trout behaviour were influenced by Darwin's writing.

    Evolution and Exact Imitation - a leap forward to the 20th century

    Kingsley may have misunderstood Darwin's theory of evolution, but, with few exceptions, fly fishing theory also seems to have largely overlooked it as well ! One exception was Richard Walker who wrote the article  No More Exact Imitation published in 1972 in the UK magazine Trout & Salmon, and reprinted in his 1982 book.

    He makes two points:
  • It's not unusual to hear anglers remark that their artificial fly is so realistic that it difficult to spot against the surrounding naturals. Walker rejects the popular, and still widely held, belief that the perfect artificial should resemble in every respect the natural insect; he points out that insects have evolved camouflage to avoid the attention of trout and other predators.
  • In 1914, George La Branche made the same point from a different angle; he pointed out the statistical problem with Halford's precise imitation approach: "the chance of the artificial fly being selected from among the great number of naturals on the water is one to whatever the number may be" (La Branche 1914 p60).

    In their work on selective trout, Swisher & Richards (2018) express a logical fallacy over the enhanced attractiveness of exact (precise) imitation : "The right fly is one that resembles the natural so closely that the fish seem to prefer it over the real thing" [emphasis added]. Precise imitation cannot increase attractiveness relative to that which is being exactly imitated.

  • Walker realised that there must be some characteristic(s) of an insect that enables trout to recognise them as food. If we can determine what these characteristics are, and exaggerate them without destroying their effect as recognition factors for trout, then we will have created an artificial fly that is more attractive than the natural insect. But he made a cautionary addition : "Caricature does not mean abandoning recognition points; it means recognising and exaggerating them. Caricature must never be unreasonable; if it is recognition ceases"  (Walker 1982 p 158).
  • It's easy to find out the recognition characteristics used by humans. For example, Walker found that the nationality of a caricature consisting of a coolie hat and slanting eyes was instantly recognisable. In contrast, it is very difficult to determine the recognition characteristics used by trout. Here are my preliminary ideas.

    In the 1970s, Walker was clearly aware of scientific research on the evolution of animal behaviour. He is suggesting that artificial flies should be designed to be  supernormal or super-stimuli.  By definition, a super-stimulus is an exaggerated stimulus that is more effective than the real thing in eliciting a behavioural response.

    Twenty years after Walker, Nicholas Fitton made the same point; referring to experiments on animal behaviour he commented: "Successful flies are not necessarily the most realistic therefore, but sometimes the most stimulating. Fly-tiers should perhaps bone up on psychology rather than concern themselves with endlessly attempting to mirror Nature." [emphasis in original] (Fitton 1992 p46-7).

    Of course it is very difficult for humans to identify characteristics of the natural that trout use for recognition that can be exaggerated in artificial flies. The ideas introduced by Walker and Fitton encouraged some fly tiers to 'think outside the box' of Halfordian precise imitation.

    For example, Bob Wyatt's Deer Hair Emerger (DHE) is a good example a trout fly designed on this basis: "Behavioural science terms like ‘behavioural releaser’, ‘supernormal stimulus’, ‘optimal foraging strategy’ and ‘fixed action pattern’ entered my angling vocabulary. Everything just sort of came together and for the first time in my angling life started to make sense."  (Wyatt 2012).


    Kingsley's Friend James Anthony Froude (1818 –1894)

    James Anthony Froude (1818 –1894)

    Froude and Kingsley are jointly regarded - unfairly in my view - as wet-fly fishermen who knew little about dry flies (Hills 1921 p128; Hayter 2002 p53). They were born a year apart in Devon close to the River Dart; Kingsley at Holne, Froude downstream at Dartington. The two passions of Fronde's life were Devonshire and the sea (Paul 1905).

    Many generations of the Froude family lived in Kingston and nearby Modbury in the South Hams between the Rivers Avon and Erme: " long before 1592 there was quite a colony of Froudes in the South Hams"   (Hooppell, 1892 p444-6).

    James Anthony Froude's second cousin the  Reverend John Froude II  (1777 –1852) was the Rector of  Knowstone-cum-Molland in North Devon. He was described as an extreme and notorious example of the 'hunting parson' by  Sabine Baring-Gould;  he was the model for Parson Chowne in  R. D. Blackmore's  1872 novel The Maid of Sker. Curiously, there is no entry for John Froude II in the  family tree  published by Hooppell (1892 p455), despite entries for his mother (Prestwood Love Legassick 1750–1823), and his sister (Prestwood Love Froude). An intriguing question remains: Why did the Rev. Hooppell in 1892 omit any reference to John Froude II in his exhaustive history of the Froude family?

    James Anthony Froude did not follow his cousin's example. From "fifteen years of age to eighteen Froude acquired a love for several manly pursuits, such as riding, yachting and fishing" (quote from Thornton's Introduction to Froude 1923 ). Thornton goes on to describe Froude's career and friendship with Charles Kingsley. Froude retired from Holy Orders; when he left his living, his father stopped his allowance - that made him virtually penniless. Charles Kingsley offered Froude a home at Ilfracombe (North Devon) where he met and married Kingsley's sister-in-law in 1849. Froude lived in North Devon until his wife's death in 1860. Afterwards, the greater part of Froude's life was spent in London "becoming one of the best known historians of his time"  (Wikipedia entry);  In 1892, shortly before he died, he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford; Froude retired to Kingsbridge in South Devon where he died in 1894.

    Even after they moved away from the West Country, Froude and Kingsley retained links with the intellectual life of their native Devon. They both served as early presidents of the Devonshire Association in 1870 and 1871 respectively (Wootton 2012). The Devonshire Association is a learned society founded in 1862 modelled on the British Association. Dr Wootton provides a comprehensive review of the research linked to Devon in the fields of science, literature and the arts conducted by members of the Association.

    The Devonshire Association provides a link between four Devonshire flyfishermen: Soltau,  Hearder,  Kingsley and Froude. The secretary of the Devonshire Association, wrote an obituary for Jonathan N. Hearder, D.Sc., Ph.D., F.R.S. "He was one of the small number who assisted in the formation of this Association ; he frequently attended its earlier meetings, participated in the discussions on the various papers read, and contributed several papers himself"   (Harpley 1877) including "On the Degeneration of our Sea Fisheries," read at Devonport, 1870 - the year that Froude was president of the Devonshire Association.

    In 1879 Froude's essay "Cheneys and the House Of Russell", published in Fraser's Magazine, describes fly-fishing for trout on the River Chess - a chalk stream that rises near Chesham in the Chiltern Hills that he may have fished with Charles Kingsley : "No river in England holds finer trout, nor trout more willing to be caught" (Froude 1923 p131-136). Froude recalls success with two flies: the governor, (described as a small h(b)umble bee), and the black alder. Both these flies were recommended by Charles Kingsley. Kingsley also recommended using them simultaneously, the Governor (dry) together with a Black Alder (wet). Froude also fished with two flies simultaneously unless he was faced with obstructions:  "...a drop fly is only fit for open water, where there is neither weed nor stump."  (Froude 1923 p136).

    Hayter records that around 1875 many members of the Houghton Fly Fishing Club on the River Test - of which Halford was a member - "fished across and down with a sunk fly, sometimes with two flies" (Hayter 2002 p69). There is evidence that contradicts the conclusion of some fly-fishing historians that Froude was this type of wet-fly fisherman. Here is his instruction - published in 1879 - seven years before Halford's dictum to cast to a trout seen rising -:   "...the river opens into a broad smooth shallow, where the trout are larger, and the water being extremely clear, are especially difficult to catch. In such a place as this, it is useless to throw your fly at random upon the stream. You must watch for a fish which is rising, and you must fish for him till you either catch him or disturb him. " .

    Froude is clearly fishing with a floating (dry) fly. For example, " I see a fish close to the bank on the opposite side, lazily lifting his head as a fly floats past him...I land the fly on the far bank, and draw it gently off upon his very nose ... He swirls in the water like a salmon as he sweeps round to seize it" And when "the river is covered with drowned May-flies, and the trout are taking them all round,"  he ties on a May-fly  "Out it shoots over the pool, so natural-looking that I cannot distinguish it from a real fly which floats at its side."  (Froude 1879 p133-7)

    In 1857 W.C. Stewart forcefully advocated casting upstream, which then became a defining feature of chalk stream dry-fly fishing. "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).

