Horrendously wet and windy weather might make fishing hard, but at least the chaos outside gives me the excuse to do some reading. Every Christmas, extended family tend to buy me some quirky fishing material and this year has been no exception, hence a copy of "The Fishing Gazette" from Autumn 1959. Written twenty years before I was born, it is a fascinating little window into a different era of fishing. What can we glean from the past? The tackle and lay out might look dated, with hand drawn diagrams and the cream of rods of the day selling for £7-£10, but in other ways the Angling Gazette displays some nostalgically traditional values. The quality of writing is often a much better standard than today's magazines, I have to say. Writers such as Fred J Taylor seem understated and articulate by comparison. Gone also are those toe curling, lazy cliches; you never feel like slapping the writer for describing a fish as a "bar of gold" or their "prize". Articles also rove freely into other topics such as wildlife and rivers management. The whole feel is far less commercial too. The hard sell is not there. Even the ads are somehow sweetly naive. The other noticeable difference is that the title embraces all types of fishing- sea bass and roach are discussed in the same pages as salmon flies. Could it be that fifty years later we are more narrow-minded in some ways? In total contrast to the regular floods we now face in the UK, the hilariously named correspondent for Devon, Mr Cecil F Plimsole notes that there are "no signs of rain near, and the rivers are extremely low."
Some aspects of fishing in this country never change however, and in this respect I've also enjoyed dipping into Jeremy Paxman's "The English" and "Fish, Fishing and the Meaning of Life." Paxman makes the true statement that anglers are a nostalgic breed, continually hankering for a golden age that probably never existed. You've heard it before: Everything was better twenty years ago. Fishing is continually facing ruin at the hands of (cormorants/ foreigners/ overfishing/ xx insert selected name of perpetual evil here xx). How very, bloody, English.
An even spookier echo of the present is held within the Angling Gazette as a Mr F W Holiday (all 50s anglers are known very formally by initials and surnames, naturally) tries to debunk the myth that fly fishing is some arcane form of art, not for the likes of you and I. "Such a lot of pretentious tripe has been written about fly fishing that many people are afraid to try for fear they will make themselves look silly," he comments, "but the rudiments are learned quickly enough". The same sentiment has been my own message with "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish".
The new collector's edition has been the icing on the cake. From initially being told that the idea was a non-starter by one publishers, Merlin Unwin grabbed the project by the horns and, over 2000 copies later, the doubters have been proved spectacularly wrong. It would be superb to see a softback edition released in the next run to get even more hands on fly rods, but at the other end of the spectrum is the special, leather bound edition. Complete with hand marbled end papers and gilt edged pages, 50 copies really have been given the deluxe treatment (check out the the gold perch taking the fly on the cover). Heck, it's so nicely done I can hardly bring myself to run my greasy fingers over the thing (see www.merlinunwin.co.uk for more info).
Otherwise I have only been out for one days fishing since returning from my travels. With incessant rain and topsy turvy weather still the norm, perhaps I should have anticipated a blank days piking. Nevertheless, fishing is so many things besides catching, like watching the strangely fluid patterns made by mobs of starlings or just catching up with a friend.