George Selwyn Marryat


n April 28th, 1879, a chance encounter changed the entire course of fly fishing history: Frederic Halford dropped into John Hammond's fishing shop in Winchester to buy some flies. There was another angler in the shop and although Halford may not have known him by sight, he would have known him by name, because the other fisherman already had a formidable reputation as a dry fly man. Halford wrote very little about the event, but it must have made a deep impression upon him, even allowing for the fact that he couldn't have had any idea of what would follow. It is easy to imagine the pair standing before the counter, Halford extending his hand, and the expression on his face when the other was introduced as George Selwyn Marryat. Later, Halford wrote later that he was much impressed with Marryat's personality, and went so far as to admit that he was loath to leave the shop.

It is hard to think of any other encounter which has had more influence on the subsequent course of fly fishing, with the exception perhaps of Izaac Walton's meeting with Charles Cotton. Between them, Halford and Marryat would change the face of dry fly fishing out of recognition, developing patterns that catapulted it into the modern age. Fortunately, they were both in the prime of their lives, perhaps at the peak of their intellectual and fly fishing skills. At the time, Halford was thirty-five years old, Marryat only a few years older.

Marryat is a shadowy figure, and unfortunately we know little about him beyond anecdote and a few references by Halford. He was presumably born in 1840 or 1841, since he won a scholarship to Winchester in 1854. After a period abroad with the army, he returned to England in 1870, and quickly built up a reputation as a skilled dry fly fisherman. After Marryat met Halford in Hammond's, the two quickly became firm friends; a friendship which changed Halford's life. In 1880, after Marryat had taught him to tie flies, Halford took rooms at Houghton Mill, where the pair did everything they could to set out as much as possible about the theory and practice of dry fly fishing. Halford wrote that the motivation for the development of the series of dry flies to which he subsequently devoted his life was the many discussions he had had with Marryat about the lack of uniformity among the patterns sold in the shops:

Not only did the sizes, the shapes and the colours vary among different fly-dressers, but the same fly-tyer would make considerable variation in his flies, and at times a dozen delivered by the same man as the same fly would contain several varieties. The necessity of systematising our artificial flies in this way impressed itself very strongly upon us, and eventually I decided to publish a work on the methods of dressing the flies, with a considerable number of patterns described and illustrated in colours.

Halford's first work, Floating Flies and How to Dress Them, was published in 1886. Halford tells the reader that he drew heavily on Marryat's natural talent and experience and he never made any secret of the fact that he wanted Marryat to be joint author, but the latter, ever keen on avoiding the limelight, declined. The extent of Marryat's influence on Floating Flies can only be guessed at, but it must have been immense, given that Halford had comparatively little experience of fly-tying techniques - and, ironically, of fishing the Mayfly - at that stage. Indeed, in those early days, the majority of what Halford knew about fly tying was learned from Marryat. Dr. Thomas Sanctuary said, for example, that the idea of tying dry flies with paired upright wings was Marryat's, rather than Halford's. Their collaboration seemed set to last for many years, but sadly, Marryat died during an epidemic on 14th February 1896, and he is buried in Salisbury cathedral. Many regard him as the most skilled dry fly fisherman that ever lived.


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