Swedish version

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.

  Although this 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.

  Having 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.

  The political 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.

  Much like 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 of religion.

  Although 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 and solitude.

  Although 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 fishing.

 Social fishing 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.

  Since the 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 2006 ©



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