Mark Twain once said that a classic is “a book that people praise and don’t read.” Maybe. But it would be a shame to overlook the classics of angling literature. If you want to learn more about the origins of our sport and start building a library of solid angling books, you can’t possibly go wrong with these titles.
ITCHEN MEMORIES BY G.E.M. SKUES
Skues fished the same beat on the fabled Itchen River for 55 years. His advocacy of nymph fishing raised the ire of dry-fly purists, but he won converts by pointing out that rising fish might actually be taking emergers just under the surface. Astonishingly, this was big news 100 years ago. Itchen Memories was published just after Skues’ death (at 90-plus years), and its value lies chiefly in its re-creation of the calm, meditative life alongside one of England’s premier trout streams. H. Jenkins, 1951.
WHERE THE BRIGHT WATERS MEET BY HARRY PLUNKET-GREENE
Plunket-Greene was an Irish opera singer who fished the Bourne, a 3-mile tributary of the Test. Published 82 years ago, the book is a memoir of angling in the halcyon days of Edwardian England. The author seems to be a perfect compilation of fishing virtues—zeal, hopefulness, skill, and good humor—altogether a companionable fellow and an excellent writer. Phillip Allan & Co., 1924.
A RIVER NEVER SLEEPS BY RODERICK L. HAIG-BROWN
Haig-Brown was an Englishman who emigrated to Canada’s Vancouver Island. He thought of himself (rightly so) as a writer who fished, not a fisherman who wrote. He wrote 24 books in all, but this one is perhaps the most famous. “I still don’t know why I fish or why other men fish, except that we like it and it makes us think and feel.” It’s hard to improve on that. William Morrow & Co., 1946.
FISHLESS DAYS, ANGLING NIGHTS BY SPARSE GREY HACKLE
“Sparse Grey Hackle” was the pen name of A.W. Miller, a journalist and member of a fishing club that leased water on the Beaverkill. The book is a collection of short pieces, most of them humorous in the self-deprecatory style that seems to be a feature of much of angling’s best writing. There’s also a story on Theodore Gordon that gives some interesting biographical information on this elusive maven of American flyfishing. (Gordon, by the way, corresponded regularly with G.E.M. Skues, who instructed Gordon in upstream tactics.) Crown Publishers, 1971.
TALES OF SWORDFISH AND TUNA BY ZANE GREY
Zane Grey’s reputation rests mostly on his Western novels, which were extremely successful and supported his real passion, which was catching fish—of all species, and the bigger the better. (At one time or another he held world records for 14 different species.) He also wrote eight fishing books, and you could argue that they are superior to his novels. Tales of Swordfish and Tuna is representative of his work and follows Grey from Nova Scotia in search of giant tuna to the waters off Catalina Island for swordfish. Grey was an obsessive and competitive angler, but he was also a careful observer, and his fishing books are combinations of exciting action and sensitive reflection on the sport and the natural world. Harper & Brothers, 1927.
A SUMMER ON THE TEST BY JOHN WALLER HILLS
Zane Grey once said that he thought the English fishing writers were superior to the Americans. I don’t know that he believed it, but it is certainly true that many of the classics are English. A Summer on the Test is one. It has been quoted in practically every angling anthology produced since it appeared, and it has been acclaimed as one of the most lyrical, beautiful books ever written. Essentially a novice’s guide to fishing chalk streams, it takes the angler through the year and tells of the conditions that will be met, the flies to use, and how the day’s fishing should be planned. Phillip Allan & Co., 1924.