Inspector Foyle, G.E.M Skues, and Hell

This evening, my wife and I were watching an old episode of Foyle’s War. The British mystery series, set during the Second World War and focusing upon the crime-solving exploits of Detective Chief Inspector Foyle of the Hastings Police Department, first aired in England in 2002. In the United States, it airs on PBS as part of Masterpiece Mystery.

In the program, Foyle is depicted as a rather serious man and dedicated detective. On occasion, however, he takes a bit of time from his daily duties to fly fish. In the episode my wife and I watched last night (Season 2, Episode 3) he fished a bit with a friend. When that friend tells Foyle he is using a “medium olive nymph,” Foyle asks him if he has been reading Skues.

It was a remarkable thing, not only to see fly fishing in a long running television program, but also to hear mention of George Edward MacKenzie Skues.

George Edward MacKenzie Skues (1858-1949) was an English lawyer, writer, and renowned fly fisher. In fact, some called him the greatest fly fisherman who ever lived. He is also credited as popularizing nymph fishing. This latter accomplishment accounts for the question posed by Foyle.

Skues wrote numerous books about fly fishing. Much of his writing deals with the technical aspects of the sport. Yet he also wrote some entertaining, non-technical pieces. The mention of him on Foyle’s War reminded me of one such piece, entitled “Some Letter.” It was first published for the public in Side-Lines, Side-Lights & Reflection: Fugitive Papers of a Chalk-stream Angler (1932, 347-350). The short piece follows below. I trust you will enjoy it as much as I have. Know that my next post will deal with Frederick Halford, the dry fly purist who took issue with Skues’ promotion of nymphing, and the new “Diamond Jubilee” Perfect fly reel from Hardy (new info. included).

“Some Letter”

Mr. Theodore Castwell, having devoted a long, strenuous and not unenjoyable life to hunting to their doom innumerable salmon trout and grayling in many quarters of the globe, and having gained much credit among his fellows for his many ingenious improvements in rods, flies and tackle employed for that end, in the fullness of time died and was taken to his own place.

* * * * *

St. Peter looked up from a draft balance sheet at the entry of the attendant angel.

“A gentleman giving the name of Castwell. Says he is a fisherman, your Holiness, and has ‘Fly-Fishers’ Club, London’ on his card.”

“Hm-hm,” said St. Peter. “Fetch me the ledger with his account.”

St. Peter perused it.

“Hm-hm,” said St. Peter. “Show him in.”

Mr. Castwell entered cheerfully and offered a cordial right hand to St. Peter.

“As a brother of the angle—” he began.

“Hm-hm,” said St. Peter.”

“I am sure I shall not appeal to you in vain for special consideration in connection with the quarters to be assigned to me here.”

“Hm-hm,” said St. Peter. “I have been looking at your account from below.”

“Nothing wrong with it, I hope,” said Mr. Castwell.

“Hm-hm,” said St. Peter. “I have seen worse. What sort of quarters would you like?”

“Well, said Mr. Castwell. “Do you think you could manage something in the way of a country cottage of the Test Valley type, with modern conveniences and say three quarters of a mile of one of those pleasant chalk streams, clear as crystal, which proceed from out the throne, attached?”

“Why, yes,” said St. Peter. “I think we can manage that for you. Then what about your gear? You must have left your fly rods and tackle down below. I see you prefer a light split cane of nine foot or so, with appropriate fittings. I will indent upon the Works Department for what you require, including a supply of flies. I think you will approve of our dresser’s productions. Then you will want a keeper to attend you.”

“Thanks awfully, your Holiness,” said Mr. Castwell. “That will be first-rate. To tell you the truth, from the Revelations I read, I was inclined to fear that I might be just a teeny-weeny bit bored in heaven.”

“In H— hm-hm,” said St. Peter, checking himself.

* * * * *

It was not long before Mr. Castwell found himself alongside an enchantingly beautiful clear chalk stream, some fifteen yards wide, swarming with fine trout feeding greedily; and presently the attendant angel assigned to him had handed him the daintiest, most exquisite, light split cane rod conceivable— perfectly balanced with the reel and line—with a beautifully damped tapered cast of incredible fineness and strength—and a box of flies of such marvelous tying, as to be almost mistakable for the natural insects they were to simulate.

Mr. Castwell scooped up a natural fly from the water, matched it perfectly from the fly-box, and knelt down to cast to a riser putting up just under a tussock ten yards or so above him. The fly lit like gossamer, six inches above the last ring, floated a moment and went under in the next ring; and next moment the rod was making the curve of beauty. Presently, after an exciting battle, the keeper netted out a beauty of about two-and-a-half pounds.

“Heavens,” cried Mr. Castwell. “This is something like.”

“I am sure his Holiness will be pleased to hear it,” said the keeper.

Mr. Castwell prepared to move upstream to the next riser when he noticed that another trout had taken up the position of that which he had just landed, and was rising. “Just look at that,” he said, dropping instantaneously to his knee and drawing off some line. A moment later an accurate fly fell just above the neb of the fish, and instantly Mr. Castwell engaged in battle with another lusty fish. All went well, and presently the landing net received its two-and-a-half pounds.

“A very pretty brace,” said Mr. Castwell, preparing to move on to the next string of busy nebs which he had observed putting up around the bend. As he approached the tussock, however, he became aware that the place from which he had just extracted so satisfactory a brace was already occupied by another busy feeder.

“Well, I’m damned!” said Mr. Castwell. “Do you see that?”

“Yes, sir,” said the keeper.

The chance of extracting three successive trout from the same spot was too attractive to be forgone, and once more Mr. Castwell knelt down and delivered a perfect cast to the spot. Instantly it was accepted and battle was joined. All held, and presently a third gleaming trout joined his brethren in the creel.

Mr. Castwell turned joyfully to approach the next riser round the bend. Judge, however, his surprise to find that once more the pit beneath the tussock was occupied by a rising trout, apparently of much the same size as the others.

“Heavens,” exclaimed Mr. Castwell. “Was there ever anything like it?”

“No, sir,” said the keeper.

“Look here,” said he to the keeper, “I think I really must give this chap a miss and pass on to the next.”

“Sorry! It can’t be done, sir. His Holiness would not like it.”

“Well, if that’s really so,” said Mr. Castwell, and knelt rather reluctantly to his task.

* * * * *

Several hours later he was still casting to the same tussock.

“How long is this confounded rise going to last?” enquired Mr. Castwell. “I suppose it will stop soon?”

“No, sir,” said the keeper.

“What, isn’t there a slack hour in the afternoon?”

“No afternoon, sir.”

“What? Then what about the evening rise?”

“No evening rise, sir,” said the keeper.

“Well, I shall knock off, now. I must have had about thirty brace from that corner.”

“Beg pardon, sir, but his Holiness would not like that.”

“What?” said Mr. Castwell. “Mayn’t I even stop at night?”

“No night here, sir,” said the keeper.

“Then do you mean that I have got to go on catching these damned two-and-a-half pounders at this corner forever and ever?”

The keeper nodded.

“Hell!” said Mr. Castwell.

“Yes,” said his keeper.

2 Responses to “Inspector Foyle, G.E.M Skues, and Hell”

  1. John Roberts Says:

    It’s been years since I read that…


    • Kenov Says:

      I find myself thinking of the story every time I have to convince myself that fly fishing would be less fun, if it were not so challenging.


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