A Dream of Jewelled Fishes

Reflections on Angling

John Aston

I must admit to being somewhat sceptical when I first heard of this book earlier in the year. Is there room for another book of angling reminiscences I thought? I even considered the title slightly pompous and it was with something of a jaundiced eye that I started to read it.

I needn’t have worried - the book is a little gem! A joy from an angler who’s philosophy on the sport is so in tune with my own I felt we may have been separated at birth (except John is older than me!). The title is from the opening lines of BB’s , Fisherman’s Bedside Book and the book itself is 21 chapters of intelligent, well crafted writing.

John Aston is a 55 year old lawyer form North Yorkshire and this book takes in his angling career from the West Riding via Lincolnshire, the wilds of NW Scotland and back to Yorkshire. The book starts in the somewhat traditional manner - the first chapters covering early beginnings but thereafter there’s no discernible chronological thread. Each subsequent chapter really a short story in its own right on a separate theme be it a species of fish, angling literature or John having a mild rant at some of the more boorish elements of the sport. Each chapter the perfect reading length for me to get through while Jaq ‘did her face’ before turning in for the night! This is not a ‘how to’ book - I don’t think there’s a single piece of advice - what it does do rather well is scratch the surface of why we do it!

A Dream Of Jewelled FishesJohn's writing style is engaging and often witty and I especially like his somewhat whimsical analogies - such as comparing barbel to Labrador puppies! The last line in the quote below is another particular favourite. He does a fair job at bigging up some of the places he fishes, too. The Tourist Boards of Sutherland and Lincolnshire owe him a pint or two. The Lincolnshire eulogy particularly surprised me as this is a county I have always loathed having spent 2 miserable years of my childhood living in Grantham!

There’s something for anglers of all disciplines in this book. Coarse and game fishing are covered with equal deference though the odd salmon angler might have a bone to pick with John! All in all, there will be few anglers who wouldn’t mind this book turning up in their Christmas stocking this year.

The couple of paragraphs below are from Chapter 19 - The Shadowed Light a chapter covering one of my favourite species - The Grayling

“But let me… …concentrate on why the grayling is such a glorious fish. No argument, they are the most exotic-looking freshwater fish you will find in the UK, not just because of the obvious exuberance of their huge dorsal fin but because of the beauty and symmetry of their silvered-mailed flanks and the impossible nuances of colour which can flash across them in the light of a winter’s day. They pull hard, not in the three-laps-of-the-pool-and-a double-leap style of a rainbow, or the dogged belligerence of a brown, but in a determined show of absolute resistance to being bossed around by anglers. Hook a big grayling in fast water below you and the first walloping thumps on the rod tip are enough to excite the most blasé of anglers.

The grayling’s initial reaction to being hooked feels like a barbel, or even a big eel, as they refuse to give an inch without making you work for it. And even when landed they will not concede that they might have lost the fight, because they continue to struggle; holding a freshly landed grayling can feel like trying to control a cat in mid-tantrum.”

Lovely stuff!

Published by Aurum Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-84513-280-4. £14.99

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