Halford vs Skues, dry fly vs nymph
Halford, along with Marryatt, perfected upstream dry-fly fishing in late 19th-century England and treated other forms of fly presentation, such as wet flies and nymphs on English chalk streams, with disdain. By the early 20th century, the Halford dry-fly doctrine had become cultish and to some extent dogmatic. The following passage by Halford epitomizes his dogmatic views:
Those of us who will not in any circumstances cast except over rising fish are sometimes called ultra purists and those who occasionally will try to tempt a fish in position but not actually rising are termed purists... and I would urge every dry fly fisher to follow the example of these purists and ultra purists.
– From A History of Flyfishing, Bark, 1992
When G. E. M. Skues began promoting upstream nymphing techniques on English chalk streams at the turn of the 20th century, there was immediate tension between those who favoured and followed the Halford school of dry-fly fishing and those who chose to use other techniques. There is no evidence that there was ever any personal animosity between the two anglers, only verbal wrangling in the sporting press about the pros and cons of the two techniques. Indeed, Skues's second work The Way of a Trout with the Fly, which codified the upstream nymphing technique, was not published until 1921, well after Halford's death.
The debates continued into the 1930s. The Halfordian school claimed that upstream nymphing, although effective, was unethical and bad for the chalk streams, even to the point of banning the use of nymph on some fisheries, while Skues's proponents claimed that the dogmatic dry-fly approach limited opportunities when nymphing was a more appropriate technique. A culmination of sorts took place in February 1938 at the Flyfishers' Club when the so-called "Nymph Debate" took place. Skues was present to defend nymphing techniques, while many others, chiefly Sir Joseph Ball, defended the Halfordian doctrine. The result was decidedly in favour of Halford's dry-fly techniques to the exclusion of all others, but no one denied the effectiveness of Skues's nymphing methodology. The debate helped cement both Halford's and Skues's seminal roles in the development of modern-day fly fishing.
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