    But Froude disagreed: It is not enough to go below him and throw upwards, for though he lies with his head up-stream, his projecting eye looks back over his shoulders. You must hide behind a bunch of rushes (Froude 1879 p 133). Eventually, in 2002 John Goddard calculated that 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. Furthermore, the angler will move in and out of the blind spot as the trout moves from side-to-side.

    Dry versus nymph: The debate lingers on

    Hero vs. Villain. Halford or Skues? Dry vs. Nymph.

    Charles Kingsley died in 1875, more than 50 years before the 'Great Debate' held in 1938 between supporters of Halford and Skues. But that was by no means the end of the matter. Kenneth Robson, author of The Essential G.E.M. Skues recalls a conversation with John Goddard who "..when he was a member of the Piscatorial Society in the late 1950s and early sixties they had a number of debates on nymph versus dry fly, and even at that time a big majority of the members were still what can only be termed dry fly purists, and were violently opposed to any form of nymph fishing. He formed the conclusion that the main reason they were opposed to this form of fishing was due more to their inability to spot trout beneath the surface and so become a competent nymph fisher than any other reason".  Robson reports a similar debate in the Flyfishers' Club in the early 1990s. (Robson 1998 p214-5). The discussion, examination and analysis continues to this day. For example, in this friendly debate between Simon Cooper and Charles Jardine.
    I wonder what Kingsley's contribution  might have been...


    Halford's and Skues' fly-fishing methods were developed for, and satisfy the needs of anglers and riparian owners to this day on English chalkstreams.

    Basic Duo rig, from Gaskell (2021)

    In Devon and elsewhere, a two-fly dry-dropper arrangement as used by local anglers (e.g. Soltau 1847, Kingsley 1858, Cutcliffe 1863 and Rabley 1910) preceded, and survived after, Halford’s dry fly revolution (e.g. Rollo 1944, Lawrie 1947, Fitton 1992, and Lawton 2020 ).

    It remains effective in freestone rain-fed rivers where water clarity is affected by suspended solids, food is less abundant, and trout feed opportunistically on insects at all levels of the water column. Paul Gaskell refers to the two-fly dry-dropper rig as The Gateway Drug in his 2021 book The Fly Fishing Bible of Nymphing (p 69).



    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.

    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 drag-free float is a cornerstone of the dry-fly technique and it is one of the features which distinguishes the dry-fly method from the older floating-fly technique"  (Herd 2003 p281).



    Emlyn M. Gill's Practical Dry-Fly Fishing. (1912)

    In 1912, Halford's ideas were introduced to an American audience in Emlyn M. Gill's Practical Dry-Fly Fishing. At that time "there were not more than one hundred real dry-fly fishermen in the United States," and it had "been almost totally neglected by American angling writers, and has been lightly tossed aside by many anglers as an Enghsh fad." (Gill 1912 p 207).

    The early American experience is relevant to West Country fly-fishers because, as Gill was quick to point out, anglers on freestone rivers cannot emulate British dry-fly purists. They are unlikely to encounter the prolific hatches of Ephemeroptera enjoyed on English chalk streams.

    In addition, Gill describes the physical characteristics of chalk streams: "Many photographs of English chalk streams show long, broad stretches of smooth water."  In contrast, his American readers are faced with: "Long stretches of swift water tumbling over a rocky bed, with here and there little surfaces of smooth water, above, below, or between rows of rocks, and at rather rare intervals a good pool." Consequently when they encounter these conditions, where it is difficult to see rising fish, Gill encourages them to 'fish the stream', rather than imitate English purists by 'fishing the rise', even if the fly sinks due to the turbulence of the water, Gill (1912 p80-8)

    Gill (p48-9) lays out this version of Halford's approach suitable for freestone rivers:
  • (1) Use but one fly and that an imitation of a natural insect, and a fly that floats.
  • (2) Cast this fly up-stream, at or slightly above a spot where you know there is a trout from having seen it rise, or a spot where your "fish sense" tells you that a trout may be.
  • (3) Let the fiy float down with no motion whatever except that naturally imparted by the current.

  • La Branche The Dry Fly and Fast Water (1914)

    Emlyn Gill (1861-1918) was a close friend of  George La Branch  (1875-1961); they fished together in the Catskills, and contributed articles on dry-fly fishing to Field & Stream (Gubbins 2018 p65).

    However, in 1914, La Branche challenged the third dry-fly principle laid out by Gill - 'drag-free-drift'. La Branche was aware that some early pre-Halfordian 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). Fitzgibbon wrote under the pseudonym 'Ephemera'. His  Handbook of Angling  (1847) was published in the same year as Soltau's book. He has been described as " as one of - if not the most - influential angling writers ever." (Herd 2020)

    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)

    'Tremulous' motion seems a favourite way of describing moving a fly in the mid-19th century: "As soon as the fly touches the water, draw it gently backwards, communicating to it an irregular motion by means of a tremulous movement of the wrist, causing it to imitate the movements of a fly accidentally cast on the water, and struggling to prevent drowning. This, espe- cially if there be but little ripple, greatly increases your chance of a rise."(Grey Drake, 1860 p10). 'Grey Drake', who claimed to have fly fished since 1830, describes fly fishing after dark on a section of chalk stream owned by Colonel Hawker at Long Parish. Although 'Grey Drake' only fished with a single fly, he did give instructions for attaching a 'bob' fly showing that fishing with two flies was acceptable on chalk streams in the mid-19th century.

    This later quote from Fitzgibbon, writing in  Bell's Life  a weekly sporting paper, confirms that he was casting across, or upstream. "The trout fly-fisher works his flies down with the stream, humouring them on the surface as they float with the current. The salmon fly-fisher acts contrawise. He casts his fly downstream, works it up against it, beneath, but not much beneath, the surface. I detail the operation fully in the 'Book of the Salmon' " Fitzgibbon (writing as Ephemera 1851).

    In 1842 Fitzgibbon gave reasons for instructing the novice angler to learn to cast ".. with a tremulous motion of the wrist, which, acting on the rod and line, will be imparted to the fly. These minute jerking motions of the fly-bait will assist the angler's views in two or three ways: - Firstly, by representing the natural flutter of such insects as are blown upon the water; it also puts the fish on more alert to seize the bait, fearful of its natural attempts to escape may snatch the morsel from them; when, on the contrary, a fly moves uniformly down the stream, the fish are often content to watch it, which is usually fatal to the angler's hopes, as, during a regular progress, they discover the deception, and refuse it. "

    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 ..".



    Charles Ritz: A challenge to Halfordian doctrine

    We have seen that two early American dry-fly fishing authors Emlyn Gill and George La Branche challenged Halford's precepts to enable them to fish a dry fly on freestone rivers. Not unexpectedly, current fly-fishing guidelines on English chalk streams remain true to Halfordian principles. Therefore, I was surprised to read a chalk stream angler's views on moving a dry fly ...

    Charles C. Ritz

    Charles Ritz (1891 – 1976) fished the chalk streams of Normandy, and those in Southern England. Ernest Hemingway called him, "One of the finest fly fisherman I know".

    Ritz is perhaps best known for his fly-rods designs (Schwiebert 1979). For me, the most interesting sections in his book, A Fly Fishers Life (1972), are his reports that moving a dry fly was a technique used by a variety of experienced chalk-stream anglers.

    Ritz makes several fleeting references to moving dry, and wet flies, that challenged the prevailing chalk stream doctrine of drag-free drift. For example: "Once the fly is on the water, you must be ready for anything at any moment. In consequence, it is of advantage to let the fly drift downstream of the fish and then slowly tighten the line to make a very slight drag over at least a yard, still in hope of a rise" (Ritz 1972 p130).

