The year must have been 1965, and I was a six-year old in a fish market on the Greek coast, eyes popping out at the sight of a bluefin bigger than myself, and I distinctly remember my mother dragging me away forcibly from the fish counter, my heels smoking against the floor. I never knew such large fish existed, and any thoughts of forgetting about these fish were re-kindled by a school project on the bluefin tuna and its worldwide fisheries at the age of nine or so. Suffice to say I became one of those impossible little boys who looked longingly at any body of water - anywhere - and imagined huge fish deep in its depths. I dreamt of mill-pools with enormous carp in them, British rivers wide enough to have sturgeon surviving hidden in their depths, and I was forever hopeful that one day whilst afloat a cheap Woolworth’s balloon would disappear and herald the arrival of the UK’s first bluefin tuna since the 1950’s - impossibly caught on a Mitchell 624, naturally !
But a serious interest in big-game fish did not begin until 1977, when I bought two books in a tackle-shop in the Channel Islands, and after reading them from cover to cover one dark winter's day, then re-read them again and again. Both books created a world into which I knew I had to go, and as I dreamt of going there I made plans and gathered more and more information. Books appeared on my shelves, magazines gathered dust in corners and a boxful of borrowed Creel magazines from the 1960’s became battered and dog-eared. I remember with clarity lying bed-ridden one year with a pair of broken heels and the father of a South African friend lending me a number of big-game books from his collection when he became aware of my interest - suffice to say South Africa became the first country I visited to fish for big-game.
At the time, as well as reading of American and Australian anglers and journalists who had all made significant contributions to the world of which I dreamt, I also became aware that there were British anglers and journalists who were also doing their bit, both abroad and domestically - John Goddard, Leslie Moncrieff, Clive Gammon, Des Brennan, Brian Harris, Kevin Linnane, Ian Gillespie, Russ Symons, Mike Millman, John Darling, Reg Quest and Hugh Stoker - to name just a handful. I pored over every bit of information I could find, and amazingly, one day, I was introduced to the late Trevor Housby. If ever there was a man to fire the imagination of a budding big-game angler, then it was he, with his tales of travels around the Atlantic islands, the Bahamas, Central America and various other far-flung hotspots. It was he also who introduced me to the concept of a library, and a weekend at his house in Hampshire invariably meant hours of reading and searching through his collection of books and other written material.
Through the years, my ‘library’ has grown, not as fast and as large as I would have wanted it to maybe, but it now numbers several hundred books, thousands of magazines and photos, and the arrival of a few CD-ROMs is rapidly bring it into the 21st century. Naturally enough, there is also a long list of ‘Favourites’ on my internet browser - web-sites varying from message boards to tackle shops, from organisations to sites providing weather and water temperature around the world. All of this is part of my ‘library’.
As well as documenting the past, it serves as a vast resource for information, both facts and figures, and also serves as a treasury of thoughts, hints and ideas, very often proving that there is almost never nothing new in the world of fishing - just improvements. Visitors and friends to my house nearly always lose themselves amongst my books, and over the years I have become used to which books people invariably go first, and put down last. If you want to start collecting books about big-game fishing, or want to add to your own existing collection, I hope some of the titles that follow provide you with as much enjoyment as they have done me. (Surprisingly, the fifteen books I have chosen all date from the 1970’s or earlier. If people are interested I’ll do a piece on the 1980’s and onwards sometime in the future ?)
The first two books I bought, as mentioned above, were John Goddard’s BIG FISH FROM BLUE WATER, a 1977 publication from Ernest Benn, ISBN 0 510-22504-7.
Although somewhat dated now in terms of tackle, locales and numbers of fish (ain’t that the same everywhere?), this wonderful volume is a journey through the locations close enough to Europe to warrant a book devoted entirely to them. Goddard covers virtually all the destinations which now serve as the UK big-game angler’s first port of call, including the Azores, the Canaries, Madeira and Kenya. South Africa, the Seychelles, Tanzania, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean and much of the continental Atlantic coastline is also visited. Naturally enough the species caught there and the methods used to catch them have changed little. It is a very evocative book, reminding me (and I would suspect many other readers) of a more tranquil age when anglers were fewer, travel was still an adventure and when fish could still ‘come aboard in prodigious numbers’. Ah, the good old days…
The second book I bought that fateful day long ago was the classic BIG FISH AND BLUE WATER by Peter Goadby, originally written in 1970 and carrying the ISBN 0 207 14132 0. This book begins with an odyssey through the Pacific, describing in detail the fishing to be found from New Guinea to Hawaii, and including all points in between known to the big-game world at that time. Exhaustively researched and meticulously written, Goadby mentions nearly every notable capture in the history of the Pacific (or so it seems !) and continues with comprehensive sections on fishing methods, then tackle, then a guide to gamefish of the Pacific, then a section on bait and finishes with a chapter written for the travelling fisherman. Again, although outdated in parts due to the passage of time, much of what can be read here is important both for its own informative content and also for its historical importance. This is probably one of the most valued books to have been written about the sport we love and should be a must for any library shelf.
