The past year or so has seen the publication of some fabulous angling books, books that have given me hours and hours of pleasure and in some cases set the old grey matter whirring. Unfortunately selling books is a very tough marketplace and it grates on me that very good anglers can burn gallons of midnight oil in order to sell a few hundred copies while some bride of Frankenstein with false tits, teeth and accent can top the best sellers list by talking about nothing in particular other than themselves.
Angling ain’t sexy. Never has been and never will be. It ain’t cool, either. Even Matt Hayes wearing his cap backwards in Angling Times and using phrases like, ‘Yo man!’ failed to light up the universe. No, it’s frequently the territory of men with facial hair, grubby clothes that, on occasion, tend to smell slightly odd. When it comes to bling we eulogise over stainless steel rather than gold and diamonds. Admit it, we’re a scruffy bunch and we are never going to be mainstream, never going to be ‘down with the kids’. We’re the dreamers who are prone to make pronouncents about, ‘Back in the day’, pretty much because we’re all of a certain age.
Let’s face it, when did you last see an image of an angler ‘twerking’? Parking the Lambo’ and smooching with a supermodel? We ain’t never on the guest list at premieres and parties, are we?
Nah, even anglers don’t like anglers or book sales would be ten time higher. But that doesn’t mean I personally can’t admire the writings of those who aspire to join the ranks of angling’s literary giants. Nor should it mean I shouldn’t offer a little encouragement and share in the joy they get from the process of creating something that owes far more to vanity than fiscal sense.
Anyway, here’s my pick of the year(ish), a baker’s dozen in no particular order although if pressed the first three would be my top three and Barry McConnell’s book stands head and shoulders above the lot. Beyond that it’s a bit like judging the village fete prettiest baby competition. It’s a minefield and as we know, beauty is in always the eye of the beholder or who you know. One man’s meat and all that…
The Eel Angler by Barrie McConnell
Of all the books I’ve read this year this one took me by complete surprise. Surely it’s impossible to write an interesting book about a creature that’s covered in slime and looks like a snake. Be prepared to be proved wrong. From the moment I began reading I was hooked and the more I read the more I wanted to try eel fishing. Be under no misapprehension, McConnell is an obsessive to the point where we might question his sanity. He lives a life that sounds insane because he’s eel mad but when did that actually hurt anyone else? Everyone knows the Scottish Highlands in summertime are a biting insect nightmare, even in the daytime, so what would it take to persuade you to sit out all night by the side of a Scottish loch just to catch an eel? His exploits in Australia and New Zealand are equally extreme – living rough in remote places becomes second nature but the results are staggering, think freshwater eels the size of a conger. Full of technical content and tactical ideas, if you only ever read one book about eels in your life it should be this one. Madness needs no encouragement but The Eel Angler was my best fishing read of the whole year.
The Biggest Fish Of All by The Perchfishers
Of all the books produced by single species groups The Biggest Fish Of All stands head and shoulders above the rest. It is as comprehensive a work as anyone could wish for covering the biology of the species in-depth through to worldwide distribution, artists who have painted perch, a list of each perch weighing over 4lbs that was reported to the press since 1989 giving month, captor, weight, bait and venue, but it’s the guest contributions that had me drooling. Everyone seemed happy to share their knowledge without holding back. More than 50 members and friends contributed to a book that is simply breathtaking.
The Angling Artists by Tony Meers
Here’s a book to grace any coffee table. It showcases the work of current artists and those of the recent past. It is simply beautiful. Throughout the book Meers describes each guest as an artist followed with a story by, or about, the person and as you are entitled to expect every single page is illustrated with the finest angling artwork around. Artists featured included Bernard Venables, Ted Andrews, Robin Cook, Peter Curtis, Gareth Fareham, Andrew Field, John Grant, Trevor Harrop, Maurice Ingham, Keith Linsell, Mick Loates, David Miller, Robert Olsen, Maurice Pledger, Karen Sarkar, John Searl, Richard J Smith and Denys Watkins-Pitchford. It’s a book you will admire and get lost in. Everyone should own a copy.
