Rod And Line

Published: 1980
Author: Arthur Ransome
Reviewed by: Chris Plumb

Use of the word ‘classic’ is sometimes over-wrought when it comes to describing an old angling book (or an old ‘anything’ for that matter!). However in the case of Rod and Line it is entirely apt. I have read a number of angling anthologies in my time and I have yet to find one which doesn’t include something from this slim volume. And interestinglY, it is rarely the same piece of writing that is ‘showcased’ by the compiler – such is the number of little gems that this book contains within.

The book is a compilation of 50 articles that Ransome wrote for the Manchester Guardian in the 1920’s a few years before he found fame as a children’s writer (remember Swallows & Amazons?). Don’t let the age of the writing put you off though – the prose is as fresh and as relevant today as when it first appeared. This is definitely not a ‘how to book’. Rather it is a collection of ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’ of what angling is about, with stories ranging from bulls to barbel, on carp and carelessness, on wading to the weather and much, much more. It is an amusing and whimsical look at the trials and triumphs that face an angler. The book is a hugely enjoyable romp with tales and anecdotes which can’t fail to raise a wry or knowing smile from the reader. The stories may be 80 years old but there is much that the modern day angler will immediately identify with.

Rod And LineHigh quality first editions of this book will set you back some serious money (I left a bid of 80 for one last year and was unsuccessful). However, it was brought out in paperback in 1980 (by OUP) to correspond with a Channel 4 series starring Michael Horden. These copies can readily be picked up cheaply – I’ve had my copy a while and can’t remember how much I paid, but you still see them being offered for under a fiver. So if you’ve never read it you’ve really got no excuses for adding this classic to your reading collection! Buy it and ENJOY!

As I have already indicated there is so much I could pick by way of giving you a few snippets. I’ve chosen three short pieces from the chapters entitled ‘On Tackle Shops’, ‘Fisherman’s Patience’ and ‘Bulls and Kindred Phenomena’…

“The pleasures of fishing are chiefly to be found in rivers, lakes and tackle shops and, of the three, the last are least affected by the weather. The sight of rods in a window brings a fisherman to a full stop as surely as the sight of a bridge. In such weather as we have been having, when fishing is all but impossible, a fishing-tackle-shop has a magnetic power that can be felt over a considerable area.”

“Nothing is more trying to the patience of fishermen than the remark so often made to them by the profane: ‘I have not patience enough for fishing.’ It is not so much the remark itself (showing a complete and unforgivable ignorance of angling as it does) that is annoying as the manner in which it is said, the kindly and condescending manner in which Ulysses might tell Penelope that he had not the patience for needlework. … What other people mistake for patience in anglers is really nothing of the sort but a capacity for prolonged eagerness, an unquenchable gusto in relishing an infinite series of exciting and promising moments, any one of which may yield a sudden crisis with its climax of triumph or disaster,”

“Kindred phenomena to bulls are wasps, mosquitoes and clegs. … The horror with the wasp is the expectancy. The horror with the cleg is that he bites without warning. His flight is noiseless. He settles as lightly as I would wish my fly to settle on the stream. There follows a moment of sharp pain, when the fisherman smites his cheek or wrist and slays a brownish, big-headed, blood-swollen beast. That is but the beginning of his agony. He sees the next and smites before it bites. The third beats him again. The fourth and fifth settle on his sleeve in error. As he brushes them off, the sixth gets its sucker home in his forehead. There-after, at midday, he is like a man fighting a legion of fiends in the dark”

Oxford University Press 1980, ISBN 0-19-281278-5

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