Thomas Salter and the Duchess

September 9, 2014

Thomas Frederic Salter was a London hatmaker. He fished as a child with his father and remained a devoted angler as an adult. Apparently, his health prevented him from fishing regularly in his later years. He therefore turned his attention toward writing several books having to do with fishing, each of which went through several editions. The first was The Angler’s Guide, or Complete London Angler in the Thames, Lea, and other Waters twenty miles round London, which was published in 1814.  Interestingly, he dedicated it to “Her Royal Highness the Duchess of York,” whom, he says, “occasionally enjoys the amusement of Angling” (vii). At the time, the duchess was the beloved Princess Frederica Charlotte of Prussia. An independent woman, she lived separately from her husband, apparently preferring the company of her many pets and other animals.

"Frederica Charlotte Ulrica Catherina, Duchess of York and Albany" published by Robert Laurie, published by  James Whittle

In his guide, Salter speaks highly of fly fishing, describing it as “gentlemanly and pleasant,” if also “difficult to learn” (82-83). In all, he dedicates five chapters of the book to the practice. Had I been Salter’s editor, I might have pointed it out that the sport must also be “ladylike” (or something to that effect), since the Duchess, so highly praised in Salter’s, dedication, was an angler.

Salter Trout

Illustration of a trout, from page 95 of Salter’s Guide.

Interestingly, Salter also includes a poem by a “Mr. Cracknell,” entitled “The Female Angler” (103). Two stanzas follow.


From town I walk’d to take the air,

Shun smoke and noise of coaches;

I saw a lovely damsel fair,

Angling for Dace and Roaches.


Close by a brook, with line and hook,

Which curiously was baited,

Attentively the maid did look,

While for a bite she waited.


Looking back as readers, and not editors, we should commend Salter for acknowledging so clearly that field sports are not only or best practiced by men. While many authors of Salter’s time and before paid homage to the legendary Juliana Berners, O.S.B., supposed author of the 15th century Treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle , few of them seemed to consider that there may have been many other figures like her. Admittedly, there seems to be a hint of romance in the poem Slater includes in his book; there is an implication that the “female angler” shares in the simple purity of nature or the rural area free from “smoke and noise.”

Yet, Salter tells us that “The Female Angler” was inspired by a very real friend of Cracknell’s. Also, as its subtitle indicates, Salter’s book focuses upon fishing in urban and suburban London (in later editions, the subtitle changes).  Thus, he does not see to see the divide between nature and culture as being so bold as many others did and do. This makes him a rare figure in his time — one worth reading. While the Guide is mostly a technical manual and guidebook to certain fishing locations, there is, as I have indicated here, some material that truly stands out.

I leave you with a stanza from another poem, “The Angler’s Morning Walk,” apparently written by Salter himself (x).


From sweet repose I early rose

To fish, and take the air;

I look’d around, saw good abound,

Then why should Man despair.






Dream and Fable

September 3, 2014

“Standing on the shore, I once more cast my line into the stream, and found the dream to be real and the fable true.”

Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods, 1864.

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Adventure Books

August 28, 2014

In January of 2003, Outside Magazine published a list of recommended “adventure” books, in an article titled “The 25 (Essential) Books for the Well-Read Explorer.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Wind, Sand, and Stars, published in 1939 (first in French and then in English, in the same year), was at the top of their list. In the article, Brad Wieners describes Saint-Exupéry’s classic:

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Wind, Sand and Stars is so humane, so poetic, you underline sentences: “It is another of the miraculous things about mankind that there is no pain nor passion that does not radiate to the ends of the earth. Let a man in a garret but burn with enough intensity and he will set fire to the world.” Saint-Exupéry did just that. No writer before or since has distilled the sheer spirit of adventure so beautifully. True, in his excitement he can be righteous, almost irksome like someone who’s just gotten religion. But that youthful excess is part of his charm. Philosophical yet gritty, sincere yet never earnest, utterly devoid of the postmodern cop-outs of cynicism, sarcasm, and spite, Saint-Exupéry’s prose is a lot like the bracing gusts of fresh air that greet him in his open cockpit. He shows us what it’s like to be subject and king of infinite space.

I have written before about Saint-Exupéry, and I’m happy that Outside included one of his books in their list (he is, most famously, the author of The Little Prince). Truly, Wind, Sand and Stars conveys a sense of what most of us would describe as adventure. However, the books that Outside recommended, and which other publication have recommended in similar lists, might better be classified as “environmental” or “outdoor literature.” After all, “adventure” is a term that is as hard to define as “art,” “nature,” or “love.”

Regardless, if  you find yourself house-bound or otherwise restricted from enjoying the outdoors yourself,  you can find some fine reading material in Outside’s old list. By using the search function on their webpage, you can locate several other lists of recommended readings as well. Also, take a look at the extensive list of “adventure” books published online by National Geographic in 2004 (notice, there is a link to more recent recommendations at the bottom of their webpage).




