Thursday, July 9, 2015


                                 ( G.E.M. Skues- the amazing theoretical mind of fly fishing)
                           ( Gillies Hut- River Test- Mick Hall image- where many a heated intellectual discussion of the trout fly fishing passion took place- so badly lacking in today's fly fishing 

 On a weekly bases in a series of volumes, I will share some of the post-clips/excerpts as hopefully interesting and enjoyable reading as opposed to a 'Selectivity II' sequel , which would be more profitable-oh well!-, but money isn't everything eh! 
When Al Caucci , who did the forward  based on the original uncut/unedited version he was a tad disappointed and sad when he received the final book, as other forward contributors did since so much was edited by the publishers,  as the master of  'Hatches' and the Delaware said, "they cut out all the good juicy stuff !"- here is my attempt top make it right! ( besides, I'm working on another huge project!)

For those always seeking more knowledge and insight into the fascinating cerebral world of  chasing trout, salmon and steelhead and the thinking, analytical fly fisher that results from pursuing such amazingingly fussy quarry  ....enjoy!..


Part of the selectivity process is choices -- both by the salmonid, and by the fly angler in pursuit. Fly fishers that choose to fish a certain way may be called “purists or snobs”. The “dry fly only” angler, armed with cane rod and the historical Adams dry, can be considered this stoic type of connoisseur. Thus the first British school of snobbery in the late 1880s, emerges with the fury much like the Protestant Reformation between the Catholic Church and Martin Luther.

Enter Frederick M. Halford, and G.E.M. Skues. As with all things British,”proper”has by far the most importance when speaking correctly of any description from cricket to drinking Scotch whiskey. Now the art of fly fishing is perfectly right for this type of exclusivity. Their selectivity laboratory was the dainty English chalk streams (spring creeks) of the hallowed Hampshire countryside where the Rivers Test and Itchen flowed through thr pastoral farms and villages. Since the writings of Stewart vaulted the wet fly swing to the dark and tannic waters of Scotland, the crystal clear chalk streams offered observations of trout feeding to mayflies and sedges unlike no other fisheries at that time -- except for Pennsylvania's Cumberland limestoners, where George Gibson was making similar observations. Sight fishing for trout on spring creeks reveals the true soul and spirit of the trout: it's feeding, and taking or refusing of the fly.

Halford introduce the upstream dry fly approach in his”Floating Flies and How to Dress Them (1886), followed by”Dry Fly Fishing In Theory And Practise”.  What started as a progressive approach to sight fishing for trout, geared toward surface oriented chalk stream situations, the absolute ideological dogma of”only a sporting gentleman will and must fish in this precise upstream dry fly manner”was preached as religion.

