George Selwyn Marryat Remembered (Part 1) - by Simon J. Ward

In October 1892, F. M. Halford writing in the Field under his pen name of "Detached Badger" wrote the following, not knowing Marryat would be dead within four years:

"I first met F.F.(Francis Francis) on the 1st May 1879 during a snowstorm in the hut of the Sheepbridge shallow. It uses Houghton too, that I made the acquaintance of M. (Marryat) and learnt from him all I know of dry fly fishing Of those departed it is permissible to sing the praises; but of him, the most unselfish of men, all good and honest fishermen should wish that he may long be spared to give the benefit of his varied experience' to another generation of dry fly fishermen."

Dry Fly Patterns

Two Flies devised by George Marryat. The Little Marryat (16), and the Quill Marryat (16).

The copies shown here were tied for us by Jacqueline Wakeford, Life Vice President of the Fly Dressers Guild.

They conform to tying instructions conveyed by letter from Marryat to Henry Sinclair Hall in November 1882.


Over the decades since G. S. Marryat's untimely death, the memory of this mighty fly fisher has rested on the testimony of the people who knew him. A hundred years ago on 14th February 1896, he passed from this world. Marryat had perhaps the greatest influence on fly fishermen and fly fishing in his time. He died leaving behind him the most uncontested reputation in the history of trout fly fishing. William Senior, then, angling editor of The Field, recalled his;

"Wholly beautiful character, a more agreeable companion in short, there never was than GSM. It is not too much perhaps to state that Mr. Marryat was practically the father of the now fashionable dry fly school of trout fishermen."

Sportsman and Gentleman

Dr. Thomas Sanctuary. Marryat's life long friend, remembered him with affection in The Field:

"It was his great characteristic to be careless of himself and thoughtful for others. In every, true sense he was a thorough sportsman and gentleman and as a fly fisher he had no equal. Marryat was more instrumental in bringing the dry fly to its present stage of development than any fisherman that exists."

A legend in his own lifetime! Charismatic springs to mind as the right way to think of him. I am sure that Marryat would not have taken kindly to being thought of as having charisma, he might have been embarrassed. All that Marryat did was to go fishing for his own pleasure. That he could impart his knowledge to other fly fishermen, only added to that pleasure.

George Selwyn Marryat was only 56 years old when influenza struck him down. After nearly three weeks of delirium, he lapsed into a nine hour coma, finally succumbing to a stroke that left him paralysed down his right side. His ashes are now resting beneath, a simple marble tablet under the cedar trees in the Cloisters of Salisbury Cathedral. Even in death, modest and reserved - as he had been in life. He passed from this earth without leaving any generally known published work on fly fishing. There is only one proper title for this man of genius. He is truly the "Father of the Dry Fly" as we know it today. Marryat's ethos was the cutting edge of dry fly fishing knowledge for nearly thirty years.


Geo S. Marryat (as he called himself) was born on 20th June 1840, at the Chewton Glen in Hampshire. By 1854 the family had moved down to Mapperton House in deepest rural Dorset. In that same year Marryat went up to Winchester college, in 1858 he joined the Carabiniers as Cornet, lowest of the low in the officer ranks. He served in India just after the great mutiny. Returning to England in 1861, he was promoted 2nd Lieutenant, finally resigning his commission in 1864. He now spent five years in Australia, where among other things he was a stock rider in the bush. On his return to the UK in 1870 he married Lucy Clinton and lived in Scotland from 1872, coming south to Shedfield Grange, Hampshire in 1874/5. After his return from Australia, it was fully ten years before he met F.M. Halford and the start of their collaboration on the dry fly. These ten years were to see Marryat become the finished master with the dry fly.


Marryat, in the truest sense of the word was one of the first professional fly fishing instructors, and I do not mean that he received payment to do it, far from it. He would have been aghast at the very suggestion. The way he went about his fly fishing had professional written all over it. The instructional plates in F.M. Halford's 'Dry Fly Fishing in Theory and Practise' show a man going through all the casting actions. All these are of Marryat. William Senior said at the time:

"- that anyone who knew Mr. Marryat could not fail to realise who the figure was."

Think of any of the chalk stream pioneers, and not just Halford. He came into this close circle much later, after Marryat had everything in place. The main beneficiary of Marryat's skill was H.S. Hall who first made the acquaintance of Marryat in 1876. To start with these were just chance meetings on the Old Barge beats of the Itchen. I will let Hall continue.

"On a later visit to Winchester, in August, 1879, I had taken up fly-dressing, and was experimenting on eyed hooks, From this our common interests drew us together, and my long and lasting friendship with Mr. Marryat began. He would frequently spend the hot afternoons in my rooms tying flies and beguiling the time with pleasant chat.

