I’m wandering the aisles of a used bookstore when a thick, hardbound volume catches my eye. I pluck it from the shelf to take a closer look. The glossy cover features the title, Fishing North America: 1876-1910, printed over a painted image of a 19th-century gentleman leaning against a moss-covered rock, casting a fly rod into a placid brook with a basket slung around his shoulders. Now I’m intrigued, but as I open the book and peruse the table of contents, my reaction is short of pure awe.
This marvelous compendium of fishing lore (compiled by Frank Oppel) contains more than 40 published articles, each one accompanied by original drawings, engravings, and photographs. The authors include legendary anglers like Zane Grey, Tappan Adrey, A.W. Dimock, and Charles E. Van Loan. Some of the pieces cover practical topics like wharf angling, game fishing, and utilizing “primitive fish-hooks”, while others detail exploits in New Mexico’s Pecos River, Ontario’s Lake Rideau, and the Southern California coast.
In short: every sportsman should own a copy of this book. Not just for sheer reading pleasure, but also for informative (albeit, slightly dated) tidbits of expert fishing advice. Here’s an excerpt from ‘Fall Fishing for Lake Trout’ by Samuel G. Camp:
“Use a swiveled dipsey sinker of four to eight ounces, according to the depth of the water. The bait and arrangement of hook or hooks will be the same as for use with a metal line… It is a good plan to tie the sinker to the line in such a manner that when the trout has been led in close to the boat the sinker line may be taken into the boat and the sinker instantly removed from the line by a single pull. Any simple jam-knot will make this possible.”
Other scribes use their fishing experiences to craft poetic travelogues. From Zane Grey’s ‘The Lord of Lackawaxen Creek’:
“All its tributaries, dashing white-sheeted over ferny cliffs, wine-brown where the whirling pools suck the stain from the hemlock roots, harbor the speckled trout. Wise in their generation the black and red-spotted little beauties keep to their brooks; for farther down, below the rush and fall, a newcomer is lord of the stream. He is an arch enemy, a scorner of beauty and blood, the wolf-jawed, red-eyed, bronze-backed black bass.”
But if sports writing isn’t enough to engage you, the articles featured in Fishing North America: 1876-1910 contain plenty of truisms and philosophical ruminations about the relationship between man and his natural environment that manage to resonate with contemporary readers. Here’s a nugget of wisdom from ‘A Fight with a Muskallonge’ by John R. Rathom:
“Fishing trips are very much like love-affairs in one way; they say a man can only have one grand affair of the heart; to catch one’s twentieth or thirtieth musky is sport, sublime and bracing sport, too, but to catch one’s first ― well, I’ll make a feeble attempt to put the thing into words.”
I could go on and on about how much I love this book ― and if you’re still with me, then I guarantee you’ll probably feel the same way. You can order a copy of Fishing North America: 1876-1910 through Amazon, AbeBooks, Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers. And no, it’s not available as an e-book. That would be, for lack of a better term, utter blasphemy.