If Hallford was “Catholic”in his new fly angling religion, G.E.M. Skues is his arch nemesis and fly fishing’s Martin Luther. Born in Newfoundland in 1858 and later transported back to Aberdeen, Skues was an extremely brilliant thinker, writer and solicitor (lawyer), who was part of a prestigious law firm where he practiced until retiring at the age of 81. His analytical observations from the minute to the grandiose, was applied to his world of fly fishing. Skues may be the greatest empirical/analytical mind to enter fly fishing in history -- his American equivalent was another famous Pennsylvania lawyer -- Vincent Marinaro. Extreme attention to detail and peculiarity with which a lawyer analyzes his cases can be remarkable and complex when studying the world of selective trout. Skues has written more words about selectivity and trout than any man that ever graced the planet.  He was the Mozart of fly fishing –“pure genius.’  As Hallford drew his line in the sand with the dry fly, Skuess did the same with the nymph.  However, Skues knew that the dry fly was very effective at certain times and agreed with Halford. But for sheer efficiency of practice in the art of catching trout on the fly, he knew all too well the virtues of and experienced chalk stream sight nympher.
“The object of fly fishing, whether wet or dry, is the catching of trout, not anyhow, but by means refined, clean, delicate, artistic, and sportsmanlike sense that they are fair to the quarry and fair to the brother angler. There can be no doubt that the dry fly honestly fulfills all these conditions.   Let us see where the wet fly fails.
It is said the wet fly man's game is duffer’s game, which needs neither knowledge nor any skill beyond enough to cast the long line downstream or across and down; that it leads to a raking of the water, often with two or three flies; that it leads to the pricking and scarring of many fish, to the catching of many undersized trout, and to the undue disturbance of long stretches of water, to the detriment of the nerves of the fish and the sport of other anglers. All this I am quite willing to accept and to eliminate from the legitimate all wet fly fishing which could come under this description.
What is left to the wet fly angler? I venture to say a mighty pretty, delicate and delightful art which resembles dry fly fishing in that the fly's guest upstream across, individual fish, or to places where it is reasonable to expect that fish of suitable portions may be found , and differs from dry fly fishing only in the amount of material used in the dressing of the fly, in the force with which that fly is cast, and in the extreme subtlety of  the indications frequently attending the taking of the fly by the fish, compared to which there is a painful obviousness in the taking of the dry fly. After this that it provides means for the circumventing of bulgers and feeders on larvae, that furnishes sport on those numerous occasions when trout are in position and probably feeding under water without ever breaking the surface, and generally widens the opportunities of  sport for the man who cannot he always be on the spot to seize the best opportunities afforded by a rise of  trout to the floating fly.
Is this method open to any of the objections attending the downstream raking we concur in condemning?  Is it a duffer’s game?  Is it easier than dry-fly fishing?  Try and see.  Does it lead to the pricking and scaring of many fish which follow a dragging fly?  No. Does it unduly disturb long stretches of water to the detriment of the brother angler?  Why, it is as easy to spend an afternoon on a hundred yards as it is on the purest cult of the dry fly.
 If the trout are feeding, I for one fail to see why they may legitimately  be fished for if ey are taking a small portion of their food on the surface, but not if they are taking all, or practically all, of it underneath.”

This passage pretty much sums up Skuesian dogma. With his major books”Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream (1910) ,”The Way of The Trout With The Fly”, and “Nymph Fishing For Chalk Stream Trout” (1910-1939), Skues lays out the anthology for selectivity. His observations, tactics, fly patterns, empirical theories on trout behavior are to this day the Bible for our sport. It is a little pity that most modern-day fly fishers have no knowledge of this genius.

It appears that overall Halford made himself the”won't budge”  antagonist in this schism, whereby Skues  was much more versatile and  accepting of the dry fly and its proper use.  However his staunch favoritism of the wet fly/nymph is born out of scientific validity as to how spring creek/chalk stream trout carry out a great majority of their daily and yearly feeding.
“But when it has come to be shown that, rightly fished in the right conditions(wet fly/nymph), it does pay, and does no harm, unless adding to the angler’s sport and the weight of his basket be harm, the ground of objection is changed. It is too deadly. It is as bad as worm fishing or the use of and Alexandra.  It ss not fly fishing at all. These violences defeat themselves. I am quite willing to admit that whatever is unfair to the brother angler or damaging to the water is rightly to be barred, but to say that it is fair to cast a dry fly persistently over a bulging trout with no genuine hope of getting him, and is unfair to cast a sunk fly to him with a good chance of getting him, seems to me absurd.
If I am right, the opponents of the wet fly fairly used seem to be driven upon the argument that it is not fly fishing. This is a mere verbal distinction culled ad hoc, and as an argument it leaves me cold. For generations wet fly fishing was the only fly fishing -- on waters, too, where the dry fly now reigns supreme -- and in those days, if records do not lie, baskets were not inferior to the best of the present-day. And if a method of wet fly fishing, which, in the sense only of its giving one an added chance of trout, and no other, is detrimental to the water, is a sin, then I am quite content to remain in my iniquity.”

                 The” great debate’ between  Halford and Skues laid to rest, Skues was a master at describing, analyzing and empirically formulating cause and effect fly fishing relationships, resulting in presentation. His jovial poke at the dry fly purist was summed up in his short article “Heaven but the Vision of Fulfilled Desire”.Skues wrote short humorous stories for various publishers under different pen names.  Every fly fisher today should read and find humor in the” Mr. Castwell” story. It appeals to our current infatuation with catching lots and perfectly large trout all the time, which is very much not the case with selectively feeding fish.