Halford was born in 1844 into a wealthy Midlands family that moved to London when he was seven years old. He beganfishing at a very early age, and an account of his first catch - a two ounce perch on a worm - is told with a wry candor that sets it apart from the Olympian tone of his later writing. From that undersized perch he graduated to fishing over the banisters for his 'parents housmaids' caps and then to bait fishing on the Thames and central London lakes such aas the Serpentine. These were happy years in which he pretty much devoted himself to his sport - and knowing the obsessional sort of character he was, we can be pretty certain that he was good at it.
Then In 1868 came a turning point when a friend invited him to fly fish the rever Wandle, then a crystal-clear stream with exxcelent hatches. Halford was absolutely bursting with enthusiasm to try something new, and he purchased the latest angling technology: an eleven foot, four-piece, single-handed trout rod with a hickory butt and cane top, a plaited silk and hair line, and a large box full of wet flies. On his first visit he fished down stream and failed miserably, but, typical Halford, he asked for advice.
The local angles at once impressed upon us the necessity of "fishing dry", and very little explanation suffied to teach us the curde meaning of this expression. We gradually worked out approximately the number of false casts required to free the fly from moisture and were soon converted to the doctrine of waiting for rishing trout, spotting them and fishing them; and before the early part of the season was passed had killed some fair fish, and were exceedingly keen for this form of fly fishing"
The idea of Halford playing Venator to an unnamed dry-fly expret will come as a surprise to those who think of him as the originator of the technique, but is indisputably true that dry-fly fishing was well establised by the time Halford first came to use it. The term, complete with hyphenation, was first used in a much quoted paragraph written by Geroge P.R. Pulam in 1841.
Now, it is impossible to make a soaked artificial fly swim upon the water as the natural flies do, so that, when cast by the angler to a fish thus occupied, it most commonly escapes his notice, engaged as he is with "thingsd above", by sinking in the water beneath him. This is plain, because if a wet and heavy fly be exchanged for a dry and light one, and passed in artist-like style over the feeding fish, it will, partly from the simple circumstances of its buoyancy, be taken, in nine cases out of ten, as greedily as the living insect itself. We admit, however, that to ensure this, imitation of the predominant species, at least as regards colour and size, is required; opining that if the dry-fly be widely different in these respects, the fish will be surprised and strartled at the novelty presented, and suspend feeding until the appearence of its known and familiar prey.
So if Halford did not invent the dry fly, who did? I will dewell deeper into this at a later blog post, because it's a very difficult task to write about. The reason Halford became the most famous of the all has more to do with the quality and quantity of his writing thaan with any talent he might have haad as innovator. In this respect, he has much in common with Theodore Gordon, although as Paul Schullery points out in his companion article ; Gordon's influence on his contemporaries was far less than Halford's.
Halfords first work, Floating Flies and How to Dress Them, was publised in 1886. Halford had probably only been tying flies for six years at that stage and that he had very little experience fishing the mayfly. He was greatly influenced by an other fly dresser, Marryat, who tragically died early on 114 February 1896. Great though the blow wof his friend's death was, Halford continued with what had beqcome his life's work. His final selection of thirty-three flies was published fourteen yhears later in Modern Development of the Dry Fly (where the pattern above was featured). Halford's flies became so popular that it was possible to buy fly boxes specifically designed and labeled to accommodate them. Halford was no superman though. He could never have been described as an "all around" fisherman, the way Francis Francis or John Bickerdyke were, and despite being an expert on nymphs, Halford abandoned nymph fishing purely and simply because he couldn't get the hang of it. But his influence cast a far longer shadow than either Francis och Bickerdyke. For example, it was Halford's work that inspired the popularization of dry-fly fishing in France, Germany and America. By 1888, Floating Flies and How to Dress them, could be purchhased for twelve dollars from Forest and Stgream in the United States, and it is a measure of Halford's status that his flies became available for William Mills of New York in the same year, despite the fact that the patterns were actually designed for specialized limestone streams on a completely different continent.
There was a downside to Halford. Despite the great care he took over his work, it was shot through with intellectual flaws caused by his reluctance to think laterally. He came in for a great deal of criticism in later years over the details of his dressings, largely relating to whether the colours he had so obsessively chosen were as close to those of the nateruals as he belived they were.
Despite all this, Halford helped shape the modern dry flies, which we love so grately today. For this we should be very thankful.