I feel a bit of a fake, reviewing this book. Chris Yates is probably the most revered modern angling writer (if 'modern' is a word you'd associate with him), and has been for many years. His books are eagerly awaited by anglers and non-anglers alike, as he has a way of writing about fishing that captures the imagination of anyone who has ever been near water, not just anglers. I, on the other hand, have never written a book and am probably everything Yates wouldn't want to be. That is, although I do like to trot a float on a river with a centre pin, I'm also very keen on modern tackle, with all the associated technology that goes with it, and my only real connection with the angling world (and the reason the publisher sent me this book to review) is that I run a fishing website, something that Yates, I imagine, would despise. The often stressful, hi-tech, on-demand nature of the internet would, I believe, go against all he seeks from fishing.
That said, I've got the book, he's not going to read this, so on with the review.....
I'll admit that I haven't read a Yates book before, although I've read a lot about them. I simply don't seem to have time to read these days and most of the 'hard copy' literature that I read has been sent to me for review. Therefore, I only ever seem to read new books. Thank goodness Yates wrote How To Fish – I've been missing out, big style!
First things first, PLEASE do not take the title literally. This is NOT an instruction manual. Fans of Yates will have known that, as would anyone picking this book up and observing it in Waterstones, but things are often taken literally on the internet, so I'm making that clear from the start.
This book was written by Yates whilst river fishing for perch. It describes a little bit of what physically goes on over a few days, but most of it is about what is going on in his mind, both with regards to the present and reminiscing about past adventures, right back to boyhood. Often, it is only the tug on the line, or dipping of a quill float, that brings Yates back to the 'real world'. To be honest, I think he's just as happy in his own mind and, as a reader, I was eagerly awaiting him to let me back in. He has a way of putting into word the reasons why most of us fish, as well as the things that subconsciously attract us to the sport (I bet he'd hate the use of the word 'sport', preferring the term 'art'. He has a point!).
His desire in angling does not appear to be to catch the biggest fish at all times (and at all costs). In fact, it's quite the opposite, although you do get the impression that big fish still appeal to him. I would suggest that if he cast to three perch, he'd want the biggest one to snaffle his bait! No, his aim appears to be to have the perfect fishing day, which can include catching fish, but equally important are the desires to enjoy the environment and, often, good company. Oh, and a perfect cup of tea!
Those who have seen Yates on television, in A Passion For Angling, or have an understanding and knowledge of the man himself through other means, are given an advantage when reading his book, I believe. I could actually imagine him writing this book on a notepad in the rain besides a river, as he often did. Had I not seen him on TV, I don't know if I'd have believed those bits, probably putting them down as 'artistic licence', a bit like when these millionaire singers from privileged upbringings start to tell the world how they came from the ghetto!
In the opening paragraph, I suggested that Yates and I were quite different, but I think that any angler could relate to bits of Yates and share many of the delights of angling with him, whatever branch of the sport they pursue. I particularly liked his sense of humour at times and the paragraph below had me actually laughing out loud. It concerns the 'circus' that now seems part and parcel of big fish fishing, where a capture or sighting of a large fish (especially a carp or barbel) seems to result in an influx on 'named' anglers wanting to catch it. When reading it, bear in mind that he is fishing close to his home in Wiltshire....
“At least, this bit of river is fairly inaccessible and doesn't have much of a local reputation, it should remain largely undisturbed, but there is always the danger that, once a great fish has established a new church, word will spread and pilgrims will gather and turn the fishing into an organized religion. I can think of dozens of places where either a tremendous catch or a glimpsed monster transformed an ordinary stretch of water into somewhere worshipful, where, if I wanted to fish, I would have to bow my head and join a queue. So, from now on, this pool is on a river in Ireland.”
I had a feeling that I would enjoy this book, even before I opened it, but I never realised that I would enjoy it so much. Usually, books are something I read to get me to sleep – maybe a chapter a day, if I'm lucky, but I read this book in less than two days, and that's with work and a busy family life in between! How To Fish made it to my living room and my eldest daughter had to complete her jigsaws on her own for an evening. Just in case somebody at the publishing house has read this review, converted it to a quill-pen handwriting font, printed it and handed it to Yates on yellowed paper for him to read (we can do that with technology!), that's a compliment, Chris!
The inside cover states that Chris Yates is currently writing a book on sea fish. I, for one, can't wait. In fact, I'll be buying, begging and borrowing some of his previous books in the meantime, just to see what I've been missing.
How To Fish, ISBN 0-241-14330-6 (*), is published by Hamish Hamilton (part of the Penguin Group) and has a cover price of £14.99. At the time of writing, Amazon UK were selling it for just £9.89 (which is madness, in my opinion, but it's their loss!). Click here to visit the Anglers' Net Amazon store for the latest price.