Charles Rangeley-Wilson writes about fishing for The Field and other magazines and newspapers. His first book, Somewhere Else, a collection of 14 essays about travelling and fishing around the world, is published by Yellow Jersey Press.
“I enjoy the way fishing puts me in touch with a landscape. The weather, the moon phases and even the rocks take on a significance lost to many travellers. I love, too, the way a journey puts me on edge and takes me out of context, making me feel more alive. The best fishing writing reflects this, and through it we can travel at the writer’s shoulder. The books I’ve chosen all do this brilliantly, whether on journeys down the road or across the world.”
1. Going Fishing by Negley Farson
Farson introduces his 1942 masterpiece: “This is just the story of some rods and the places they take you to.” A foreign correspondent between the wars, Farson worked all over the world, accompanied by a typewriter and his fishing rods. Where there was water, he fished, and in spare and vivid prose, he brought to life his adventures in revolutionary Russia, on horseback in the Caucasus, or living hand to mouth in British Columbia. As a fishing and travel book it is the original and the best.
2. The Secret Carp by Chris Yates
All of Yates’s books are good, but this one – written as a diary over one day and night fishing for carp by a secret lake in the depths of Wessex – conveys perfectly the captivation of fishing. Yates’s writing takes you with him, and this book also has the quality of a sketchbook; the word pictures are immediate and tactile. There’s no better way to go fishing on a rush-hour train.
3. The Longest Silence by Thomas McGuane
McGuane is a renowned American novelist, but he’s at his best writing about fishing. Here the off-beam satiricism, the wit, the calloused mid-western outlook, the reflectiveness, and the brilliant prose combine perfectly. His story, Fly Fishing: The Evil Empire, about salmon fishing in Russia, is as good a piece of travel writing as you’ll find.
4. I Know a Good Place by Clive Gammon
Gammon grew up in south Wales, but has lived and worked for many years in America writing for Sports Illustrated. His writing combines the lyrical and fabulous ancestry of his home country with a dry American style that cuts quickly to the point. He tells a bloody good story, and is endlessly entertaining.
5. Trout Bum by John Gierach
Gierach lives the life of the peripatetic trout bum; a latter-day Huck Finn. You’ll read this book and wonder why the hell you work anyway. In deceptively easy, conversational prose Gierach takes you to the riverside or to the tackle store, to shoot the breeze, sip camp coffee and spend your days in the earnest pursuit of fish. As original in its way as Going Fishing, Trout Bum is the book that launched a thousand job resignations.
6. An Angler’s Hours by HT Sheringham
Sheringham was the angling editor of The Field. He published An Angler’s Hours in 1905, but it seems hardly to have dated at all. Perhaps this is because Sheringham was happy to fish for anything with fins, and to fish in some quirky places, while the idea of the all-round angler seems a more modern notion. Sheringham is earthy, right down to his unpretentious wish to do nothing more than entertain with his writing, as he himself has been entertained by the fishing.
7. Rod and Line by Arthur Ransome
A collection of Ransome’s fishing columns from the Manchester Guardian published in 1929 and written before Swallows and Amazons made him famous. This was my favourite book when I first started going mad for fishing aged 12. The trouble with bulls, fishing in Lilliput, getting ready for the new season – I read it over and over.
8. Crosscurrents by James R Babb
Babb lives in a house he built himself, eating food he grew, caught or shot himself, and he writes in a shed overlooking a pond he dug himself. But you won’t find any wistful bucolic longing in Babb’s writing. You’ll get his own unique take on anything from the business of taking a shit in the woods to the perfect fishing sandwich. His first book, Crosscurrents, combines an acerbic wit with his own brand of verbal pyrotechnics to deliver a jolting, intensely entertaining read.
9. The Habit of Rivers by Ted Leeson
An extensive reflection on rivers and fly fishing by a wiry university lecturer from the hippy generation. To get so metaphysical about such a muddy pursuit is difficult and dangerous, and others who try can quickly become boring or pretentious. But Leeson is an original; he is a keen observer and unusually eloquent. He keeps it anchored, and what emerges is a timeless book about the inner and outer landscape of fishing.
10. A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
“In our family there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” Thus begins Maclean’s brilliant novella in which fly fishing and a river become a backdrop to the frontier lives of the writer and his family. On one level it is an engaging and moving story well told. But the book has the feeling of poetry in places, both in the pared-down language and the complex metaphor of landscape in which the river becomes the story. Maclean didn’t write a thing until he was 70 years old. It was worth the wait.