The first lessons in fly tying I ever had, except from books, were obtained in this way from his skilled hands. For many years we kept up correspondence and interchange of ideas on all the minutiae of the fly fisher's craft, and it would be impossible for me to say how much I learnt from him. He was eminently practical and original in everything he took up, and the invaluable assistance I received from him in perfecting the smallest sizes of eyed hooks has placed the present generation of dry-fly fishermen under an obligation that they will not be slow to recognise."

It was Marryat who worked out the methods, and showed Hall how to wing the new eyed "Snecky Limerick' hooks that, Hall and George Bankart had been evolving, and Hutchinson had been manufacturing. These were the first dressings of the double-dressed split-winged dry fly. Hall again:

'There is, as a matter of fact, very little indeed in the dry-fly fisher's outfit which has not been directly or indirectly, brought to its present state of efficiency by some clever wrinkle originally due to Marryat. Although he was always ready to place everything he knew at the disposal of his brother anglers, he could not be induced to write on the subject on which he was so well qualified to instruct others.'

Chalk Straight - Abbotts BartonChalk Straight, Abbotts Barton

Marryat did write to the Field, and it gives us an insight into how far sighted he really was. Hall could remember only "Once" seeing a letter of Marryat's in The Field, this, he preserved in his scrap book for posterity. The subject was "Quill Bodies for Flies" and Marryat wrote it in response to an article that Francis Francis had penned in the previous edition. Hall wrote about this letter fully fifteen years after it was first published. This was in his tribute to the master in 1896 from The Fishing Gazette. It shows us, how far Marryat was ahead of his time. At the time of writing this letter, Marryat along with Francis Francis were the lease holders of the Abbott's Barton water on the Itchen, and both members of the Houghton Fly Fishing Club, (not the club that still has its base in Stockbridge, as has been supposed in the past).


Obtaining a copy of this letter, for me was some kind of mile-stone in my research into his life and times. This one letter gives us more than a glimpse into the thoroughness with which he went about his fly dressing and dying. All this was new, and don't forget, right at the cutting edge of fly fishing thinking in the 1870s and 80s. The letter is typical of the time, eight hundred words long with no paragraphs and very long sentences. It is plain to see that Marryat used the same methods as Ronalds for his dying, but he did not always agree with the theories of the old entomologist, and fly fisherman, Most, if not all of Marryat's fly-tying practice of the time is in this letter. So many are the variations that can be achieved with different coloured dyes, while maintaining simplicity of structure and materials. He then coupled this too effortless, pin-point upstream presentation, to a rising fish. Although H.S. Hall is credited with the first tying of the split-winged dry fly on the eyed hook, my belief is that it was by Marryat's hand that the first examples of the split-winged floater were tied, (both single and double dressed). He fished with them in the mid 1870s, possibly even before this. Hall had started his experiments with eyed hooks, and by 1879 the two were married together. The first reference to the Blue Winged Olive by name, according to G.E.M. Skues, is attributed to Marryat, this came from a letter Marryat wrote to Hall in 1879 when the two men were conducting trials with the eyed hook.


Over the years there has been speculation as to just what kind of relationship Marryat had with Halford, Some have said that after their near six year collaboration on Halfords first book Floating Hies and How to Dress Them (1886), their differences were so great that they never had anything to do with one another again. This is just not so. l have evidence that places Halford as a house guest of Marryat in 1892. Just as in any partnership I am sure they had their differences of opinion. Halford came to the Test in 1877 from the Wandle where it was normal to fish the dry fly, whereas Marryat learnt his craft on the Dorset Frome with the downstream wet fly. The choice between dry fly, wet fly, right or wrong was, some people have said, the start of the parting of the ways and the break up of the partnership. Marryat liked to fish on the rain-fed rivers of the North and South-West, where even today the wet fly sits alongside the dry fly as normal practice. Marryat was still a boy of 13 perhaps even younger, when he first started fly fishing, Halford started fly fishing on the Wandle, when he was 23, and fished with the dry fly from the start. I do not believe that, Marryat's liking for the wet fly, turned Halford away.


One of the things' surviving that belonged to Marryat that is not still with the family, is a fly book containing many hundreds of flies. This fly book or ‘The Portmanteau' as it became known by his friends, passed from Marryat to Basil Field, thrice President of the ''Flyfishers' Club". When Basil Field died in December 1908 this fly book passed into the hands of James Rolt. K.C. Skues gained permission from Rolt to review the contents of the Portmanteau and he concluded this review with the following:

"Looking back over the collection one cannot help being impressed with the enormous predominance of patterns better calculated to fish wet than dry, and it seems impossible to doubt that at one stage of his angling career, and that not separated much from the period of Marryat's collaboration with Halford, indeed overlapping more or less, the great man must have been content either on chalk streams or on other waters to fish what Mr. Aflalo called 'wet as Niagara.' - "There may, however, be members of the Flyfishers Club or others who occasionally or possibly frequently fished with Marryat in those great days and it would be of immense interest to angling history if any of them would recall for the benefit of posterity whether Marryat continued to rely on the book under review to the end, or whether he latterly carried a fly box for chalk streams and used the book for the rough water fishing of other rivers."