Curiously, the third book I bought is now a sought-after classic, even if at the time I did not know it and was simply browsing through the catacomb-like corridors of Foyles in Charing Cross Road - a wonderful shop (well, it used to be) which had an endearing habit in the 70’s and 80’s of having comparatively unknown and unsolicited volumes on its shelves. The book in question is George Reiger’s PROFILES IN SALTWATER ANGLING, a 1973 publication from Prentice-Hall. The ISBN is 0-13-726133-0. Of all the books on my shelves, this is possibly the most important, a illuminating history of big-game fishing in the western world as it developed and was nurtured by a considerable array of men and women whose profiles form the basis of Reiger’s work. Reiger actually subtitles this work as A History of the Sport - Its People and Places, Tackle and Techniques. The list of persons brought to life in the book include Charles Holder, George Farnsworth, Zane Grey, Tommy Gifford, Van Campen Heilner, Frank Woolner, Hemingway, Michael Lerner, Lefty Kreh and a host of others. This is a book into which I delve regularly for both enjoyment and inspiration. If only someone had written of the European scene in terms like this during the heyday of the North Sea Fishery.
A small volume I treasure is a very simple book entitled THE LIFE STORY OF THE FISH. Written in 1949 by Brian Curtis, I can describe it no better than Negley Farson, who wrote as follows; "I think this must be the most all-embracing book about fish ever written……this is one of the most extraordinary assemblages of facts about fishes, and reasoning…………..". Curtis was an American ichthyologist and biologist, and in this book he describes and explains a fish’s biology in layman’s terms, humorously and concisely. It is a book which all anglers should read, very definitely required reading ! Published by Jonathan Cape, it was too earlier for an ISBN.
Another fascinating book is by an Englishman called Michael Mason, who became the only English member of the Cabo Blanco Club. Entitled IN PURSUIT OF BIG FISH, it tells how the author and his wife fished for the great marlin and swordfish off the west coasts of Central and Southern America in that era when huge fish were plentiful. A charming book of anecdotes and liberally endowed with famous names and places, this is a read for a rainy afternoon and makes the explorer in the reader make plans. Published in 1968 by Herbert Jenkins, I think (!) it has an ISBN of 257.65731.2
An invaluable source of identification for fishermen throughout Europe is Alwyne Wheeler’s KEY TO THE FISHES OF NORTHERN EUROPE, published in 1978 by Frederick Warne and bearing an ISBN of 0 7232 2064 6 (soft-back), but a much better work in terms of content is the Unesco three-volume FISHES OF THE NORTH-EASTERN ATLANTIC AND THE MEDITERRANEAN, first published in 1989 and with an ISBN of 92-3-002611-5. This is a worthy addition to any angler’s library, describing over 1250 individual saltwater fish from 220 families, each with distribution maps and detailed records of occurrence and seasonal fluctuations. Thoroughly fascinating, it encompasses Madeira, the Canaries, Greenland and the Red Sea. Not a bulky buy, at all, despite its comprehensiveness.
Another classic work is Frank Mundus’ SPORTFISHING FOR SHARKS. Even if some of his observations have been updated, the wealth of knowledge and detail found in this book makes it still very applicable to shark-fishing today, despite being first published in 1971. Almost all of the sharks we fish for are listed in the book, and even if you’re no longer allowed to chop up the odd pilot-whale or two for chum, you’ll still find something of value and fascination here. It’s also a great read, to boot ! The publisher was Macmillan, and there is no ISBN.
