The Medlar News Blog

Medlar has been publishing fishing books since 1994 and we are proud to have produced works by many of the finest angling writers. In our Blog we’ll give you an insight into the new books we’re working on, provide the occasional extract from our Books of the Week, author news, book reviews and loads of angling snippets (from how to fish to fishing history, fishing tackle, great angling literature and much more).

Prince of Fly Fishers

The fly dressings of G.S. Marryat
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The Fisherman's Curse

Marryat - The Prince of Fly Fishers

by Terry Lawton

George Selwyn Marryat has always been thought of as a bit of an enigma. During his short life he was known as the best fly fisherman in England and after his death he was referred to as the ‘Prince of Fly Fishers’. Marryat made his impact on the world of Victorian chalkstream fly fishing when he met another angler who is now much better known - F. M. Halford. We can only speculate on what might have happened to the development of dry-fly fishing if Halford had not met Marryat that day in Winchester.

In 1929 G. E. M. Skues - best-known as the father of upstream nymph fishing - wrote what has been described as a considered assessment of F. M. Halford and his fly-fishing life. In his assessment, Skues wrote of the ‘magnificent justification of Marryat’s choice of Halford to be the prophet of the new cult’ - that of the dry fly. It has been suggested by many that Halford could not have produced his books and fly patterns and the code of dry-fly fishing without the close collaboration, inspiration, support and friendship of George Selwyn Marryat.

Marryat was a very competent fly dresser and a patient teacher of fishing friends and professional fly tyers, although he seems to have stopped tying his own flies around 1886, in favour of buying those produced by commercial fly tyers - some of whom he helped establish and develop their businesses through his patronage. He taught Halford all that he knew about fly tying and was intimately involved in the development of the upwinged dry fly. Halford wrote: ‘He was always trying new materials and new methods to make the artificial fly a better imitation of the natural insect.’ After he stopped tying his own flies, he does not seem to have completely abandoned the idea of developing new patterns. At the Fisheries Exhibition of 1896, George Holland had on display examples of ‘the late George Selwyn Marryat’s last novelty in way of a design for Mayflies’. Many flies can be attributed to him - the Little Marryat (and its improved version the Quill Marryat) is his most famous legacy but there were certainly ten other patterns that he developed.

His peers described him as a most unselfish fisherman who was only too eager to help and advise his fellow angler. And they discussed fly patterns after a day’s fishing ‘dinner being over, and the tobacco burning’. Red Spinner (William Senior) wrote of discussions between Marryat and Francis Francis: ‘The anecdotes they could tell, the hot discussions waged over a wing or hackle or the general principle of dressing and using a fly were something to remember.’ The Little Marryat however, was about the only pattern of Marryat’s that they knew of, though Halford’s books detailed most of Marryat’s designs. Halford’s first book
Floating Flies and How to Dress Them included the Little Marryat, Fisherman’s Curse, Red Tag variant, Corkscrew, Needle Brown, Red Spinner and others.

We know - from contemporary accounts and photographs - that Marryat could also handle a fly rod and out-fish any other living angler and was able to instruct his fellow anglers, including Halford, on the finer points of casting. He also had the ability to repeat casts accurately for the camera. Marryat’s name lives on as the brand name of a Japanese firm that manufactures fly-fishing tackle in association with a Swiss company, and with the Little Marryat trout fly - a relatively insignificant legacy for one who bestrode the banks of the English chalkstreams with such command.

There is a simple memorial plaque in the grass of a cloister of Salisbury Cathedral - the last resting place of the mortal remains of George Selwyn Marryat, the prince of Victorian fly fishermen.
The Little Marryat
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From the left: Marryat, William Senior,
Nathaniel Lloyd and Halford.
The Quill Marryat
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Marryat's Ibis Tag
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