American Books

American Angling Books

Although the roots and traditions of angling are embedded in Walton's books and the English works previously described, the Reed Draper Collection of Angling Books provides an enormous resource for understanding early angling in the United States, including Michigan and the Great Lakes region.
Perhaps the first work to mention sport fishing in America was a book by Richard Franck, Northern Memoirs (1694). Franck was an Englishman who described some of his adventures while fishing in the United States. The collection contains an early (1821) reprint of this work.

However, it took more than a hundred years before a book that focused on fishing appeared in this country. In 1833 Jerome V. C. Smith wrote The Natural History of the Fishes of Massachusetts. Embracing a Practical Essay on Angling, which was the first fishing book published in the United States. A second edition (1845) of this work may be found in the Reed Draper Collection. Smith provides detailed information regarding the fishing rod to be used, the reel, the line, the leader, and fishing flies. Another early American sporting author was William H. Schreiner from Philadelphia, who published Schreiners Sporting Manual (1841). He added much material on tying and casting flies, which was largely based on English practices. Given the rich tradition of English angling literature, why was there not an earlier and more significant American presence? According to Charles M. Wetzel, author of the noted bibliographical work American Fishing Books:

The explanation of America's failure to produce any angling literature up to this time can be attributed to the fact that fishing was pursued, not as a matter of sport, but rather as a means of a livelihood. In carving their homes out of the wilderness the early settlers had little time for sport fishing, their daily and winter supply being secured principally by the use of spears and nets.

Written observations by early American anglers first emerged in the periodical literature of the day. Articles on fishing appeared in journals such as The American Farmer (1820-1824), The American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine (1829-1845), Cabinet of Natural History (1830-1834), Spirit of the Times (1831-1861), and   Porter's Spirit of the Times (1856-1861). Although these printed sources of miscellany were often short-lived, they were an important source of information for sportsmen in the pre-Civil-War era. The Clarke Library has a long run of Spirit of the Times and other early sporting periodicals available on microfilm. Several are also available through the Library's digital Pro Quest access.

Before the Civil War, several notable works appeared that helped Americans identify with the art of fishing and transition from the English view of the sport. One of the first, John Brown, The American Angler's Guide, stated on the title page that it was "a compilation from the works of popular English authors, from Walton to the present time; together with the opinions and practices of the best American anglers." Brown wrote the book under the pseudonym "An American Angler." The book was profusely illustrated with woodcuts of fish, fishing scenes, and fishing accoutrements and ultimately was released in further editions in 1846, 1849, 1857, and 1876. The Reed Draper Collection contains the latter two editions. In these works, Brown details how fly-fishing is conducted in America:

Fly-fishing is usually practiced with a short one handed rod from ten to twelve feet in length, or a two handed rod from fifteen to eighteen feet in length. The first mentioned is the most common in use, and is calculated for the majority of our streams, which are small and require but little length of rod or line. Attached to the rod would be a reel containing from thirty to fifty yards of hair, grass, silk, or silk and hair line-the latter description should be used if it can be procured-tapering from the tenth of an inch almost to a point; to this should be attached a leader of form one to two yards in length; and finally your fly on a slight length of gut: if you wish to use two or three flies, place them on your leader with short gut about twenty-four inches apart.

In 1848 he also published Brown's Angler's Almanac under his own name. This small work gives daily sunrise-to-sunset data and offers short pieces of monthly advice and other interesting tidbits. We find, for example, that:

"Cheese Cotton" is used as a bait for a fish called the Buffalo, taken in the Ohio River. The two materials are worked up together in the form of a paste, and placed on the hook.

The foregoing reminds us of Wetzel's previously mentioned observation that not all angling in the New World was of an aristocratic persuasion. However, Brown also reminds us of angling's more philosophical roots when he quotes "The American Editor" (the earlier described Reverend George W. Bethune) from the 1847 American edition of The Complete Angler:

The stream side is ever dear to me, and I love to think of the times when I have trudged merrily along it, finding again in the fresh airs and moderate exercise, and devout looks of nature, the strength of nerve, the buoyancy of heart and health of mind, which I had lost in my pent library and town duties; I trust that I have drunk enough of the old angler's spirit (Walton) not to let such pastime break in upon better things; but, on the other hand, I have worked the harder from thankfulness to HIM who taught the brook to wind with musical gurglings, as it rolls on to the Great Sea.

Henry William Herbert was a major transitional figure in writing about American sports, including fishing. Herbert was born in England and came to the United States in 1831. He died a suicide in 1858 after a productive career during which he authored many books and magazine articles under the pseudonym "Frank Forester." In 1849 he wrote his noteworthy Fish and Fishing of the United States and British Provinces. The many fine engravings of various fish, along with numerous details associated with the rods, reels, and flies used in America advanced the sport significantly; the popularity of this work is attested to by its many editions.2

Herbert and Brown saw each other as competitors and worse. In Fish and Fishing, Herbert responds in some detail to Brown's assertions and states:

[I ] have been charged-although anonymously-with plagiarism, the most heinous crime of authorship, to give my readers a chance audire alteram partem (to tell another story) ... . It has been charged on me, that I have stolen from a work entitled "The American Angler's Guide," by Mr. Brown, of New York; and that with intent to injure the man, and detract from his book.

