The Complete Story
of the Compleat Angler
by Karl Woodmansey
Give a man a
fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him
for a lifetime.
proverb is attributed to Lao Tzu, the Chinese Taoist philosopher who
lived in 600 B.C., the fisherman-philosopher, Izaak Walton, penned The
Compleat Angler more than 2,200 years later with a similar intent.
Walton's now famous treatise was written at least partly to help feed
unemployed and impoverished clergy.
In 1642, Isaak
Walton witnessed the English Civil War as a supporter of the losing
Royalist faction. When the Cromwellian Commonwealth began in 1649,
King Charles I was beheaded and his supporters were hanged, imprisoned
or disposessed of their property. Royalist clergy were defrocked.
authored biographies of Anglican clergymen and having served as a
vestryman in the Church of England, Isaak Walton was sympathetic to
the out-of-work Royalist clergy. He noted that angling was a fit
activity for clergy since the task of priests is to fish for souls and
the Apostles themselves were fishermen. The Compleat Angler served as
a recreation guide for the defrocked, unemployed and impoverished
clergy. More importantly, fishing provided the clergy with a technique
for obtaining food.
climate restricted Walton from writing additional Anglican
biographies. Instead he penned The Compleat Angler. Some authors
contend that The Compleat Angler is, at its core, a political allegory
and not a fisherman's guide. Others intimate that the proper title
should be The Compleat Anglican. Regardless of Walton's true intent,
he wrote a masterful work providing his readers, then and now, a
pastoral retreat from political pressures of the day.
Montanan Author Norman Maclean who wrote "In my family there was
no clear line between religion and fly-fishing," Isaak Walton
recognized the meditative and therapeutic values of fishing. He and
his readers were under the stresses of the oppressive establishment
and fishing was an ideal relaxant escape. Relying on its own rituals,
superstitions and faith, fishing supplants some of the best qualities
religion is a personal experience, many individuals worship in
congregations. Fishermen can also be found both alone and in
congregations. Some anglers prefer to fish alone, appreciating privacy
fishing is not a team sport, many anglers prefer to fish socially,
sharing the river with companions. In The Compleat Angler, as two men
travel along a river, one teaches the other the finer points of
inevitably leads to storytelling. Be it tall tales of the "one
that got away" or other "fish stories," Listening to
the experiences of other fishermen is like hearing Baptists
testifying. Storytelling is an immense component of fishing. The
Compleat Angler is exactly that: the perfect story of fishing.
first publication in 1653, The Compleat Angler has never gone out of
print and remains the third most reprinted book after the Bible and
Shakespeare. Isaak Walton's legacy has encouraged innumerable
generations to fish -- for both recreation and food.
By Karl Woodmansey