    I think Ritz adopted this technique after watching Albert Godart fish the River Andelle in 1947; Godart was a professional fly-fishing instructor (Ritz 1972 p169-171). "Godart, the great expert, often often ends his drift with a delicate drag"  [emphasis added] (Ritz 1972 p146).

    Godart "sometimes likes to give an appeaance of life to the fly with a slight movement of the rod tip, a speciality of Belgian anglers" (Ritz 1972 p170). This is the same as the technique described by Soltau in 1847. Simon Cooper remarks that the chalk-stream angler  Oliver Kite   " believed in stiff hackles that would ride the fly high on the surface, on its tiptoes, allowing breeze and current to give it movement that trout would find irresistible"  (Cooper 2020). At least that would avoid violating chalk-stream rules about deliberate movement.

    Ritz also imparts movement when fishing a sub-surface nymph. Ritz relates how he read, without success, the standard texts from Skues to Sawyer on how to fish the nymph: "This went on till the day I watched Sawyer fishing an English river." (Ritz 1972 p132). Sawyer explained :"When I thoght that my nymph had passed the fish without being taken I slightly tightened my line to give animation to the lure, which often incites a fish to take" ( emphasis in original, Ritz 1972 p134).

    Ritz also defies convention by fishing two dry flies, three feet apart, during the evening rise on a chalk stream: "The fly is fishing just as much when it is floating as when half submerged. Drag is often an asset" (Ritz 1972 p134).


    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."

    On English chalk streams, moving a dry fly  "an inch or so"  to "take all-but-impossible trout"  was recommended by Goddard (2003 p93); Goddard may have learnt this technique from  Leonard Wright  (Goddard 2003 pxvii).


    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 modern authors failure to appreciate the importance of Soltau's use of a wet fly 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). An 'educated' chalk stream trout is one that has been caught and released a number of times (Goddard 2003 p18). For what it's worth, I discuss various explanations for the  educated trout concept here.

    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 1847 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."

    It is interesting to read the comments made by an angler brought up - as we all were - to fish a dry fly dead drift: "Anglers who experiment with breathing life into their flies and fail often abandon the approach quickly, deeming it ineffective " The author goes on to describe various ways to make the subtle 'tiny twitch' that imparts effective movement to a dry fly (Shmukler2013).

    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 (1847) 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) gave this strict definition of dry-fly fishing: "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 an example of dry-fly fishing. But there may be more to dry-fly fishing than using a floating fly.

    The British historian Dr Andrew Herd (2003 p272-273) has written a fascinating history of the artificial fly. Herd draws a distinction between a floating fly and the dry-fly method  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.

    That's fine with me. Herd differentiates between a physical object (a floating fly), and a proceedure (the dry-fly method). But the method quickly transforms into a physical object, when he defines the difference between a 'floating' fly, and a 'dry' fly. I too have struggled to make the distinction, but gave up because  in my opinion  Halford used 'dry' and 'floating' as synonyms when used to describe the state of an artificial fly.

    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). Voss Bark adds that Pulman had a branch of his newsagent's and  tackle shop in Totnes,  a town in South Devon on the banks of the River Dart. This branch may have been opened some time after the main business was establised in Axminster in 1857 (Evans 2021).

    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)

    Of course, dry-fly fishing on a chalk stream involves casting a single fly.


    Dry fly and nymph: An important parting of the ways

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

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

    Paul Schullery refers to a letter donated to the American Museum of Fly Fishing by La Branche's daughter written by her father probably in the 1950s in which La Branche describes the prominent American fly-fisher Theodore 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 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 was upset more than a little, but persevered with my idea. (Schullery 1987 p119-120)

    Soltau's use of a dry fly on Devon rivers 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 (a dry fly in conjunction with a nymph) 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.

    Writing one hundred years ago, Hills (1921 p131) recognised the problem this attitude would cause future generations of fly-fishers: Halford "did not realise ... that the coming of the floating fly did not mean that previous experience and previous knowledge were as worthless as though they had never been; but it meant that from then onwards fly fishing was divided into two streams. These streams are separate; but they run parallel, and there are many cross channels between them. " [emphasis added]. The two separated streams are of course dry fly fishing, and nymph fishing.

    Perhaps a solution is to use separate terms - 'dry-fy-fishing' and 'fishing with a dry fly' - to differentiate between fishing with a single dry fly, and fishing with a dry fly accompanied by a sunk fly.

    On my local freestone rivers it's not unusual for anglers to enjoy success using a solitary dry fly. But they are less likely to succeed if they use a single nymph. Reg Righyni confirms my impression that nymph fishing "has never achieved any popular following on the weed-free rivers" (Righnyi 1995 p142). Chalk streams are celebrated for the clarity of their water that enables an angler to spot trout feeding underwater on nymphs; this rarely happens on Devon rivers. The relative ease of nymph fishing on a clear chalk stream is powerfully illustrated in Oliver Edward's video.

    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 chalk streams. One one 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 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 before 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 seminal 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.

    Conrad Voss Bark considered that Rabley's "advice on how to fish small Devon rivers is splendid." In his introduction, Rabley claimed that that he was a wet-fly fisherman  "l speak only of fly (wet) and worm fishing,".  This puzzled Voss Bark who felt that sections in Rabley's book  "suggest that he fished a floating fly, that is a dry fly..."   In addition, Voss Bark noticed that Rabley deliberatly moved his wet fly, whereas Skues fished his nymph without drag: "it does seem to me that this obscure Devon schoolmaster was anticipating the induced take of the sunk fly by some thirty or forty years." (Voss Bark 1986 p 37-39)

    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, Mayfly, 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."

    In one sense, Halford simplified fishing with a dry fly. He cast a solitary dry fly, rather than Soltau's two flies. But some chalk-stream methodological paraphenalia may be counterproductive ...

    Fishing with a dry fly is certainly popular, and productive, in the West Country (Weaver 1992). 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 .

    In 1928 the Devon author Kenneth Dawson reported that :Of recent years the dry fly has invaded the moorland and mountain streams which were once the invioable sanctuary of the sunken lure."  He devotes a chapter to dry-fly fishing on Dartmoor, and the good catches made during the summer months: "One catch numbered eighteen brown, and one sea trout, the latter being 1 1/2 lb. in weight. The largest brown trout was 1 1/4 lb., and more than half the rest were between 8 oz. and 12 oz. each."

    Dawson points out that it is unusual to see rising fish on the moor. And, unlike chalk streams, drag does not matter to Dartmoor trout because they are accustomed to their food being swept this way and that: "I do say, however, and that emphatically, that on rapid-running waters the much-feared drag is a factor of little importance, since it is a spectacle to which the trout are thoroughly accustomed."

    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).

    At the time Skues "introduced his nymphs, fishing on the chalkstreams in England was confined to the dry fly. If you could not tempt a trout to take a dry there was no alternative, so there is little doubt that his new method opened up new horizons for fly fishers of his era" (Goddard 2003 p120).

    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 often visible in the water, and 'Fishing the water is frowned upon. (Goddard 2003 p116). This creates problems detecting the take 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 a strike 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 in  The North Country Angler by an unknown angler in the last quarter of the 18th century. Here is a very telling 18th century comment in light of Halford and Skues (19th and 20th century) insistence on fishing with a single fly:   "I own, I do not like to fish with a single fly, though, some nice anglers pretend, it is the best way:, and, if my observations are good, you will be of my opinion."

    The following quotations reveal an appreciation that trout take artificial flies on, and under the surface; the writer 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)

    The next quotation describes how two flies were fished in a way to represent the behaviour of surface, and sub-surface insects:   "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 unknown 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).

    Lawton is incredulous because Skues has 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 Skues' 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 impossible to know what books Skues did, or did not, read in the British Museum. However, the catalogue of Skues' books for sale in 1945-6 makes things clearer; it shows that he owned several early books that described fishing a dry fly together with a sunk fly:
  • Skues owned a copy of The North Country Angler (1817) written by an unknown author (Hayter, 2013, Appendix 10, p351).
  • Skues also had a copy of Soltau's 1847 book  Trout Flies of Devon and Cornwall and How and When to Use Them  (Hayter, 2013, Appendix 10, p347).
  • Skues' sale catalogue lists Ephemera's [Edward Fitzgibbon] Handbook of Angling also published in 1847 (Hayter, 2013, Appendix 10, p346).
  • It is interesting that  Skues' copy  of Edward Fitzgibbon's [Ephemera]   A Handbook of Angling   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 of The North Country Angler, and Soltau in 1847.

