Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream

G.E.M. Skues, 1910

n 1910, G.E.M. Skues made a cautious sally into the chalk stream controversy with Minor Tactics. The title is apologetic and the book is dedicated to 'My friend the dry-fly purist, and to my enemies, if I have any.' Sadly, his work did make him enemies. At the time he wrote, the upstream dry fly doctrine was at its zenith and here he was talking of fishing a wet fly:

Against the grating which protected the hatch-hole was generally a large pile of weed, and to-day was no exception. Against it collected a film of scum, alive with black gnats, and among them I saw a single dark olive dun lying spent. I had seen no others of his kind, but I knotted on a Dark Olive Quill on a single cipher hook, and laid siege to a trout which was smutting steadily in the next little bay. The fly was a shop-tied one, beautiful to look at when new, but as a floater it was no success. The hackle was a hen's, and the dye only accentuated its natural inclination to sop up water. The oil-tip had not yet arrived, and so it came about that , after the wetting it got in the first recovery, it no sooner lit on the water on the second cast than it went under. A moment later I became aware of a sort of crinkling little swirl in the water, ascending from the place where I conceived my fly to be…

For several years, Skues used winged wet flies, on the grounds that trout took them reasonably uncritically, rather than on the basis of any conviction that he was imitating a nymph. He gave seven patterns in Minor Tactics, ranging from a Greenwell’s Glory to the Black Gnat. The breakthrough came in July 1908:

I caught an Itchen fish one afternoon, and on examining his mouth I found a dark olive nymph. My fly-dressing materials were with me, and I found I had a seal’s fur which, with a small admixture of bear’s hair, dark brown and wooly, from close to the skin, enabled me to reproduce exactly the colours of the natural insect. I dressed the imitation with short, soft, dark blue whisks, body of the mixed dubbing tied with well-waxed bright yellow silk, and bunched at the shoulder to suggest wing-cases, the lower part of the body being ribbed with fine gold wire. Two turns of a very short, dark rusty dun hackle completed the imitation, much to my satisfaction.

Apparently it was no less agreeable to the trout, for, beginning to fish next morning at ten o’clock, I found six fish rising in a shallow. I began with a small Red Sedge, as no dun was yet on the water, and missed several of them. Then, putting up a Pope’s Green Nondescript, I again missed three fish in succession. I then bethought myself of my nymph, and, knotting it on, in a few minutes I had five of the six fish, and had lost the other.

By now Skues had the bit between his teeth, and it wasn't long before he was imitating Alder Fly larvae, caddis pupa and fresh-water shrimp . These patterns were among the first imitations of underwater insects, marked the beginnings of the move away from the traditional winged wet fly and were the ancestors of modern wet fly patterns.

Minor Tactics is the book which charts Skues first steps towards the formation of this theory of nymph fishing and it should be read together with The Way of a Trout with a Fly and Nymph Fishing for Chalk Stream Trout.


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