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Marryat:  Prince of Fly Fishers

By Malcolm Greenhalgh

George Selwyn Marryat is in many ways a ghost-like, shadowy man who, I learned many years ago from reading about the early days of dry fly fishing on chalk streams, was a friend of FM Halford and a wonderful fly-dresser and fly fisher. I also knew that he was a great influence in the contents of Halford’s great books, especially Floating Flies and How to Dress Them, but refused to be his co-author and kept very much in the background. But that was about it. Despite the fact that Marryat kept no diaries, that virtually no correspondence of his exists, and that Marryat published next to nothing, Terry Lawton has gathered an extraordinary amount of infomation about the man.

Marryat was considered the best fly fisher in England, and there were lots of good fly fishers about. One other was Francis Max Walbran, a tackle dealer from Leeds and one of the North Country’s leading men. Walbran headed south to meet and see Marryat in action and, he reported, “I saw an angler who could do anything he liked with a rod and line ... I was allowed to witness his marvellous ‘steeple cast’, by which he can keep 20 yards of line like a cork screw in the air, and then shoot a midge-fly across the stream, when it floats like a thing of life. Then he performed the feat left-handed ...This was worth going from Yorkshire to Hampshire to see without anything else.” The rod was not a modern Sage or Hardy, and the line not a Cortland. What would he have been able to do with our tackle, and would any of us have been able to cope with his?

Other great fly fishers of the latter years of the 19th century feature in Terry’s book, each of them with a thumbnail biography, making it a picture of fishing in that great era of the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century. Besides Halford himself, there is the great Francis Francis and William Senior, GEM Skues, Dr Tom Sanctuary, HS Hall and Edward Grey (who became Lord Grey of Falloden). All of them acknowledged Marryat at the best fly-fisher and perhaps the leading tyer and inovator of trout flies (far to the fore of even Halford). But it was the dual ability to tie great flies and then to use them to catch fish that lifts him. Even today, many great fly-tyers are not good catchers of fish; and many great catchers of fish are not great fly-tyers. One excuse that some fly fishers use for not catching fish is not having the right fly with them. “No!” said Marryat. “It’s not the fly but the driver that catches the fish.”

A great and essential read.


Marryat: Prince of Fly Fishers
By Terry Lawton
The Medlar Press; £20

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