    Incidentally, here is a mystery in the Thacher collection: Although it does contain a book owned by G.E.M. Skues, but as far as I can see, it does not contain any book writtem by Skues himself. Incidentally (?), Soltau's 1847 book is listed in the list of Thacher's donations.

    In summary, there is strong evidence that Skues owned a copy of  The North Country Angler (1817) written by an unknown author, as well as copies of two mid-19th century books, Soltau (1847) and Fitzgibbon [Ephemera] (1847). All these authors described fishing with two flies on their leader - a dry fly and a sunk fly.

    Lawton's question - "Did Skues not read old fishing books?" can be recast as "Why did Skues not refer to these earlier accounts?" - especially in light of Hayter's (2013 p233) comment that Skues "was no collector of books as antiquarian objects, only a buyer of material that would advance his knowledge."  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  (1921) 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 Skues' 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 Skues' realization that he was entitled to rely on his own observations. Also the suggestion that he was more interested in fly patterns rather than fly-fishing techniques.

    Four editions of The North Country Angler were published between 1786 and 1817. Maybe there is another reason for Skues turning a blind eye to this unknown 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)

    However, Skues did refer to 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.

    In his Foreword to  The Way of a Trout with a Fly (1921) 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. It then became my plan to work on the theory of the art of trout-fly dressing" (Skues 1921 & 2017, Foreword pX)


    In his discussion of Fly Dressing as an Art Skues returns to critique Cutcliffe:   "I have not forgotten Cutcliffe and his " Trout Fishing in Rapid Streams." In that work, one of the soundest and cleverest in the whole range of fly-dressing literature, the author does propound, in language which lacks nothing in clearness and sincerity, a system of dressing and fishing the artificial fly as a lure. But that is only one, and far from the most important aspect of fly dressing and fly fishing; and when he deals with fly dressing from the imitative, representative, or suggestive side, he does so in a very perfunctory manner ; for, for [sic] the streams of Devon to which his fishing was confined, that was not a side of the subject to which he attached much importance"  (Skues 1921 p75).

    It's worth examining Skues' reaction to Cutcliffe's fly-fishing method because - although Skues  owned books  by three other authors who described fishing with a dry fly above a wet fly - he did not refer to their fly-fishing method . Instead, Skues focused criticism on Cutcliffe using wet flies that were 'lures', poor representations of natural insects. Skues was probably the most qualified person in the land to address that problem by creating more effective flies (nymphs); indeed, he spent a great deal of time on that venture. Skues was clearly focussed on the extent to which his artificial nymphs imitated the natural.

    Skues stinging narrowly-focussed 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.


    Why did Skues ignore Soltau's 1847 book?

    Terry Lawton (2005) devotes a chapter to a broader - and perhaps inscrutable question - "Why did nymph fishing take so long to develop?"

    My current 'working hypothesis' is that  Halford's personality,  and the dry-fly paradigm, seriously blocked progress on developing a sunk-fly paradigm. Skues faced two fundamental obstacles:
  • Halford abandoned any attempt to catch trout feeding beneath the surface. He cut the golden thread that joined dry with wet fly.
  • Halford argued that the dry fly replaced for all time and in all places all other methods of fly fishing.
  • Dealing with these constraints took the form of Skues accommodating, embracing, and abiding by Halford's existing code of dry-fly practice which restricts the angler to: casting a single fly upstream to an identified fish; using an artificial imitation of the natural fly; presenting the fly with a drag-free drift.

    Maybe Skues avoided mentioning these earlier authors because they all fished with two flies simultaneously, and this was too similar to the deprecated 19th century wet fly technique.

    Despite his subservient approach, Skues faced being cold-shouldered by Halford, and fierce criticism from dry-fly purists.

    Although Skues owned a copy of Soltau's book (Hayter 2013 p347), he made no written comment on its content. It's conceivable that he ignored it because it did not describe the materials used to construct the flies recommended by the author.

    Skues joined the Flyfishers' Club of London in 1893. He may have seen examples of Soltau's flies if the Plymouth and London suppliers of  Soltau's flies  had responded to this invitation published in the Fishing Gazette on Saturday, January 17th, 1885 :   "Fishing-tackle makers in all parts of the country are invited to send their catalogues, and also small neatly-framed cases of specimens of their flies for salmon, trout and grayling, &c, with names attached. These will be hung on the walls for the convenience of members"  (Hayes 2016 p33).

    On the other hand, Skues may have rejected the use of movement in Soltau's method of fly-fishing because it violated the principle of drag-free drift. Herd considered that the  "drag-free float is a cornerstone of the dry-fly technique and it is one of the features which distinguishes the dry-fly method from the older floating-fly technique"  (Herd 2003 p281). The problems caused by this element in the dry-fly paradigm are  still with us.

    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 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?

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

    I think the ideas presented 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 the overwhelming importance 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 - reinforced by a recent Channel 4 programme Britain's Beautiful Rivers: Richard Hammond 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 continue to benefit from a run of sea trout. But even in 1847 Soltau despaired for salmon runs: "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. The intent of the proprietors of our fisheries appears to be the annihilation of this prince of fishes." Nevertheless he did "offer a few brief hints, which our grand-children may find useful, when tempted by a strong breeze and a dark gloomy sky, to cast the fly over a salmon run."

    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."

    Having cast five or six times from B. to G., move on a few paces, and throw over to H., forming a curve to I., and so on until the pool is carefully tried.

    If a fish has been moved, note the place, and try him again in a few minutes. Be careful, not to throw immediately over the spot where he rose; but let the fly approach him in one of the glides made in the curve. Should the fish then take the fly, don’t strike directly, but allow a second or two to intervene, when you will find the fish well hooked  (Soltau 1847 p70).

    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. A similar technique was described in 1988 by another South Devon author George Gawthorn, past chairman of Dart Angling Association, who called it "The Sweep". The first point he makes is that it requires a long rod; cast a short line "holding your rod point high to keep the fly as near to or actually on the surface of the water. You are, in fact, trying to make the fly skirt ... I have used various fly dressings but generally speaking it's the bushy type which being more heavily dressed will remain on the surface a little longer than normal." (Gawthorn 1988 p140).

    This South Devon 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) 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).

    Soltau's method of moving a fly may have created a wake on the surface; that reminded me of Derek Knowles' groundbreaking book Salmon on a Dry Fly. Knowles suggests that we :"Forget everything you have ever read about drag on a fly frightening salmon, it doesn't, it attracts them when the fly is on the surface."  (Knowles 1987, p36).

    Hugh Falkus devotes several pages to discussing the method of fishing and tying Knowles' micro tube fly - the Yellow Dolly (Falkus 1985 p31-321).

    The method of dibbling for salmon described by Ian Neale (2000 p95-8; Gawthorn 1988 p136) involves two flies; a point fly tied beneath a dropper fly that creates a wake when moved over the fast roily water at the head of a pool.


    Moving the fly remained a recommended local salmon-fishing 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).


    The Effect of Fly Movement on Sea trout

    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.

    It is well known that on dark nights sea trout will enthusiastically take a dragged lure - the so-called 'wake fly'. George Gawthorn (1988) gives useful information and caveats on fishing on Dartmoor for sea trout at night. But sea trout can be caught during the day. H.G. Michelmore fished in South Devon, he reported that:  "Excellent sport can be got in the day time fishing for sea trout with a dry fly, and the best flies in my experience are a Red Upright with a dark head or Blue Upright, both without wing, or, perhaps best of all, a fair-sized Cockybondhu"  [sic] (Michelmore 1946? p36).

    Less attention was paid by these earlier authors to Soltau's method of moving a fly to tempt a sea trout during the day.

