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|Skues On Trout|
Reviewed by Peter McCallum
Edited by Paul Schullery
When ‘Skues on Trout’ fell out of its padded envelope it immediately took me back to the first books on fishing I possessed, ‘Brook Trout & how to catch them’ & ‘Sea Fishing’ by Clive Gammon. ‘Skues on Trout’ is small, pocket sized and ideal for a quiet read during a lull in sport. Written as a ‘sampler’, to use the editor’s words, of Skues’ 1921 book ‘The Way of a Trout with a Fly’ it is obviously aimed, as the introduction to the book explains, at introducing an American audience to Skues, with explanations of quaint English terms such as, ‘Sedge’, ‘Mayfly’, ‘a brace’ and ‘gut’. However it is equally useful for those of us on this side of the pond who may have heard the name but not delved much into his writings – I count myself firmly amongst the second group.
Skues’ foreword to the book starts with a very polite, but nonetheless obvious swipe at so called ‘Authorities’, could this refer to a certain Mr Halford perhaps?? He certainly does not claim to be an authority, rather an angler who asks questions on a ‘subject that is so eternally interesting’.
He then explores the reasons for a trout taking a fly ‘The Why’, the ‘How’ and the ‘What’.
He examines their sense of taste and of smell. Then 50 pages (there are only 132 pages in the book) on the subject of the trout’s vision. From its ability to discern form, both above and below the water (including another gentlemanly swipe at Halford), through its ability to count, or not, to an exploration of what the trout makes of the hook. He asks questions of opticians as to the similarity, or differences between human and trout vision and of the trout’s ability to differentiate colour and tone. He even uses a sunken mirror to experiment with the fish’s view of various flies floating on the surface. Recognise any of these experiments/subjects from more recent authors? Certainly his thoughts on the trout’s view of a hook had me thinking of Clyde styles and red hooks.
Another considerable proportion of the book is spent on the variety of rise forms to specific flies, as well as the presence or absence of a bubble to identify the stage of the fly being targeted; an interesting idea when a good rise is on and you are catching nothing? He also mentions the rise I find most when fishing – the ’Fausse Montee’ – the fish but turns away at the last moment leaving a huge boil!
The final portion is on flies, the types of natural fly found, the ‘art’ of fly dressing and though a book, by Skues’ own admission, about fishing on chalk streams, he looks at styles of flies including a plate of 10 different dressings of the Blue Dun from Hampshire to the Tummel, though surprisingly there is no mention of the nymph in this list. That is left to a short few pages, with minimal dressing detail towards the end of the book. Whether this is Skues’ or editing I cannot tell without reading the full text.
Since this is a synopsis of ‘The Way of a Trout with a Fly’, has it spurred me on to read the rest of Skues’ work? Well frankly, yes. Many of his thoughts and theories stand the test of time, and, as science has moved on, answers have been found to some of them, for example Goddard and Clarke used more elaborate versions of Skues’ mirrors and the principle of Snell’s circle to advance his experiments on a trout’s vision and how it takes a fly. Though the book is almost 100 years old, Skues asks a number of questions which are still relevant today. As an introduction to a writer’s work I think this hits the nail on the head.
Publisher: Swan Hill Press
England SY4 1JA
Peter McCallum has fished for nearly 40 years, almost always for trout and is a passionate fly tier. Peter is keen to pass on his love of fishing to others, and has qualified as a GAIA trout fishing coach and APGAI fly tier. He is a convert to float tubing on wild lochs even though he claims it makes him look like a mutant goose!