A Can of Worms

The Story Of Barbel And The Men Who Fished For Them
By Jon Berry

There can be few books which can be said to be the first AND last ‘word’ on their chosen subject yet this is exactly how I’d describe A Can of Worms. Jon Berry has turned to all his skills as a History graduate to produce a comprehensive, meticulously researched and authoritative piece of work. The mind boggles at where and how he might have done some of his research as he seems to have chased down every morsel of information on the subject. And whilst Jon may have called upon his academic leanings in his research methods he hasn’t let it get in the way of telling a good story. A Can of Worms is a book that is very readable and at times engrossing, especially, if like me, barbel are one of your favourite fish.

The book does exactly what it says on the cover. First up there’s a natural history lesson to explain the distribution of barbel and how man has extended this enormously. There’s some tantalising early references to barbel being where they shouldn’t have been. And Jon appears to have hunted down early references to the fish (and they appear to have been few and far between) with particular fastidiousness. I was also particularly intrigued to learn how a minor local river to me had such a big part to play in barbel’s human assisted spread around the country.

A Can Of Worms by Jon BerryJon then treats us to a history lesson of, particularly, the Victorian anglers on the Thames and Trent systems and the 20th century rise of barbel’s popularity. Tackle, techniques, baits used and notable fish captures are all recorded as well as the decline and resurrection of these two great rivers The story peters out in the early 1980’s (by the book’s own admission) but there’s still room for a long bibliography of barbel books, a few stories, even the odd recipe – though Jon seems to have struggled to find many folks that actually could recommend the taste!

The book is adorned with a generous dose of illustrations. There are colour plates from barbel books of the past, snippets from old tackle catalogues, old photos and hand written notes and numerous clippings from the Angling Times.

I suspect however this just represents the tip of the iceberg in terms of Jon’s source material – as represented by the 6 pages of notes in the appendix at the back of the book.

The book is published by Medlar and retails for, (I hope you’re sitting down!) £35. (Mine was given to me as a birthday present). It is undoubtedly going to be a collectors item but it is still a book that deserves to be read as it will surely become the standard reference work on the subject – the definitive last word!

ISBN 978-1899600724 1st Edition; 5th Dec 2007.

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