    Kenneth Dawson (1928 & 1937) offers advice on fishing for sea trout by day. They are normally more easily caught under the cloak of darkness, but: "I do not by any means say that it is impossible to catch the peal of the West by day in clear water, for it is not, but to do so one must use the very finest of casts and tiny flies, for there is no more suspicious species,  But once again chalk stream tactics must be put aside because: "..they are as wary as the most highly educated trout of the chalk streams."

    Forget about casting upstream: "I am a great believer in down-stream fishing whenever possible, and to my mind the shibboleth of always casting up-stream is entirely wrong."  Dawsons reasons include: being able to target the largest sea trout that lie at the head of the shoal; presenting the fly before the line and leader; he dismisses Stewart's argument about a hooked fish disturbing the water below - a hooked sea trout is in charge - "it will go where it pleases"

    "Variations of the dry fly method may also be tried. One consists of dragging a floating fly over the surface of the water. To the purist this may sound heretical, but if nicely done, and the fly allowed to go downstream at the same time as it is pulled across, it is sometimes very effective, and the antics of the fly bear great resemblance to those of a sedge, water-boatman, or other aquatic insect skating along the surface of the stream."  Dawson (1937). Dawson's method of moving a fly cast downstream is similar to that described by Soltau in 1847.

    Consider this advice on catching sea trout during the day from Roy Buckingham who was chief instructor from 1969 to 2008 at the Arundell Arms (Lifton, Devon), when it was run by Anne and Conrad Voss Bark: "If you do not like going out at night it is perfectly possible to catch sea trout during the day. Sometimes you will see them feeding on surface flies, but they can be taken on dry fly even when you do not see any rising. It is always a great advantage if you can see the fish, because if a dry fly is cast well upstream and allowed to drift over the fish, I have found this much less effective than casting into the sea trout’s window of vision, which can sometimes create an immediate response."

    Roy's advice - to cast your fly into a sea trout's window of vision - may seem odd because anglers are often advised to cast so that their fly lands outside the brown trout's window, but it is consistent with R.W. Mountjoy's ‘Two Zone Theory’.

    Buckingham continues with another piece of advice strictly at odds with the Halfordian maxim to avoid drag when casting a dry fly to brown trout on a chalk stream: "If after two or three casts the fly is refused, cast a little further upstream and retrieve the line a little faster than the current to create a wake on the surface. This will often produce a fish when all else fails."

    The West Country author 'Lemon Grey', in his book  Torridge Fishery  (1957), echoes Roy Buckingham's advice about drag  "I believe that a slightly dragging dry fly will bring them in the day-time better than anything. What would put down a trout seems to arouse a peal [sea trout] - but, of course, it must be done artistically."

    Nymphing Techniques, (Duo Nymphing, New Zealand Nymphing, Euro Nymphing)

    To catch sea trout in the daytime, Buckingham also used small weighted wet flies or nymphs, cast upstream or up and across, allowed to sink before retrieving slightly faster than the current, or using the induced take method if there was little or no current. In this video Lewis Hendrie catches a sea trout on a nymph during the day on the River Lyn that flows through the East Lyn Valley in North Devon.

    Like Buckingham, Bob Mountjoy (2007) found that a beadhead nymph cast upstream, allowed to sink, and then by raising the rod tip retrieving the fly just faster than the current was effective. Mountjoy found that this technique was most effective when the fly landed in a sea trout's 'strike zone'.

    A new generation on fly-fishing guides (Nick Hart, 2018; Pete Tyjas 2015) are discovering for themselves that sea trout can be caught during the day on Devon rivers. Their techniques: Dry-Dropper, inducing a sub-surface take, and twitching a dry fly would have been familiar to Soltau in 1847.


    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.

    Drumlanrig Castle (Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland) in 1880

    Who was Shaw? John Shaw was the Duke of Buccleuch's head gamekeeper at Drumlanrig Castle (Shelton 2009 p118) 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)

    William Crossing  (1847–1928) is highly regarded for his writing on Dartmoor and its antiquities. He wrote this appreciation of James Perrott: "The archaeologist, the searcher after the picturesque, and the angler have each been indebted to him ; there was not a tor or hill in the northern part of the Moor to which he could not conduct them, nor a stream in his neighbourhood in which he knew not the pools and the stickles most likely to afford sport. A deft fisherman himself, and entering keenly into the pleasures of the gentle art, he was always desirous that those who accompanied him should realise the delight of returning with a well-filled creel. .. and he was very intimate with Charles Kingsley, having frequently rambled over the Moor with him. In his part of guide he was brought into contact with noted peers, artists, journalists, and scientific men, many of whom no doubt entertain pleasant recollections of him. Indeed, it would be difficult to find anyone with a knowledge of Dartmoor who has not known or heard of "Old Perrott," as he was familiarly termed. We have heard him spoken of three thousand miles from Dartmoor, and the memories his name recalled, it was evident to us, were among those most cherished. "   (Crossing 1902)

    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).

    I wonder if James Perrott heard from Charles Kingsley about his friend James Anthony Froude's notorious cousin the Reverend John Froude II, and mentioned the 'hunting parson' to R D Blackmore.

    There are very few written details of James Perrott's fly-fishing technique, but one of his friends, Charles Kingsley, was a lifelong fly-fisherman, born in Holne, a village on Dartmoor. Kingsley described, in considerable detail  , his fly-fishing on Dartmoor in the mid 19th century. In 1849 he stayed at the Globe Inn in Chagford, a short distance from Perrott's fly fishing shop. James Perrott and Charles Kingsley were close friends in the 1840s when both men were in their thirties; he was very intimate in the early forties, and he always called him “Mr. Kingsley” in speaking of him" (Doveton 1895). Burbridge (2021) confirms that they were regular companions; it is reasonable to suppose that their fly-fishing techniques were similar, and typical of the mid 19th century.

    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. "  We can't be sure but James Perrott may have fish with three flies on his leader; I think this is unlikely, Devon anglers (e.g. Cutcliffe, Sotau and Kingsley) at that time favoured two flies.

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

    Richard Perrott (1840-1936) 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).

    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, 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
  • Charles Kingsley  fished on Dartmoor, and was a friend of James and Richard Perrott. Kingsley's Chalk Stream Studies published in 1858 was "read and loved" by Skues (1921 p104-106). But dismissed as "an epilog to many centuries when the wet fly reigned supreme." (Schwiebert 1979 p 108)
  • 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). A ready source of these hackles would have declined after the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act banned cockfighting in 1849. 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).

    I have not been able to find documentary evidence that Hearder knew the Perrotts. But surely they knew of each other, even if only by reputation. In his chapter The Rivers of Dartmoor, Walter Gallichan (1861-1946) mentions William Hearder, and the Perrotts: "I am indebted for some of the information in this chapter to Mr William Hearder, the well-known fishing- tackle manufacturer and angler, of Union Street, Plymouth, who supplies the right flies for these rivers, as well as special artificial minnows of proved value. Tickets for these waters can be purchased from Mr Hearder." (Gallichan 1908 p57).


    It's interesting that Gallichan in 1908 refers to Soltau's flies still being sold by Hearders, half a century after the publication of his book. But now with names that were not given by Soltau in 1847: "The late Mr G.W. Soltau dressed special flies for the Inney and other streams in Cornwall, and among the killing patterns are the Black Gnat, Red Spinner, Blue Upright, Alder and Coch-y-bonddu, sold by Messrs Hearder, Plymouth."  (Gallichan 1908 p74). There is remarkable overlap between this list of flies, and those listed in Hearder's 1875 catalogue which includes an explantion of Soltau's number system.

    William Hearder's father Jonathan N. Hearder died in 1877. Gallichan also knew both Perrotts which means that he probably fished on Dartmoor between 1877 and 1895 - the year 'Old Perrott' died. "In my day Old Perrott, "the Dartmoor guide," and his son Richard, were anglers of great renown in this district. Perrott the younger was a walking encyclopedia of Dartmoor fishing lore and natural history, a capital companion and a good hand with the fly rod. Perrott's flies were always in demand, and I have proved their worth in the Teign and other Dartmoor rivers."  (Gallichan 1908 p46-7)

    Devonshire anglers stuck with flies, and methods, that were successful on their local freestone / spate rivers. For example the Blue Upright (a dry fly created by R S Austin) was used by James Perrot, H.G. Michelmore, H.S.Joyce, and recommended by Hearder, Gallichan and Dewar. For some 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 cites 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). Andy 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).


