Today is Family Literacy Day, a great time to recognize some of the great books that have been written on sport fishing. Although I love to fish and tie flies, build fishing rods and so on, another big part of the fishing experience for me is reading about it.
Probably no other sport has such a large and diverse volume of written work than sport fishing. Egyptians wrote of catching fish in the Nile on hook and line and Dame Juliana is credited with writing her Treatise of Fishing in 1496. Later, in 1653, Izaak Walton wrote the Compleat Angler, which is, apparently one of the most widely printed books after the Bible.
Since much of early fishing as we know it began in England, it is not surprising that most of the early books are by English authors. It wasn’t long however before books began appearing about the excellent fishing that was available in the colonies.
Halifax has always been known as a military town and many British officers were posted there. These men came from a sporting background and it wasn’t long before they discovered the fishing and hunting opportunities available to them in Nova Scotia.
Captain Campbell Hardy was one of the first to write about his experiences. In his 1855 book, Sporting Adventurers in the New World, he detailed his salmon and trout fishing adventures. Soon interest in Nova Scotia’s fishing opportunities began to come from the United States, as the population in the eastern U.S. increased pressure on natural resources and forced hunters and anglers to search farther afield for their sport.
As Mike Parker wrote in his excellent book on the history of hunting and fishing in the province, Nova Scotia became known as the “Place Where Moose and Trout Abound.” Perhaps the most popular, and my personal favourite book from this period, is the Tent Dwellers by Albert Payne. Written in 1908 it chronicles the adventures of two Americans as they fish in the area that is now Kejimkujik National Park.
Another favourite is, The Autobiography of a Fisherman, written by Frank Parker Day in 1927. In it he details his experience growing up as an angler in Nova Scotia, including his time as a student at Pictou Academy. While Day is best known for his novel, Rockbound, he was also an avid, and skilled, angler and The Autobiography of a Fisherman provides a great look at an earlier time.
In recent years Ted Parker, a Cape Breton native who fished throughout eastern Nova Scotia, wrote The Nova Scotia Speckled Trout versus the Angling Novice and Dr. Jim Grey penned the Handbook for the Margaree as well as The Salmon Rivers of Cape Breton. Mel Thistle’s Peter the Sea Trout, a story of the life of a brook trout in Middle River, is a great addition to any library.
So, celebrate Family Literacy Day by reading, or re-reading a favourite fishing book. While reading about fishing will never be a substitute for the real thing it certainly makes the winter evenings pass a little faster.
Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County.