Another small but important volume is THE BLUE WATER BAIT BOOK by Samuel Earp and Capt William Wildeman. If you want to rig baits, this is one of the books you must have on your shelves. Barring the odd rigging technique invented or developed in the past 20 years or so, this book will get you fishing successfully today just as much as it would have done 30 years ago. Every bait, every hitch, every wrinkle known at the time is explained and described here, and all of it is still applicable today. There is even a waterproof version available ! Published in 1974 by Little, Brown and Co, the ISBN is
0-316-20330-0. A little classic.
The Angling Times once produced a wonderful series of books, and amongst them was one entitled SHARK ANGLING IN GREAT BRITAIN, by Brigadier J.Caunter who was the President, Founder and first Chairman of the Shark Angling Club of Great Britain. Admittedly written in 1961 at a time when the prey was routinely dispatched and weighed, the book gives a valuable insight into the world of British sea-angling during the 1950’s, and provides an accurate and historical account of the shark-fishing industry of the south and west coasts during their heyday. However, if you can dismiss a few photos of large toothsome things hanging up and delve deeper into the script, the rewards can be great. Tactics which were described 50 years ago are still relevant today. Indeed, there is much to be learnt from the Brigadier in terms of drifting and baits and chum. Hmm……………..
Further afield, while our fathers were struggling with blue sharks, men and women in South Africa were struggling with tuna and marlin. Charles Horne’s classic Big Game Fishing in South Africa was revised and updated in 1974 and came out under the title of GAME FISHING TRANSFORMED. The book is a concise and historical account of the birth and development of big-game fishing in that country from the 1940’s to that year, and contains within its small frame a series of heart-stopping stories and accounts of struggles with giants from both shore and boat. For sheer excitement and page-turning ability, this is one of my favourites. It also has a wealth of information about the tackle and techniques of that time, much of it still applicable today. It also covers in some detail one of the greatest bluefin fisheries of all time which, alas, is no more.
ISBN 0 909238 02 2, it was published by Citadel Press.
Closer to home, Brian Harris brought out his THE GUINESS GUIDE TO SALTWATER ANGLING in 1977, and it is still a classic of British angling writing. I suspect that many people have a copy of this book and if it installed in them the same feelings as it installed in me, then we have a reason for the huge number of anglers fishing today! What made the book so excellent, I think, was the use of a huge number of wonderful photographs which served to make the text so effective. I cannot deny that whenever I open this book now it makes me fifteen again. If only! Published by Guinness Superlatives Ltd, its ISBN is 0 900424 72 9
Across the other side of the world, John Turnbull had published his THE SPORTFISHERMAN’S BIBLE in 1974, a unique volume about Australian sportfishing which included chapters by legendary individuals such as Rod Harrison, Peter Goadby, John Erskine and Vic McCristal, amongst others. A comprehensive book, it describes most of the venues, species, tackle and methods used by Australian anglers at that time. Little seems to have changed since then except for the boats and the tackle. I found it especially valuable at the time I bought it, for it offered an insight into how a geographical group of anglers were working and using equipment when compared to both the USA and the UK. ISBN number is 0 207 12988 6, it was published by Hogbin Poole PTY Ltd.
Of course, no big-game angler’s library is complete without a copy of Charles Mather’s BILLFISH. Published in 1976 by Saltaire, it became a classic in its own time and still remains one today, its detailed research on all members of the billfish family offering much to casual and studious readers. Wonderful photos, many of them historically important, flavour the book and make it an impressive volume for any library. I believe there is an revised copy of this book out now - the original has no ISBN.
Of all the books in my library, none ever ceases to give me more enjoyment than Trevor Housby’s BIG FISH. Written in 1973, it is a collection of stories relating the capture, release and sometimes loss (!) of a selection of species ranging from crucian carp to tuna, and includes an immortal tale of sperm-whale hunting off the Azores. Although many of these captures were made many years ago, Housby’s sometimes tongue-in-cheek claims and extravagant descriptions only serve to enhance the flavour of each story and demonstrate his innate ability as a raconteur of high ability. This is book to keep by your bedside and re-read every few years. ISBN is 0 85614 026 0.
Two very useful on-line sources for collecting old books are listed below. You simply e-mail them asking if they can find you a book and they go to work. Sometimes it takes days, sometimes months. When they have found a copy, they let you know and you decide then if you want to buy it depending on the quality and the price.
FOURSHIRE BOOKS. E-mail address: FOURSHIRBK@aol.com
John Williams. E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.