    Andy 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.


    The lasting legacy of Halford and Skues on Dartmoor Rivers

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

    Charles Kingsley (1819 – 1875) gives an interesting insight into fly-fishing methods on Dartmoor rivers, as well as southern county chalk streams, before Halford and Skues introduced their methods of fly fishing.

    Halford symbolically abandoned catching trout feeding beneath the surface by cutting the Golden Thread  that had historically joined dry (floating) with wet fly.


    In a previous essay, I discussed how initially Halford (1886) was careful not to appear to place dry-fly fishing above wet-fly fishing. But there was a sharp change of tone in Chapter 3 The Ethics of the Dry Fly of his last book published in 1913. To some extent, this led to dry-fly fishing being regarded as 'exclusive'. A perception alluded to in a 1959 marketing campaign for Dry Fly Sherry as A gracious welcome to your guests, and reinforced by the Royal Warrant of Appointment on the label. As Dick Walker said - tongue in cheek: "You could distinguish an aristocrat, or an imitation aristocrat from a peasant, by noting how they pronounced the words 'dry-fly'  (Walker 1982 p145).

    Skues recognized  that eventually there would be a reconciliation of dry - and wet-fly fishing. Nevertheless, he faced considerable criticism from Halford and his followers who argued that chalk streams should be reserved for fishing with a dry fly (Hayter 2013). Skues' frustration is evident in the Foreword to The Way of a Trout with a Fly published in 1921: "Authorities  [e.g. Halford]   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 analysed, and this conclusion seems to me inevitable. "

    Tony Hayter (2013) gives a exhaustive account of this long-running dispute between Skues and the dry-fly purists that culminated in an ad hominem attack on wet-fly fishermen, claiming that they were not true sportsmen. "The English idea of the sportsman is morally laden with strong pretensions to virtue. The sportsman is trustworthy, essentially fair and ethically worthy. ( Mary Tew Douglas)

    Events came to a head in 1936 when 78 year old Skues was approached by a fellow member of the Abbots Barton syndicate. As usual, Skues had enjoyed a successful day taking six fish, including one of 2.5 lb on a Medium Olive Nymph. Skues, a solicitor, was informed that it was a violation of the lease agreement to fish with a nymph. Skues offered to resign, but the other members persuaded him to stay for two more seasons because they needed his financial contribution to pay the rent on what was becoming a less productive fishery (Hayter 2013 Chapter 12).

    Skues treatment at the hands of these dry-fly purists is straight out of the  Halfordian playbook  laid out in Chapter 3 "The Ethics of the Dry Fly" in Halford (1913) - the threat of social ostracism.

    History casts shadows; some add texture, others hide truth, and hinder progress.

    Hayter (2002 p86, 88) concludes that "Halford was to remain all his life a scientist and technocrat...for him fishing was to be regarded as a subject of high seriousness, to be approached in an academic and scientific way, " that would lead to "possession of a sort of infallible blueprint that would always avail." Unfortunately, the rigidness of the etiquette around dry-fly purism stifled innovation. For example, Conrad Voss Bark (2020) commented on the reaction to Colonel E.W. Harding's book "The Flyfisher and the Trout’s Point of View" published in 1931: "The book was not well received. Chalkstream fishermen resented criticism of the dry fly code and of Halford. There were bad reviews and the book seemed to be generally regarded as the work of a crank...One of America’s leading flyfishermen, Vincent Marinaro, had been experimenting along the same lines as Harding and was enthusiastic".  In 1965, Harding's book elicited this enigmatic comment from chalk-stream angler Oliver Kite who  doesn't strike me  as a dry-fly purist: "Colonel Harding came up with his painstaking treatise on trout vision, not all of which makes much sense today;". A case of "a prophet is not without honour save in his own country".

    Eventually in the 1980s, Clarke and Goddard replicated and extended Harding's findings and brought them to widespread attention in their TV programme The Educated Trout  available online. Maybe the title 'Educated Trout' made their fndings more acceptable to dry-fly purists by playing into what H.B. McCaskie in his book with the apt title 'The Guileless Trout' (1950 p 78)   described as"The belief, or delusion, that the trout is a highly intelligent creature is of comparatively modern origin, since it is a by-product of the development of the dry fly".

    Traces of Halfordian attitudes to change linger today; there is a vague sense of guilt about violating Halford's ethical code. For example, to pick a recent example, Peter Cockwill's confesses that "Using a highly visible indicator [to signal the take of a sub-surface fly] doesn't quite rest easy with my idea of real fly-fishing"  [emphasis in original] (Cockwill 2022).

    It's worth bearing in mind two things: firstly the speed that salmonids can  spit out  something they have sucked into their mouth (Neuswanger et al 2014), and our reaction time to respond to indicator movement - about a quarter of a second. Schullery (2006) describes how rapidly adult trout spit out something they have sucked into their mouths. This is probably the reason competition anglers devote considerable time developing, modifying, perfecting and practicing indicator methods e.g. Euro and Tight Line Nymphing rigs (Gaskell 2021). We benefit - one way or another - from these developments. For example, my indicator fly is the  Antron Caddis  designed by Craig Coltman who captained the Australian Flyfishing Team in 2012.

    With some limitations, fly-fishing with a nymph is now generally accepted on chalk streams. Gordon Mackie has written a revealing set of guidelines for modern anglers fishing on the chalk streams controlled by the Salisbury & District Angling Club. On some chalk streams fishing with a nymph is not permitted in the early months of the season. (This limitation may be based on Skues' conclusion (1939 p48) that his nymph-fishing technique was not suitable when trout were taking Mayfly nymphs.) Fishing with a single dry fly is permitted throughout the season. Anglers are restricted to using a single fly (dry or nymph). Therefore the Duo / Dry-Dropper rig would not be permitted. On these rivers the angler casts to a fish that is often visible in the water.

    In many ways, these guidelines are reasonable; they allow anglers to use tactics - the Halford and Skues  paradigm   - that are effective on chalk streams, protect the environment, as well as the interest of other anglers. In line with Halford's and Skues' precepts, trout anglers are encouraged to use artificials that imitate dry duns resting on the surface, or emerging sub-surface nymphs. However, fishing 'Netheravon style' with a Sawyer bug is permitted for grayling only.

    Halford's and Skues' techniques can be employed on rivers in South Devon. But there are limitations if they are adopted blindly on these freestone rivers. For example, fly hatches are less frequent and less abundant around here, and it can be especially difficult to spot trout beneath the surface on Dartmoor rivers which 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 ).

    Skues recognized the problems of nymph fishing on freestone rivers: "in rough North Country and Scottish streams it is the rarest thing to see the surface broken by a rising trout... The rough stream angler therefore has to fish with a line so tight as to render it probable that a taking trout will hook himself " (Skues 1939 p 47)

    Even on chalk streams, detecting when a trout had taken a nymph has always been recognised as diffcult. For example, in an otherwise positive review of Skues' first book, Sherringham commented ".. a sixth sense on the part of the angler is needed to know when to connect with a fish " (Hayter 2013 p169). For this reason, an increasing number of Dartmoor anglers use a dry fly as an indicator above a nymph - the Dry-Dropper / Duo rig. This is discussed in a separate essay  available here.