Angling Library Locator

August 20, 2014


This map was created by Brandon Simmons at the Trout School blog. The few libraries identified here that I have actually seen were well worth the visit.

Originally posted on Trout School:

For those of you as obsessed with Angling Libraries as I am, I have begun to compile a geographical reference- a treasure map, if you will. This is a Public Google Map which provides a pin for each institution I have found to house an Angling Book Collection.

Please let me know if I have omitted any sites you may be aware of. I have been fairly loose with my criteria (I would rather be inclusive to allow for a larger footprint).

I have visited only a handful of these places yet cherish the time spent within their majestic stacks. I welcome your input and any stories of your pilgrimages you care to share.

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A Little Piece of Home

August 9, 2014


My sister painted me a little 3 inch by 3 inch picture for my birthday. It is based upon a photograph I took recently, from the seat of a canoe. In the image, the viewer looks north toward the Scapegoat Wilderness in Montana, from the lake where my sisters and I share a cabin. The picture is a wonderful gift, though my photograph of it does not capture its nuances. Of course, there is a fly rod in the image.

Tom Morgan Rodsmiths and Religion

August 4, 2014

CBS Evening News has done an On the Road segment, entitled “Legendary Fishing Rod Creator shares a Special Secret,” on Tom and Gerry Morgan, of Tom Morgan Rodsmiths.  It is always interesting to see such stories in the mainstream media. In this particular case, the commentator, Steve Hartman, makes reference to the connection between religion and fly fishing that so many writers have claimed for so many centuries. Sadly, though, Hartman then describes a Tom Morgan rod as the “Holy Grail.” Of course, those who attribute deep meaning to fly fishing are inspired to do so by the experience, not the sometimes very expensive tackle. The commentator’s view reflects our society’s misplaced obsession with material wealth. No doubt, this obsession is often brought to the sport by certain tackle collectors and even by those who seem more concerned about what they look like on the stream than they are with the water and the life all around them. The inherent value of the living environment is so much greater that the merely symbolic value of our possessions.


July 18, 2014

In my university courses, I often ask students to look critically at writing–to consider that the strength of traditions based upon writing depends upon people reading their culture’s texts. And I point out to students that our libraries are filled with books that are never touched. Academic books that go unread are typically books that deal with obtuse, unimportant topics.  Books written for popular audiences that go unread are often books that are simply written poorly. Of course, these are the often same reasons that certain journals, magazines, and websites go unread as well.

trout 2

Personally, I only subscribe to one magazine: The Flyfish Journal. The articles published therein are generally interesting and very well-written. I also receive Trout magazine, as part of my membership in the conservation organization, Trout Unlimited. However, in the past, I did not look at the articles in Trout very carefully. There were even times when I put the magazine directly into the recycling bin without getting past the contents page. It was not a magazine to which I would have chosen to subscribe. Fortunately, this has changed. The current editorial staff members–Kirk Deeter, Samantha Carmichael, and Erin Block–have made some great decisions about what to publish (and it is great to see their work, too, especially the very talented Erin’s) .

I was particularly happy that I looked through the latest issue of Trout more carefully than I looked at previous editions. In the Summer 2014 issue, I found articles by two close fly fishing friends. “Bad Boyfriend”, by Mike Sepelak, is an immensely creative, metaphorical essay about the dangers of introducing others to the disease we call fly fishing. In my opinion, Mike is a truly gifted writer, and I am very happy each time I see a new piece of his in print.  It does not seem that long ago that he was telling me about the writing class he had just enrolled in at our town’s community college. Now, he could probably teach that class. “A Fly-Fishing Pilgrimage to Montana,” by Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer, is an autobiographical essay, in which Eric relates the reasons behind his visit to the Big Blackfoot River and other Montana haunts of writer Norman Maclean.  As someone with a Ph.D. in Religious Studies, Eric’s reflections upon the deeper meanings that many of us–past and present–ascribe to fly fishing have long intrigued me. Some years ago, I invited  him to speak to my students, in a college course on fishing literature. In turn, he invited me to speak to his congregation.  Of course, we have also fished together. So, I enjoy his company as much in person as I do in print.

Mike and Eric are two angling writers who should be read. Their unique perspectives upon fly fishing and the reasons we fish, as well as their writing skills, place them among those authors whose works should not simply gather dust on a shelf. Indeed, their works serve to strengthen the traditions associated with fly fishing, one of which is writing itself.