Jack’s Pike Volume 3 by Brian Roberts
I’m surprised that the Jack’s Pike cartoon series hasn’t caught the attention of a national publication. Imagine Andy Capp as an obsessive fisherman and you have Jack’s Pike. For example, Jack and Bob (his mate) are walking down the street. ‘That’s where the Jehovah’s Witnesses live.’ Says Jack. A door bell rings. ‘Do you have a few minutes to talk about fishing…?’
Or Jack’s take on One Million Years BC. The two main characters shelter under an archetypal Stonehenge structure, two upright slabs and a cross member, ‘This is a great fishing shelter… We should put them all round the pond.’ And there’s another of the world’s great mysteries solved.
You’ll find plenty more examples on the website www.pikeblog.com if you require further persuasion. The web site offers three volumes of cartoons in a choice of B&W or colour to suit your preference and budget.
Water Colours – further ramblings of an artist-angler by Maurice J Pledger
I doubt any of us display less vanity than this author. Mole, as his friends call him, illustrates interactive children’s books and more than ten million copies have been sold worldwide. His ornithological studies have sold at Sotherby’s, yet when I cheekily asked if I might use some of his fish images on my latest DVD inlays and to break up different film sequences he not only talked his agent into letting me use them at no cost, he then wrote to me saying he was humbled to be given such an opportunity. Crikey, if anyone should be humbled it was me. Of course, I jumped at a chance to repay the favour when he asked me to write an introduction for Water Colours. It was an honour and I knew it would be a cracker if his previous book, While My Float’s Still Cocked was anything to go by.
I wasn’t to be disappointed. Water Colours is a whimsical book. A collection of tales and Boy’s Own adventures, the polar extreme of obsession. It’s a lovely book, one to escape into on a cold winter’s evening. Not surprisingly it’s liberally illustrated with Mole’s sketches and paintings throughout.
Great Days Extra by Des Taylor
Des Taylor is a bit of an angling legend with a reputation magnified through a long running weekly column in Angling Times which originally caricatured him as a hard drinking, opinionated loudmouth with a view on everything, but as editors have come and gone, so his image has been mellowed. These days he’s a countryman, keen to share his love of wildlife and nature. The youthful zeal has been replaced, he’s more thoughtful. However what has never changed has been his desire and ability to catch fish. He’s been prodigiously successful with coarse, sea and game fish. Throw in giant halibut, sailfish and great white shark, not to mention adventure fishing in numerous countries, and you have a true all-rounder. If ever a book was overdue this one was but it is certainly worth the wait. Available in hardback but the real value is in the softback which contains 3 bonus chapters, Great Days is packed from cover to cover with some of Des’s greatest exploits.
Professional Pike Angler by Mick Brown
This isn’t Mick Brown’s first book but it’s by far his finest. Mick was pretty much forced into a full-time angling career when his wife died and was left to raise two young children alone. He had little option but to give up a job in engineering and scratch a living off his wits, writing magazine articles, developing and testing tackle for various sponsors. Eventually this led a book contract, making DVDs and a chance meeting with Matt Hayes produced a television career, although looking back now he realises he signed away the rights to potential future incomes by not studying the contracts closely enough and made the same mistake with his TV work. But this isn’t a book about complaining, it’s Mick, warts and all, giving his considered views on catching pike through example. It certainly got me to thinking about lots of things I should be doing when I pike fish and that’s the hallmark of a good book.
Backwinding by Alan Rawden
If you gather your angling knowledge through the angling media you’ll probably never heard of Alan Rawden, but trust me, mention his name to any of the top specialists and they’ll know exactly who you mean. Alan has been a lifelong specialist angler who’s managed to avoid the limelight. He never craved fame. He just got on with the business of catching fish and keeping his head down, preferring to keep his captures close to his chest. Its only when you look down the chapter headings of the book you begin to realise it was no accident he happened to be fishing some of the most significant waters in the country just at the right time. The TC Pit, Swithland, Sywell, Half Pit, the Wensum, Dorset Stour, Avon, Trent and so on. Here for the first time he reveals the dedication and effort that went into his incredible catch list but just remember, it took him half a century to come up with this book. Don’t expect another any time soon. Buy one while you can but let me warn you, at 350 pages long and tipping the scales at a hefty 1.4Kg it’s no flimsy pamphlet, it’s a ‘proper’ book.