    A 1974 Anglia TV programme
    showing fishing for stocked trout, and the 'feeding station syndrome' on a chalk stream - the Test
    From Simon Baddeley

    There is also a need to be cautious in adopting some chalk stream practices. For example, stocking to supplement the number, and size, of trout to meet anglers' demands. Privately-funded stocking of English chalk streams has been carried out from as early as the 1830s; "Chalkstreams will not provide decent sport without stocking. Because they are for all intents and purposes artificial sporting rivers" (Cooper 2021 - minute 52). This was the subject of a recent fierce debate between Tom Fort and Neil Freeman over the Environment Agency proposal to limit the size of trout stocked into the Test and Itchen. (you can read  both articles here , courtesy of Simon Cooper)

    Halford's method of fishing a dry fly may be particularly successful at catching these stocked trout. As long ago as 1894 Basil Field recognised that stocking created a problem that is discussed here The (Mis)behaviour of hatchery-raised stocked trout

    For example, the American Gubbins (2018) argued that fish raised in a hatchery and then stocked into a river were easier to catch on a dry fly than wild-born trout. " The ordinary regimen in hatcheries is to deliver trout feed from above the surface of the water. The disturbance food pellets creates when falling on the surface of the water comes to act as a dinner bell for domesticated trout. And they carry this hatchery trait into the wild. Thus when a dry fly fisher casts his floating line and floating fly on the surface of a stream, the disturbance caused by the cast stimulates the domesticated trout to rise upward in the water column to feed. It is possible that a clumsy cast or the slapping down of the fly will draw even greater interest from domesticated trout."

    Peter Hayes makes the same point about hatchery-reared English chalk stream trout: "Halford and his coterie were complete believers in stocking,... Skues was one of the few who opposed the practice, which, when you think about it, compromises the whole idea of imitation as the key to the sport, insofar as a stock fish is more likely to be deceived by an accurate imitation of a pellet. " (Hayes 2016 p31).

    I think Halford may have developed a restrictive code of practice in order to conserve trout stocks in the days before the advent of catch-and-release. Halford was renting his fishing, maintaining the river, and stocking to supplement the natural head of fish - at considerable financial outlay (Halford 1913 p74).

    But these are not problems encountered on Dartmoor where there is mile-after-mile of fishing available to anglers. Nevertheless, many years ago, a river I fish in South Devon was stocked with hatchery-reared trout to meet angler expectations of larger fish. Stocking was abandoned after it was shown to be ineffective, probably due to downstream migration or mortality (Gaskell 2011, Wellard nd). I discuss the importance of sea trout in supporting wild sea - and brown trout stocks in the article: Are we killing the sea trout that lay the golden eggs?  (Kenyon 2022).

    False casting is an important element in Halford's dry-fly method. Hills (1921 p122-123) regarded Pulman's (1851) inclusion of  false casting  to dry the fly as marking the birth of the modern approach to dry-fly fishing, and consequently it became a defining feature of dry-fly fishing. Unfortunately, false casting involves the fly line travelling behind the angler. This can cause problems on rivers coming off Dartmoor, especially on overhanging tree-lined stretches that flow through the valleys below the moor. One solution is to roll cast, and employ Spey-cast variations to change the direction of the cast. This was introduced by  Mr. Jack Notley  when he provided fly-casting instruction on the Devonshire Avon after the First World War - it has re-emerged recently as the dry-fly Spey described by Simon Gawesworth in his book Single Handed Spey Casting (2010). It is unclear  how anglers on Devon rivers in the 19th century cast their flies . Andy Crisp (2014 - 2021) commented that "False casting was little known and the flies were delivered by the simple action of "whipping" the line.". Nowadays synthetic fly-tying materials, and effective fly floatants have reduced the need for false casting to dry a fly.

    Skues' claim that: "there is scarcely a book on trout-fly dressing and trout fishing which I have not studied and analyzed"  has been supported by some fly-fishing historians, but questioned recently by Terry Lawton: 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).

    I recently came across confirmation that Skues owned a copy of Soltau's book; see Hayter (2013 Appendix 10 p347). I have considered possible answers to the question: Why did Skues ignore Soltau's 1847 book?

    I think he did not refer to earlier descriptions of fishing a dry fly in conjunction with a wet fly, described by Soltau and Fitzgibbon in 1847, in order to avoid further fierce resistance from dry-fly purists to nymph fishing on chalk streams.

    The evidence is clear that Halford and Skues succeeded in bringing about a  paradigm shift  on chalk streams. The fly-fishing methods they described, over a period of 65 years (Halford 1886-1913; Skues 1910-1951), replaced on chalk streams the earlier paradigm exemplified by  Charles Kingsley's  method of fly-fishing.

    The presence, or absence, of a physical link between dry fly and subsurface fly (wet or nymph) is the one defining crucial element that distinguishes between the older freestone and newer chalk stream fly-fishing paradigms. I call this physical link the  Golden Thread. Peter Hayes (2016) captures the dogmatic reason for, and the consequences of, this fateful decision: "Only dry fly fishing was flyfishing, and subsurface fishing was not"

    On Dartmoor rivers the older paradigm clung on, to a limited extent , in the face of the westward spread of Halford's and Skues' influence (Rabley 1910  , Joyce 1948,  , Wilson 1970).  The influential book West Country Fly Fishing  (1983), edited by Anne Voss Bark, describes how, in the last quarter of the 20th century,   the single dry-fly, and the downstream wet fly  were used by acknowledged local experts.

    But the older freestone technique now enjoys a new lease of life albeit with a modern name(s). An increasing number of local anglers fish with two flies in a Dry-Dropper / Duo / Klink-and-Dink / NZ Style arrangement that would be familiar to Soltau and Charles Kingsley. Some aspects of Halford's and Skues' writing are still influential, but their new chalk-stream paradigm has limited application because it discarded - without replacement - an effective element from the older paradigm.

    This begs the question: Why has there not been a similar re-emergence of the old two-fly technique on English chalk streams ? Skues' last book,  Nymph Fishing For Chalk Stream Trout, published in 1939 - the year after the bruising  'Nymph Debate'  provides some of the answer. Starting with the emphasis on chalk streams in the title; Skues makes no attempt to claim that nymph fishing should replace older techniques on freestone rivers. It is also significant that by 1939 Skues restricted the term nymph (p2) to the larval stage of the Ephemeroptera (mayflies); caddisflies and stoneflies were judged of less importance to chalk-stream anglers (p33).

    Skues claims that nymph fishing developed out of the old art of wet-fly fishing on chalk streams. The picture he presents of wet-fly fishing on chalk streams is of a surprisingly effective, but unfashionable and haphazard technique that involved : 'searching the water' by fishing down-stream with two or more flies, bedevilled by drag (p3-5). Skues suggests that "for many years it does not seem to have occured to anyone to try casting the wet fly up-stream to individual fish".

    Maybe Skues was right about the slow-wittedness of some chalk-stream anglers until he introduced them to nymph fishing. But anglers on North and West Country freestone rivers had already been casting wet flies upstream for many years. For example,  Charles Kingsley  (an author approved of by Skues in 1921 ) continued to mix wet and dry flies, and cast them together upstream when he fished on chalk streams in the mid-19th century.

    At times, Skues gives the impression of playing 'second-fiddle' to Halford's dry-fly fishing; he claimed that "Nymph fishing is not a sport by itself. It is auxiliary to the floating fly." Schullery (2008) called Skues a tentative rebel. At times you can sense the tension this reticence produced "Nymph fishing is a comparatively new art, or perhaps it would be fairer to say a new phase of a largely old and forgotten art " Skues uses the obscure term 'supersession' to convey the smothering impact of Halfordian dogma. He even distances himself from taking the first steps to introduce nymph fishing on chalk streams(Skues 1939 p13-15)

    There are sections of Skues' 1939 book that read like a riposte to the criticisms made by Halford and his followers. They often take the form of Skues accommodating, embracing, and abiding by Halford's existing code of fly-fishing practice which restricts the angler to: casting a single nymph upstream to an identified fish; using an artificial imitation of the natural fly; presenting the nymph with a drag-free drift.

    Skues and Halford provided the historical foundation for marketing claims such as: the chalkstreams of Britain are the birthplace of fly fishing, where the tactics and skills of modern fly fishing were devised and perfected during the late 19th and early 20th century.

    It is certainly true that the  tactics  and skills of modern chalk-stream dry-fly fishing were devised and perfected during the late 19th and early 20th century.


