Waters & words : a celebration of flyfishing

Posts tagged “GEM Skues

Haig Brown, video and changing seasons

Fly Fishing books

I have to confess that the last time I read “A River Never Sleeps” I vaguely remember it didn’t keep my attention. This time it has grabbed me. Maybe you need to become an old fart before you can appreciate literature from dusty old volumes. I don’t know.

Either way, my depth of understanding and context was no doubt enriched by having first read (or more correctly re-read) all of G.E.M. Skues’ works, as well as the very in-depth book about Skues, written by Tony Hayter.

Haig-Brown and Skues

That put Haig-Brown’s background into perspective. Realising that he had grown up and lived during the time of the great wet fly vs dry fly debate, and the frustrating time Skues had explaining that a nymph was not a wet fly, and that in fact you could cast it upstream to sighted fish, allowed me to enter his world just a little more. 

I also don’t know that any other angling writer was schooled on chalk streams in England, and then ended up on a great big river in British Columbia flinging meat at salmon, steelhead, sea run cutthroats and goodness knows what else, on a river so big that there was a good argument for a boat. To Further the contrast and juxtapositions, Haig Brown grew up wing-shooting, worked as a logger, threw Devon Minnows, and ended up as an author, a judge, and chancellor of a university. From chopping down trees with rough hands, to writing on the paper they made, no doubt with softer ones. That really is quite a contrast. And contrast was something that drew him in. More specifically the contrast of the seasons. He describes in the most beautiful language, the changing of seasons, the trees, the birds, the weather, and a dozen other harbingers of fish runs and seasons to come.

It seems appropriate that I am reading the book at a time where I too am flinging veritable carcasses at stillwater trout, and at a time when the river season is about to open. A time when dry and dust is met by the faintest of green tinges on burnt veld, and days with no jacket required.

You might also have noticed that I have flung myself headlong into the making of videos.  The quality is questionable at times, but as I say, I have flung myself at it, and this old fart is learning new skills faster than he can read dusty old books.  I am really looking forward to taking the camera onto a stream, and sharing that somehow more genteel and cultured pursuit on film.

In fact, it has me wondering whether I should share the contents and joys of dusty old books on film?  Might that make them more accessible, and allow fellow fly-fishers to get a taste of what they have to offer, and their relevance to modern fly fishing. Using film to appreciate books. Contrast draws me in.  Juxtapositions.  Changing seasons.

Let me know what you think.


Classic literature in your pocket

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“Thus, Instead of spiking his rod when the morning rise is over, and taking his Walton or his Marcus Aurelius or his Omar Khayyam from his pockets, let the wise angler concentrate on the casual feeder; and if his reward be not great, there is every chance of it being quite respectable , and he may be saved the humiliation of an empty creel”.  GEM Skues, Minor tactics of the Chalkstream . 1910.

Now I don’t know about you, but I reckon if I took my “Omar Khayyam” from my pocket  while out fishing, I think I wouldn’t be saved any humiliation by my fishing mates.  Come to think about it, if I took along a creel, there would be significant ragging, and if I filled the thing, I would be crucified.

But aside from the fact that we don’t carry creels and classic literature on the stream (oh, and we don’t have those reversible spears on the butts of our fly rods), nothing much has changed since 1910.   “Minor Tactics” is a delight to read.  Skues drops in the odd “wherefore” and “thus”, but we will forgive him for that. The language is in fact sheer poetry in places, and his setting up of his argument for nymphs in the face of Halford’s doctrine of dry fly only, is so polite as to seem slightly apologetic. In fact the last chapter is named “Apologia”.   Only the British!

I hadn’t realised that my copy of the book is a first edition.  It’s a bit wasted on me, because I buy and own books for the words between the covers, not as items for glass display cases.  Having said that, its is quite novel turning these pages which are as thick as cardboard:  I keep thinking I have turned five pages at once, and am reminded after much thumbing that, no….that’s  just the way paper was back then.   I swear many of the pages are different thicknesses too.  I guess that back then, their hook sizes and tippet diameters were equally variable in their tolerances.  But I get the impression from reading this book that their sophistication, entomology, and finesse in technique  were not that different to today.  

While rolling all this stuff around in my head  I  thought I should accompany the occasion with something special, and given that I don’t smoke cigars, I cracked open this instead:

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Interesting stuff.  I googled it :  LINK  .  Fruit. I don’t know…sometimes I think my sophistication in taste is at the same level as my appreciation of first editions and literature by Khayyam and  that bait angler….what’s his name…..Walton.


Coffee and quotes

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“Two blank days:  Not a very interesting subject?  Perhaps not.  But if you feel like that about it, pass on”

From GEM Skues, Itchen Memories, which was published in 1951, after his death.

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The coffee is “1000 hills”, a bean from Rwanda. When I stopped in at Ground Coffee House the barista persuaded me to have a flat white, and not my normal cappuccino. “Cappuccino is just all milk….you really want a double so that you can taste this bean, because its brilliant”. he said

I agreed, and while I was there I bought a bag of beans. A good move!  The coffee is well rounded and rich without being overpowering.  Did I taste strawberries or plums or vanilla?  Hell, I don’t know…I think I just tasted good coffee. But if I had to guess it was less fruity and more toffee and caramels. The barista will probably scoff…..I really don’t have sophisticated taste buds, but I know good coffee when I taste it!