Skues is right in his deduction when he says that Marryat used other fly boxes, I have discovered that there is in existence a dry fly box of Marryat's own construction. This fly box has been handed down in the family, and is now in the care of one of Marryat's great grandsons, I have yet to find out whether there are any flies still in the box, (watch this space). Could this be the fly box that Marryat used on the chalk streams, that Skues alludes to in the above passage? I think it could be. The predominance of wet flies in the Portmanteau has led people over the years to mark Marryat as more of a wet than a dry fly man, but what would our view be if all the flies in the Portmanteau had been single and double dressed split-winged floaters? Very different I think. The existence of this dry fly box, only reinforces my long held view that Marryat was the complete all round fly fisherman. In that he had a fly for every eventuality, be it, on chalk streams or rough and tumble rain-fed streams, but Dr. Thomas Sanctuary, Marryat's life long friend has said:

"The dry fly was always his principle study."

If there was a major differences of opinion between Marryat and Halford - and I think there may have been right from the very start of their collaboration, Halford in his wisdom, considered that the dry fly fisherman needed an artificial fly dressing for every natural insect likely to be encountered when on the stream. Marryat, I think, thought otherwise, as can be seen by his statement:

"The quill dyed olive with onion dye, and a blue dun hackle dyed in the same dye, in three shades and sizes, no fisherman should ever be without. I should not be afraid to back it against any other single fly that can be tied."

Three shades and sizes, this is what a fly fisherman today would call a system fly, to be used for the variation in colour and size of ephemrid insects. Marryat tried to persuade Halford that the endless list of fly patterns that he dressed, were not needed to be successful. Marryat's genius with the fly rod is well documented. It was this that was the key to Marryat's fly fishing, presenting the fly to the fish with perfection. In no way did any differences affect their friendship, they remained very close right up to the end.

It was Dr. Thomas Sanctuary, who composed the most heart rending tribute to Marryat. This was published in the Wykehamist, magazine of Winchester College, on 30th March 1896.


(Former pupil of Winchester School. A Man of outstanding talant, and easily the leading fisherman who died on February 14, 1696 and within the confines of the Cathedral church in Salisbury buried.)

Sleep, cherished friend, secure from storm and wind;
Thy life well acted, and thy part well played,
Where could a Selwyn fairer haven find.
Than 'neath the sacred spire in cloistered shade?

Snatched from our hearts he journeys forth alone
With keener gaze than mortal powers admit;
At last he lifts the veil from the unknown,
And solves the secrets of the infinite.

Shrewd humour, caustic wit, to chosen friend,
A friend always, than brother more to me:
Why to a life like his such early end?
Yet deeds, not years, count immortality.

No more for him the bleating snipe shall twist
Beneath the slopes of wind swept Eggardon;
Nor woodcock flushed from out the purple mist,
On Cornish moor, or woods of Mapperton.

And ne'er again, where Avons, waters glide,
Shall watchful keeper hear his footsteps pass;
Nor Itchen’s wave, nor Test's unequalled tide,
Reflect his features in their limpid glass.

Unharmed the monarch of the pool shall thrive
In safety 'neath the overhanging bough:
No unsuspecting fly will e'er contrive,--
For Marryat is gone -- to reach him now.

I would I had been near him at the last
To have eased his pain, and held his hand in mine:
They said not he was sick, and so he passed
Into the shadowland without a sign.

Not more than once to each in life is given
From such a friend of boyhood, years to part,
My deep regret, the chain so sharply rivern
Time, only time, who smote, can heal the smart.

Surely for him we may believe, there lies
Some happy hunting ground in realms a far;
Remote from feebler gaze of human eyes.
Some crystal stream beyond the evening star.

Where, due reward for this life's honest work.
The gentle grayling of the almond eye.
And the spotted trout by verdant cresses lurk,
And ne’er refuse a well adjusted fly.

There Walton, Francis, aye. and many more,
Those master-minds of intricate device,
Shall meet again on some eternal shore
To revel in an anglers Paradise

George Selwyn Marryat

Sanctuary's prose speaks volumes about his relationship with Marryat and the tragedy of his death. It came as such a shock to everyone who was numbered as a friend.
In this the centenary year of his passing we should remember him always as our patron saint of the dry fly, for without his immense contribution to fishing the floating Fly, it is doubtful even if Hallord would have written his books.

George Selwyn Marryat (1840-1896), you will never be forgotten - may you rest in peace.

George Selwyn Marryat Remembered (part 2)


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