christmas tree with baubles

A Book For Christmas?

Check Out These Christmas Present Options…. Or Add Them To Your Own Wishlist

Choosing a perfectly suited gift for a family member or a friend can often be an onerous task that turns the ‘Magic of Christmas’ into a hapless chore.

So in this blog, we’ve reviewed a small sample of angling books that might help to make your own shopping easier or, if you like what you see and play your cards right, someone else’s!

Fishing from the Rock of the Bay – James ‘Leakyboots’ Batty – Merlin Unwin 2021

Review By Nick Simmonds

By the time I got to page 5 of this book I had laughed out loud three times, which strikes me as a pretty good if unorthodox (for a fishing book) first impression. OK it was a Friday evening, the sun was shining and I had a freshly poured beer on the garden table. But even on a grim Monday it’s worth a chuckle.

James Batty has followed up nicely on his previous volume “Song of the Solitary Bass Fisher”. The new offering follows similar anecdotal lines, but the format is less sound-bitey, meaning the chapters/articles are longer and the story-telling which James does well comes to the fore.

I enjoy the descriptions of the fishing mixed with James’s dry and sometimes pointed philosophy, his wit and quips (“…jammy as a Women’s Institute tea party” was one of my favourites) and his humanity – by which I mean the positive connections he makes with (most of) the folk he encounters – anglers or otherwise.

The first half of this book describes James’s evolution as an angler from childhood and through his time living and working in Africa and America, fishing for and catching a variety of species, following into the second half which focuses on his beloved Cornish bass fishing. Each chapter/anecdote is subtitled (and referenced) with a song lyric, giving the impression of a kind of soundtrack to a fishing life. That in itself was entertaining as I streamed some tunes from artists I didn’t previously know and found enjoyable new stuff to listen to.

This book is entertaining, very readable and easy to dip in and out of. Although James’s fishing is mostly focused on predatory sea fish and to a lesser extent trout, the principles he applies to make his fishing successful are pretty much universal and we (as anglers) would all do well to heed the messages he repeatedly offers.

One I’ll be happy to add to my bookcase.

The Ilkley Connection – Edited by David Tipping – Grosvenor House Publishing 2021

Review By Nick Simmonds

The Ilkley Connection is a kind of fishing diary, recording the exploits of a bunch of angling friends on their organised trips over many years from the late 1970s to 2020.

Edited by established angling writer David Tipping, the book has contributions from 12 of the ‘gang’ and features a total of 26 different anglers participating in trips to venues as far apart as Oban and Looe.

As you might expect – and as anyone who has participated in group fishing trips away from home will appreciate – there is much reminiscence not only of the fishing, but the banter, curries, hangovers, and varying quality of accommodation that went with the trips. The photographs also portray an interesting evolution of hairstyles!

As for the fishing, I was genuinely impressed by the detail with which the sessions described are remembered and written about, not to mention the dedication of some of the group in turning up and catching in sometimes hideous conditions.

It has to be said that some contributors make for more entertaining reading than others, but on the whole it’s a readable account of the group’s captures and adventures.

David says in his preface that the book was originally intended just as a memento for the group but some of the captures of fish ranging from gudgeon to skate are impressive or interesting to most anglers and there are accounts of one or two of those “ones that got away” that stay to haunt the angler for years. It’s also interesting to read about the range of venues around the country that the group visited over the years.

Sticklebacks to Skate – David Tipping – Medlar Press 2016

Review By Nick Simmonds

This is David’s comprehensive account of his adventures and experiences in pursuit of the many (88 by my count) species of fish he’s caught and the variety of places he’s fished in the British Isles.

The book is nicely presented by Medlar Press and includes a well-chosen selection of mostly 19th-century illustrations of the fish David describes. It’s a chronicle from a true all-round angler with a deep-rooted interest in nature and the outdoors.

David is a child of a generation who had the freedom to go and get wet, muddy and generally muck about catching fish and learning along the way, which comes through in the early chapters and stays with him throughout his angling career.

David is clearly an accomplished and dedicated angler whose eye for observation and flexible approach help him winkle out some special catches. And it’s not just about numbers either – there are some impressive specimens recorded in these pages.

The book is, by its very nature, a bit of a list but no less interesting for that and I was always lured on to read about the next fish. A worthy addition to an angling library and (as suggested on the cover) an eclectic account of British fish and fishing from the tiny to the tremendous from river, lake and sea.

This year, Medlar Press have republished H.A. Gilberts’ The Tale of a Wye Fisherman, originally published in 1929. It’s a thoroughly beguiling history of this wonderful river. Medlar have also published a new title, The Story of the Salmon Fly (1496 – 1884), covering the history and development of presenting feathers to silver tourists by Andrew Herd, Bob Frandsen & Hermann Dietrich – Troeltsch).  

Christmas is the quietest part of the year for most Salmon Anglers in England. Once waders, lines and flies are dried and stored, it’s out with the vice to stock up for next season. But what to do once the fly box is bulging again. I’ll be reading a book or two so if you’re thinking of doing the same, read on. 