Email Alan Rawden for more details: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pike Here & There by Phil Wakeford
Wakeford is a highly respected pike angler and this book is no less than you might expect from someone of his stature – full-on, enthusiastic and leaves no stone unturned in a desire to achieve his goals. Many pike anglers grind out their results by pure attrition, not Wakeford, he’s a thinker and his results suggest others would benefit by adopting his approach, not that his campaigns lack physical effort. But he puts in the hours in an effective manner which works superbly well. Just check out the pictures; page after page of pike that anyone would be pleased to catch. Let him take you on a journey that winds around lowland rivers, backwaters and gravel pits to the wide expanses of Irish loughs and the vastness of the Baltic Sea. Only then will you appreciate what it takes to become one of the most successful pike anglers of all time.
Barbel Tales from The Barbel Society
Another book by a single species group and yet another fine effort. Thirty-eight chapters submitted by the good and the great of the Society, each one a tale about times spent fishing for barbel. It all adds up to a lot of fireside enjoyment at a time of year when only the hardiest souls will bother setting out to try and catch one. If you only fish for barbel during the more reliable summer months then you’ll certainly get your winter fix here. If asked to highlight just one chapter I’d instantly select Dr Terry Baxter’s Family Double Act. Near brought a tear to my eye, it did.
Underwater Angling by Paul Garner and Stuart Morgan
Very few instructional angling books can claim to be unique, completely different to anything else available. Even fewer provide any kind of factual evidence to support the author’s views. What we tend to get is a mix of dogma and supposition. Opinions are based merely on what the author imagines is happening beneath the surface or on what he’s read elsewhere, whereas Garner and Morgan set out to go beneath the surface with cameras and study the mechanics of every popular fishing method from a fish’s viewpoint. Seventeen chapters focus on stillwaters and 8 more on rivers. Conclusions are made, alternatives suggested. This is a book that could really make you think hard about your fishing.
Redfin Diaries by Mark Everard
Loosely described as a life in the year of a roach enthusiast, this isn’t a diary of events that takes place over the course of one year. It’s a book split into the four seasons with tales drawn from several decades neatly filed under the headings of Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring. Emotionally it’s hard to describe how I felt after reading the diaries because it took me back three decades to when big roach could be found in rivers like the Idle and Torne. It brought into sharp focus what we’ve lost through disastrous river board drainage practises, chemical fertilisation and that blight of all blights, the influx of freshwater cormorants which threatens the very survival of river roach. Yet here’s a bloke who claims to have caught more than 900 specimen roach pretty much during that same era of decline. It’s an astonishing tally yet I see no reason why Everard should exaggerate and I therefore take him at his word. Unfortunately, here in South Yorkshire I’ve almost as much chance of spotting a unicorn as catching a 2lb roach, never mind one of the many three-pounders he catches. So yes, it’s a book that fills me with jealousy, with regrets and a yearning for the past in equal measures.
Poles Apart – The History of the London Roach Pole by Michael Nadell
Take a history book based on a single item of fishing tackle, limited in geographical distribution, enjoyed its heyday in the 19th Century, that is no longer in production, written by a pastry chef and you might easily have a recipe for Eton Mess. However don’t be fooled into thinking one man’s obsession will be a dull read because this incredibly well-researched book is nothing of the sort. Beautifully illustrated and neatly designed it’s a fascinating read from start to finish. From answering the obvious question ‘what is a London roach pole’, Nadell expands into the makers’ art, the craftsmen who made them, accessories, baits, tactics, even the social influencing. He moves on to the masters of pole fishing, the great matches, how anglers travelled and the golden years of the River Lea. Here’s a book that truly justifies the large format.
So there you have it. My picks of 2103. You may agree with me or disagree. You might even like to rank them in some kind of order, a hit parade of angling books (pop pickers – showing my age there folks!) or maybe your own top three/ five or whatever but the failure of that is so many anglers are single species orientated and therefore will favour only those books they feel relate to them. What is certain is that any one or even all of these books would make cracking gifts for an angler.