Reviewed by: Chris Plumb
This veritable treasure trove of an angling anthology was once described in the angling magazine Waterlog as the ‘The Best Fishing Book in th World’.
Extravagant but not exaggerated praise. Actually the word anthology doesn’t really do it justice either. It could almost be described as a complete angling library packed into one slim volume, for within its 568 pages can be found 174 articles by some 80 different authors. As such it probably represents the very best in angling literature at the mid point of the last century.
First published in December 1945. The Fisherman’s Bedside Book is a product of post war austerity. Printed on wafer thin paper and measuring just 4 X 7 inches it can easily be slipped into ones pocket. Don’t let this put you off. If the production values are somewhat Spartan, then the content is the product of Elysium. Heavenly. And its ‘portability’ should be seen as an advantage – mine has lived in my brief case for a number of months and reading it has much cheered my daily commute to and from London.
Both coarse and game angler are well catered for – though there are just a handful of stories to please the sea fisher. Unusually for the era (though not for BB) articles on Carp out-number those of any other single species of coarse fish (and are equal to the number of features on Salmon). Around 120 pages are devoted to Trout and there is also much which isn’t ‘species specific.’ Disciples of the chalk stream can enjoy extracts from the gospels according to Plunkett-Greene, Halford, Hills & Skues. And BB himself hasn’t let modesty get in the way of adding his own writing. In fact he is the major contributor with 13 articles and numerous asides and footnotes. A number of his finest pieces are culled from Fisherman’s Folly and The Idle Countryman and appear with those specifically written for the book.
Sheringham weighs in with the next highest ‘contribution count’ and there are more than one contribution from other great names such as Patrick Chalmers, Lord Grey, A.R.B. Haldane, Richard Jeffries, Arthur Ransome, William Skinner and not forgetting Izaak himself. In addition, the yellowing pages are punctuated throughout with BB’s own exquisite scraper-board illustrations.
There is very little of the technical side of angling – the book is very much in the same ethos that A Passion for Angling was 2 generations later, not how to fish but how to enjoy. The selection of stories describes an appreciation of nature woven into tales of angling. In fact, it has been said that BB has chosen some of the most descriptive writing of the natural world in the English language to be placed in this compilation.
The book has been re-printed many times – the last in 1993. Be warned though, these later editions have been emasculated, they have been edited to a more manageable 300 or so pages, but they are pale shadow’s of the original work and contain little over half the number of original entries.
All is not lost however, many of the earlier editions can still be found 2nd hand and at reasonable prices. Sure, a first edition bound in red leather could set you back up to £100. A tight ‘reading copy’, however, shouldn’t be more than £10-20. My own copy is a 3rd edition (February 1950) which I bought off e-Bay for just 12.10 – given the quality of the writing it was a real bargain.
“Very soon the edges of the thick trees opposite to me began to glow with a mysterious light, almost like a halo, and then the full moon swam into view, drawing itself up inch by inch from the dark mass of the foliage like a magic balloon. Its light was reflected in the water, winking and twinkling on the reed stems. There came to me the sweet, half-rotten smell of water weeds. Rats squeaked and scurried close by, but no owls hooted nor sedge birds sang.
Then in the path of the moonlight, a great carp wallowed, his back slowly appearing, like a whale’s back, smooth and glistening, a medieval fish clad in chain mail. He was close to my float and indeed seemed to stir it, but he never so much as looked at my bait.”
BB: The Abbey Moat (Originally from Fisherman’s Folly)
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