The Tale of a Wye Fisherman – H. A. Gilbert – Medlar Press 2021

Review by Danny Williams

Humphrey Adam Gilbert’s splendid portrayal of a river that’s much more than just a watercourse. It reflects its apex anadromous inhabitants, the anglers who chased them last century, and subjects we now generally perceive as modern, such as conservation and fishery policy. Originally printed in 1929 updated in 1953, it’s text in places spans almost a century. 

It’s a book for lovers of Angling history, riparian interest, consolidated by our most enigmatic of fish, the Eeog of Avalon, Salmon of Blighty. The language is dated as are some of the tenets. Fish aren’t Grassed or supported in the current by the wrist as an Angler awaits that caudal thump, signalling the beasts readiness to proceed upriver. They are killed, with a capital “K” as was the time, as much for the fare as the sport. 

Not all fish were destined for the pot, chub may become fertiliser for the garden and Kelts could expect their return, described quite roughly, as if passed their best, not in order to reach the sea, propagate and return.  

Some sentences can raise a wry smile, brightness of description in some way measuring the verve behind the sentiment. You rarely find descriptions like “themselves inflamed with piscatorial ardour” in connection with subjects like The Wye Board of Conservators. Forerunners of the Wye & Usk foundation. Chapter five on Methods is as modern as the Greenheart rods depicted, yet some arguments never change or do so very slowly. In the zeitgeist, the Fly is the preference, proper and right, followed by the minnow (with caveats) and then at the bottom of such a list, the frowned upon prawn under a float. With possible exception made for the Angler who wraps lead around a fly, how very immoral? What would Gilbert or his contemporise make of a Conehead Red Frances? 

I originally loaned this book when I was thirteen from the local library, reading this again some forty years on? Totally hooked once again from page seven, it lit me up as a teenager, I’d met the chub on the Severn and Ribble and now wanted to chase them on the Wye.   

Now having met them Wye brutes by the half dozen, one shoal on Groe Park & Irfon Angling Club’s (Fly Run) beat, taking dries from under Alders/Willows on the far bank. Using a #3 weight, they are amazing, they fight so differently from grayling and trout. Each chub would open its mouth as it hit the main flow and kite downstream making the leader sing under tension.  

As an adult, rereading this again, I think I understand more of what the text contains, anglers fall in love with rivers and the fish that roam the currents. It’s difficult to take in the amazing quality and quantity of the salmon the Wye once held, it’s easy to dream about it returning to form once more in the future.  

Recently the Wye has reported some amazing captures, press and social media abound with tales of huge nets, roach & dace in the town stretchers, 70 lb of bleak in Matches and superbly conditioned barbel and chub prowling summer gravels and winter pools. Paradoxically as the river struggles with the volumes of waste and chemical run-off from poultry farms, causing excessive levels of phosphates and nitrates which in turn aid algal blooms. Oh, for this river to mend fully, and hope upon hope the Salmon return in the numbers Gilbert encountered. To dream that one day in the future we may get to fish it for the Salmon as he did. For that aspirational forty-pound fish or just one ten-pounder, but seven takes that day! You can obviously read what it was like once, Gilbert paints this picture in his book.  

The Story of the Salmon Fly 1496-1884 – Andrew Herd, Bob Fransden & Herbert Dietrich-Troeltsch – Medlar Press

Review by Danny Williams

This is a bit special too, a real tour de force with Andrew Herd building on his earlier Salmon Fly Patterns 1766-1914 (published 2012). Sharing a similar precept, with a deeper delve chronologically and superb additional plates and illustrations. This isn’t aimed at novice Anglers, having a few seasons under the belt will aid enjoyment no end. That said Andrews made adjustments that make the text accessible from the outset, such as placing the glossary early in the book, before the introduction. 

Some terms here, are given richness and more scope of meaning due to historical changes of use. “Tag” for example. Herd explains that it’s a very imprecise word for the period covered by the majority of the book. Explaining further, this could denote; tail, tip, butt or some form of tail assembly, following up with the modern definition.  The plates illustrating many fly examples, over six hundred patterns, most specifically produced for the book are work of art in their own right. 

Well worth routing out a magnifying glass for, or if you’re like me just myopic, it’s glasses off and bath the book in real daylight. Once the images have bathed your eyes, you can hide back under the reading lamp to soak up the relevant text. 

Art and angling, often swim together both in practice and preparation. The tying of flies, especially the fancies we create and present for the scrutiny of “Old Salmo” are close to the pinnacle of our shared practice. Walk around the British Fly Fair International if you need further proof this February. This book immerses you in relevant and compelling history, at the same time fulling the drive of any tyre of flies.  

If you’re a thoroughly contemporary Salmon Angler & Dresser. With a box of wee tubes, that are fixed above a single barbless hook, ready to be transported across the pool with a Scandi or Skagit. Don’t for one moment think this book isn’t relevant, there’s twenty-eight chapters over three hundred pages of fishing tinder for the imagination. I for one will be tying (trying to tie) copies of the John Macgowan Salmon Flies on page eighty-two for mounting in a frame. While the flies attributed to de Wilton, Jones, and Williams for the river Usk on page one seven nine. As with other examples too, obviously, are just ripe for using as inspiration for modern versions of wonderful old classics.   

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