City lawyer found a new way to fish

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Among unlikely revolutionaries, few are more unlikely than G E M Skues.

Among unlikely revolutionaries, few are more unlikely than G E M Skues.

The late bachelor fisherman (1858-1949) was a pillar of the establishment, a respectable partner in a firm of City solicitors, but he turned trout fishing on its head in 1910 with the publication of a book with the off-puttingly modest title Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream.

In it, he suggested the use of nymphs, artificial imitations of the larvae of the upwing flies, like mayflies, on which trout feed. The larvae live under water, emerging from the river as adult insects, so Skues proposed it would be rational to fish the imitations underwater too.

His suggestion at first caused a furore in the angling world. Trout fishing was then dominated by the snobbish cult of the dry fly, the imitation of the adult insect which was fished upstream to a fish that was rising, or breaking the surface. Anything fished under the surface - a wet fly - was considered too easy, and unsporting.

Skues, however, showed that nymph fishing too could be immensely skilful, and eventually - after passionate argument - his suggestions passed into the mainstream of fly fishing.

He set out his theories in a series of books which became celebrated for the quality of the writing. His accounts of days by his beloved Itchen at Abbott's Barton, where he fished for 56 years from 1883 to 1938, were filled with charming observations of river life and the natural world. The best known are The Way of a Trout with a Fly (1921) and the posthumous Itchen Memories (1951). Skues is now thought of as one of the leading English angling writers of the 20th century, to compare with Viscount Grey of Falloden, John Waller Hills and Harry Plunket Greene. For some enthusiasts he is the best of all.

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