TT Book Club: The Books that Defined an Angling Generation

Little by little the boxes of books are being unpacked and placed in their new Herefordshire bookshelves. Many are, of course, on angling, my collection built over sixty-plus years, and I’ve been rating them unofficially in my head as I stack them. Most are okay. Some are more than that, but a few are, in my opinion, classics – volumes that have defined the angling lives of those of us born between 1940 and, say, 1980. These, in my opinion, are the books that have most influenced the sport during our lifetime, and here I make a tentative start in listing them. 

But I know I am not some all-powerful, all-knowing judge on this. I know I have made howling omissions. I have not included works published before 1940, simply because though we might well love Chalmers or Sheringham or Walton even, I’m going to stick out my neck and say, lovely as they are, they have not shaped the way we fish today. Nor have I mentioned any writer who is not English, I think – bar one, perhaps. What!? No Moc Morgan, for example, you will howl. You are very probably right, but I have simply gone for those writers who have changed the scene… AS I SEE IT! Please, our Scottish, Irish and Welsh friends, put me right on this. 

We all had to start somewhere, and I think I am on safe ground to say very many of us, over two million if the sales figures are to be believed, learned our trade from Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing (1949), so no surprises there. But also through the Fifties the How To Catch Them series also contributed hugely to the learning process of so many of us. Indeed, collect the series, and there is not much in angling that is not covered.

Specimen hunting, in one form or another, has been a big influence the last sixty-off years, and two titans are, of course, Richard Walker (I told you there are no surprises) and also, I’d suggest, the recently departed Frank Guttfield. In Search Of Big Fish (1964) had all my teenage friends fired up, and of course he contributed to Fishing As We Find It (1967) which we have already ecstatically reviewed. And it was Frank that put together the hugely influential The Big Fish Scene (1978) that resonates to this day. I’m not sure what the sales figures were for any of these books compared to Crabtree, but they surely had a wide influence and ripple effect?

Carp fishing exploded onto the angling scene in our lifetimes. Like carp or loathe them, we have to accept that they are the spine of the angling tackle and bait industry today. The spiritual origins of carp fishing, I believe, are found in Confessions Of A Carp Fisher (1950) by BB, but of course its intellectual roots were planted by Richard Walker in Stillwater Angling (1953). If any book has had a more powerful influence I’d be surprised… but a trout fisher might well disagree. For many of us of a certain age perhaps Quest For Carp (1972) by Jack Hilton was the bible that really fired us, just as it was The Carp Strikes Back (1983) by Rod Hutchinson that turned this branch of angling into a cult pursuit. For those of us a little out of Rod’s fast lane, Chris Yates’ Casting At The Sun (1986) will always be our go-to favourite.

The carp equivalent in the game world was the stratospheric growth of stillwater trout fishing in reservoirs, pits and lakes from the end of the Second World War. There were, of course, great names in the early days like Shrive and Ivens (and Walker again), but for many of us the classic Stillwater Fly Fishing (1975) by Brian Clarke was the book that shaped the way we fished the fly for rainbows. His examination of fly life and the various trout rise forms remain startlingly powerful to this day. I’d also list his follow-up with John Goddard, The Trout And The Fly (1980) as an equally influential work that forced us to think just how trout behave. Can the Hugh Falkus tome Sea Trout (1962) really be beaten, even to this day? And I include Hugh’s on/off pal Arthur Oglesby here too. His 1971 work Salmon is a model of sound good sense from first to last. I doubt it has been bettered as a standard text book on the subject, for the beginner especially. 

Carp, stillwater trouting and pike fishing have all advanced monumentally in our lifetime. Certainly all us young Norfolk pike bloods would have put Fishing For Big Pike (1971) by Rickards and Webb at the top of our own inspirations, even more than Fred Buller’s Pike a few years later. Mind you, Fred’s follow up, The Domesday Book Of Pike (1979) was the work that drove us to fish for monsters, however wet and cold we might be. I’m going to mention Pike, The Predator Becomes The Prey (1985) by Bailey and Page, simply because the world of piking exploded after Rickards and Webb, and this compilation was vital in bringing it up to date.

And why are we anglers at all? Probably because of books that have stimulated us and excited us and driven us to become better. For us oldies, perhaps we look back to Fisherman’s Bedside Book (1945) by BB as the work where it all began for us. I’d also plump for Going Fishing (1942) by Negley Farson, I Know A Good Place (1989) by Clive Gammon and Somewhere Down The Crazy River (1992) by Boote and Wade as books that have kept the spirit of the sport burning bright.

There you go, I’m done. Light on game I know. Non-existent on non-English writers… and women! Nothing at all on sea fishing. What about the match scene? Get stuck in. What should stay? What should go? And most especially, what of your own personal passions? If you have a moment, help broaden this list till we are all satisfied…

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