Taken by Fairies and Fishing

July 11, 2014

Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz (1878-1965) wrote his doctoral dissertation at Oxford University on Celtic views of and practices associated with “fairies.” He later expanded his work and published it as The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Counties, in 1911. He was undoubtedly influenced by the romanticism that also influenced mentor and poet William Butler Yeats and so many other Irish and other Northern European intellectuals at the time.  This romanticism is very evident in The Fairy-Faith, manifested in a great number of biases both in the ethnography and its interpretation.  Evans-Wentz was also influenced by mysticism, as presented by the American philosopher and psychologist William James, another of his mentors. And yet, Evans-Wentz displays a remarkable desire to take seriously the Celtic views of and practices surrounding fairies, which were and are dismissed by so many. This desire led him to record an immense amount of information presented directly from informants of Celtic descent in Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, Cornwall, and Brittany. So, while we might set aside many of his interpretations, and while we must also treat the quotations of his informants (particularly those translated from Gaelic languages) with caution, there is much to be gleaned from The Fairy-Faith.  Moreover, it is simply a fascinating read, for those of us who love the green, misty, mountainous places that Evans-Wentz’s informants associated with fairies.

Evans-Wentz later went on to work on Tibetan Buddhism, popularizing its study among European and American academics. His work there, too, must be treated cautiously, as his attitudes toward Tibet and Buddhism were perhaps even more romantic than his attitude toward Celtic views and practices.  This is partly due to the fact that “Madame” Helena Blavatsky’s imaginative, Asian and Spiritualist influenced “Theosophy” was a significant part of his life.


While Evans-Wentz apparently spent a great deal of time on the banks of the Delaware River as a boy — even claiming to have had an “ecstatic” experience there — I do not know if there is direct evidence of him having been a fisherman, as his mentors Yeats and James certainly were. However, the Celtic informants whose voices are recorded in his first book, spoke often of fish in their broader discussions of fairies and other non-human persons that animated their landscapes. And it is these voices which interest me the  most.

Following, is a “testimony” about the fairies that Evans-Wentz  attributes to an anonymous “Peasant Seer” in County Sligo, Ireland:

Another time I was alone trout-fishing in nearly the same region when I heard a voice say, “It is — barefooted and fishing.” Then there came a whistle like music and a noise like the beating of a drum, and soon one of the gentry came and talked with me for half and hour. He said, “Your mother will die in eleven months, and do not let her die unanointed.” And she did die within eleven months. As he was going away he warned me, “You must be in the house before sunset. Do not delay! Do not delay! They can do nothing to you until I get back in the castle.” As I found out afterwards, he was going to take me, but hesitated because he did not want to leave my mother alone.


As it does for the informants met by Evans-Wentz over a  hundred years ago, going trout fishing or simply going to the places where trout are found, feels like a sort of boundary crossing to me. There is a sense, too, of being taken or, more precisely, not wanted to return back across the boundary.  Mind you, I am not one to draw a hard distinction between nature and culture or even so-called “super-nature.”  I am not speaking, then, of entering and wanting to remain in another reality.  Rather, fishing for me simply involves entering an area dominated by others–the fish, bears, birds, and perhaps even fairies, though I have yet to meet one of the latter (there are, however, many traditions among Indigenous Americans that involve little people and other human-like beings, both malevolent and kind).

Regardless, my thoughts are often focused upon the very animated world around me, when I am visiting trout streams and their environs.  I know that I am not alone in this.  As evidence, I present a picture of a fairy house made by my wife, at our cabin, while I was catching the sort of fish that you will see in the picture above. Perhaps my wife’s purely artistic creation of the fairy house will serve to propitiate any other-than-human beings, who might be responsible for my often feeling “taken” with fly fishing.


Accidental Waters

June 30, 2014

As in marriage, so in fishing; one’s choice is made by accident. One opens the door of a room; and there, for better or for worse, the lady sits. One sees a river from a train, a car, one halts to stretch one’s legs and is lost.

John Inglis Hall, Fishing a Highland Stream; a Love Affair with a River (Putnam and Co, 1960).


In Fishing a Highland Stream, John Inglis Hall writes of his love affair with the River Truim, a tributary of Scotland’s famous River Spey. If you have traveled between Perth and Inverness, you have probably seen this river. However, when Hall first began to fish the Truim in the 1940’s, its course was less widely known by the public.

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My own home waters remain more remote. But like Hall, I first came to them accidentally. My family chose to build a cabin on the banks of what is now my favorite trout lake and just over the ridge from my favorite river. Naturally, I grew familiar with these waters over time, and I have come to love them as much as Hall loved the River Truim.

I visited these waters last weekend, and I look forward to doing so again in a few days. Included here are a few pictures, which will explain my love.

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Walton / Cotton Fishing Hut for sale

June 21, 2014


From the Trout School blog, comes news of Cotton’s and Walton’s fishing cottage being put on the market.

Originally posted on Trout School:

Walton Fishing Hut

Izaak Walton’s fabled fishing hut is for sale. Its hard to believe such an icon of our fishing heritage is on the market.

The hut was built in 1674,  20 years after the first publication of The Compleat Angler, and 2 years prior to the 5th edition which included Charles Cotton’s fly fishing chapters. The hut was built by both men and includes their initials over the entrance.

I am surprised the Houghton Club (on the Test) or the Anglers’ Club (in London) can’t pony up £450,000 (~$750,000) for the hallowed property and the 3km private river access to the Dove.

Link to the Real Estate listing- the pictures are worth viewing.

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