    Drag: The Elephant in the Room

    Dry-fly drag: The gospel acording to Halford

    "The drag-free float is a cornerstone of the dry-fly technique and it is one of the features which distinguishes the dry-fly method from the older floating-fly technique"  (Herd 2003 p281).

    In the following quote, Halford suggests that 'drag' was not on many angler's radar before he elevated it to be a cornerstone of dry-fly fishing in the late 19th century. "The exact meaning of this expression is, however, only clear to a small minority of modern anglers, and as the main principle of dry-fly fishing and the success and want of success of the angler is absolutely dependent on this point, it is worthy of a proper definition. When a fly is said to be dragging, the meaning is, that it is travelling down the stream in some degree difierently to the natural insect" (Halford 1889 p81).

    Halford has a reputation for basing his advice on his own observations and experience, rather than drawing on previously published sources. Therefore, I'm not sure that Halford was correct when he claimed in 1889 that drag was "only clear to a small minority of modern anglers". Already in 1847 Fitzgibbon had discussed the impact of drag on a floating (dry) fly: "Never drag your flies straight across the water towards you, and never work them against the current. A small fish may, perchance, rise at them when so worked, but seldom or never a large one." (p26). The fourth edition of Fitzgibbon's book, published in 1865, repeated this advice.

    When  Emlyn Gill  introduced dry-fly fishing to an American audience in 1912, he followed Halford's unambiguous lead, and devoted an entire chapter to That Cruel Thing, the "Drag". Gill, writing for anglers on freestone rivers, encourages them to 'fish the stream', rather than imitate English chalk-stream purists by 'fishing the rise',

    Skues: Sub-surface drag

    Skues has been described as the father of nymph fishing (Schullery 2007). In correspondence with the Irish fly-tier Tommy Hanna in 1935, Skues wrote : "I don't work my nymphs"  because he believed that ascending nymphs were immobile (Hayter 2013 p240).

    In the years before Skues popularized nymph fishing, movement was not always regarded as fatal for the effectiveness of sub-surface flies. Fitzgibbon and Soltau fished with nymphs suspended below a floating (dry) fly. Fitzgibbon advised his readers: "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" [emphasis added] (Fitzgibbon 1847 p26). Like Fitzgibbon,  Soltau also moving the rod with "a slight tremulous motion" to move the rod from left to right to mimic the underwater struggles of the 'stream' (nymph) fly.

    Despite his scholarly reputation and  owning copies  of Soltau's and Fitzgibbon's books, Skues did not refer to them in his own works. There is no doubt that subsequently Skues had an overwhelming influence on succeeding generations. Consequently, drag is still regarded as disrupting the attractiveness of sub-surface nymphs (Gaskell 2021).

    Drag and Controlled Movement

    Drag continues to be one of the most confused, and confusing, topics in the fly-fishing literature ! For example, consider these mysteriously contrasting effects of drag : "Even a hint of drag has disastrous consequences on a fly that imitates a freely floating insect. At the very least; it puts fish off; at worst, it sends them fleeing for cover. Few trout are tempted by a dragging dry fly, unless the drag is a desired effect such as skating a caddisfly across the water's surface. " [emphasis added] (Redacted 2017)

    On the other hand: "Many books by competent writers and fishermen contain learned discussions about drag and its effects. ... All conclude that a dragging fly frightens the trout. I do not agree with that at all." Marinaro (1995, p 29)

    I agree with Marinaro that drag does not alarm trout. In my opinion, the effects of drag can be explained in terms of the mechanism that enables a trout to intercept its prey. My (long-winded) essay How Does a Trout Catch a Fly? discusses the negative effects of drag, and the positive effects of 'controlled movement'.

    It may help to distinguish between drag and 'controlled movement'. Controlled movement is intentional, and designed to mimic the behaviour of a natural insect. This involves the angler moving the rod or line to bring about the desired movement of the fly, or by the angler allowing the current to act on the line to move the fly (e.g. the  Leisenring Lift etc.).

    There is one time when the effects of drag are reversed - on dark nights. On dark nights brown trout and sea trout (Salmo trutta) will enthusiastically take a dragged fly, but refuse the same lure if it does not drag.

    The effectiveness of 'controlled movement' in daylight on chalk streams and freestone rivers has been described above by Soltau (1847), Fitzgibbon (1847) Charles Ritz (1972), and Leonard Wright (1975), and more recently in articles by:
  • John Gierach  "Skimming the Surface: When dead drifts fail, add subtle action to dry flies" (2005)
  • and Tom Rosenbauer   "When Drag is Desirable"  (2008)
  • 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.



    These comments caught my eye ...

    The underlying simplicity of many animal behaviours has been remarked upon by scientists and fly-fishers:

  • From Nobel Laureate and ethologist Niko Tinbergen: "it is often the case that quite crude tricks suffice, itself perhaps a reflection of animals’ greater reliance on simpler rules of thumb."
  • From Vince Marinaro, author of A Modern Dry-Fly Code : "I am continually astonished by the fact that the most killing flies in fly-fishing history are of very simple construction"
  • "We have broken free of the need to make models of insects and instead concentrate on the imprint or light pattern a fly makes on the surface of the water." (Voss Bark, Conrad. The Dry Fly (p. 107). Merlin Unwin Books. Kindle Edition.)
  • "Facebook kills a lot of fish." Tom McGuane (2016)
  • "The sporting qualities of a fish are dependent neither on its size nor its weight, but on the effort of concentration, the skill and mastery the fish demands from the fisherman" ~ Charles Ritz
  • In his book ""A Fly Fishers Life"" (1972), Ritz kept his strongest opinions under control, but was more outspoken when interviewed by Olsen in 1965 ! Maybe he hankered after a simpler approach to fly fishing.?

  • "Trout fishing is simple. But the men who write about it want to become so important, and the people throw them so many compliments, that they get like the Sphinx. They add all kinds of gimmicks to make their systems more mysterious, more fantastic."
  • Skues (1921 p 1X) expressed it this way: "An authority who lays down a law and dogmatizes is a narcotic, a soporific, a stupefier, an opiate. The true function of an authority is to stimulate, not to paralyze, original thinking. But then, I suppose, he wouldn't be an authority."

  • " I don't want to disturb anyone, but some of the ideas are ridiculous. Such as matching the hatch. Of course, there are times when you should have a fly as alike as possible to the flies in the water. But the casting and the accuracy and how you present your fly and how fast it gets there and how it swims are all more important than matching the hatch."
  • "I've never been interested in flies. Flies annoy me. I don't want to spend hours changing flies all the time. Once I had 3,000 flies. Every time I fished I took with me a whole cabinet of them. And when I had taken a fish with a certain fly I'd run up and down telling everybody, 'I've got the right fly! Here's the fly. Take it and fish with it!' I was an easy victim at first."
  • "One of the most common questions I’m asked on the water is “what are you getting ‘em on?” Unfortunately, too many people believe that there is a “magic fly” — a fly that, at that particular moment and under those particular conditions, will guarantee their success. Truth be told, there is no such thing." From Todd Tanner - Sunday, May 22nd, 2022 "What do you need to do to become a truly great fly fisher?" Available online

  • "But trout fishermen are believers. They believe in the leader, they believe in the line, they believe in the rod, the reel, balancing the rod with the reel, matching the rod to the fisherman, matching the hatch. That's all nonsense "
  • Quotations from Olsen (1965)



    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

    Portrait of Henry John Brinsley Manners, 8th Duke of Rutland by Violet Manners, Duchess of Rutland (1856-1937) - <a rel="nofollow" class="external free" href="http://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/person.asp?desc=&amp;grp=&amp;lDate=&amp;eDate=&amp;occ=21%3BLand+Ownership&amp;medium=print&amp;name=&amp;search=as&amp;LinkID=mp84649">http://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/person.asp?desc=&amp;grp=&amp;lDate=&amp;eDate=&amp;occ=21%3BLand+Ownership&amp;medium=print&amp;name=&amp;search=as&amp;LinkID=mp84649</a>, Public Domain, Link

    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