For his part, Brown published a leaflet-today very scarce-titled Stealing or Steeling that accused Herbert of plagiarizing from Brown's own Angler's Guide:

In his hasty attempt to make a book, the scissors having got the better of his judgment and his sense o fright to fellow man, he cuts at perfect random extracting by wholesale an article written for me by an old and valued friend ...  The author of "Fish and Fishing" is a person with whom I have no acquaintance, but from whose previous writings I had some respect, although I have now no other feelings than those of contempt and pity. Contempt that he should have the meanness to cut and carve from my book, not only extracts ... but articles that I had compiled with much labor and research. [Quotation from Bruns, Angling Book of the Americas.]

Red FlyOther pre-Civil-War classic books with content about fishing in the Americas that are found in the Reed Draper Collection include James E. Alexander, Salmon Fishing in Canada (1860), and J. T. Headley, The Adirondack; or, Life in the Woods (1849, 1875). Charles Lanman (1819-1895) was an author with Michigan roots who also began his writing career prior to the Civil War. He was born in Monroe, Michigan, and early in life was the editor of The Monroe Gazette, the local newspaper. His strong affection for his home state is seen in the following quotation from one of his books, Essays for Summer Hours:

O Michigan! Thou art my own, my native land, and I love thee tenderly. Thy skies are among the most gorgeous-thy soil the most luxuriant-thy birds and flowers the most beautiful ... and thy animals the most interesting in the world. And when I remember that thou art but a single volume in His library, and that these things are the hand writing of God, my affection of thee becomes still more strong. I believe thou art destined to be distinguished and honored by the nations of the earth. God be with thee and crown thee with blessings.

Lanman was a prolific author, publishing thirty-two works over the course of his career. Many of these books had significant sporting and angling content and were among the very first such volumes published in the United States. They include, Adventures of an Angler in Canada, Nova Scotia, and the United States (1848); Recollections of Curious Characters and Pleasant Places (1881); Essays for Summer Hours (1841); Letters from the Allegheny Mountains (1840); Letters from a Landscape Painter (1871); A Summer in the Wilderness (1847); Adventures in the Wilds of North America (1854); and   A Tour of the River Saguenay in Lower Canada (1848). The Clarke Historical Library contains first editions of all of these volumes. The 1860s witnessed a great leap forward for American angling books. Not only were important classic books published, but also an interesting separation developed between some English traditions and American practices in angling, as well as writings on the subject. In particular, two authors stand out.

Robert "Barnwell" Roosevelt (1829-1906) was an uncle of the future American president Theodore Roosevelt and a prominent member of the New York fisheries establishment. He wrote several important angling works, including Game Fishes of the Northern States of America and British Provinces (1862), and   Superior Fishing; or, the Striped Bass, Trout and Black Bass of the Northern States (1865). Game Fishes was the first American work to address entomology in the U.S. as it applied to angling. Roosevelt also described salmon fishing and the use of silk fishing line. Superior Fishing contains many pages on fishing in the Lake Superior region, and it is also notable for a section on "Cookery for Sportsmen," which includes the first recipes for "Fish House Punch" and "Frank Forester's Punch."

Thaddeus Norris (1811-1877) wrote a book called American Fish Culture (1868); and in an earlier work titled The American Angler's Book (1864), he provided the definitive treatise on angling in America. "Uncle Thad," as he was known, owned a tackle shop in Logan Square in Philadelphia, and the fishing rods that he built were the standard of the day. They were approximately twelve to thirteen feet long, weighed at least twelve ounces, and were comprised of a butt section made out of ash, a middle section made of ironwood, with a tip of spliced bamboo. Where brook fishing was desired, "Uncle Thad" advocated a lighter rod-weighing only seven to nine ounces He may even have been the first American to manufacture fishing rods constructed completely out of split bamboo. Why is his book so compelling? Perhaps it is the book's outstanding quality, which is suggested by its full title: The American Angler's Book: Embracing The Natural History of Sporting Fish, and the Art of Taking Them. With Instructions in Fly-Fishing, Fly-Making, and Rod-Making; and Directions for Fish-Breeding. To Which is Added, Dies Piscatoriae; Describing Noted Fishing Places, and the Pleasure of Solitary Fly-Fishing. Illustrated with Eighty Engravings on Wood.

Norris talks about the need for an "American" angling book, and he hints at the emphasis on conservation of natural resources that would come later:

Every true lover of angling knows that the pleasure it brings with it, does not end with the day's sport; that besides being a ‘calmer of unquiet thoughts,' for the time, it impresses happy memories on the mind; and he looks back to many a day, and many a scene, as an oasis by the wayside in the rough journey of life; ... Notwithstanding the many books on angling by British authors, but few American works on the subject have yet been offered to the reading public; and this in the face of the fact that we are an angling people, and that our thousands of brooks, creeks, rivers, lakes, bays, and inlets abound in game-fish.

The best informed of those who have written on American fishes, have omitted many important species, and treated slightingly of others which are worthy of a more extended notice. Since the publication of Dr. Bethune's "Walton," and subsequently Frank Forester's "Fish and Fishing," sporting fish have decreased in some parts of the country where they were once abundant. In the mean while, the opening of new lines of travel has brought within reach of the angler man teeming waters that were then almost inaccessible.

With a view of filling up the blank left by my predecessors, of correcting some erroneous ideas that have been imparted, not only concerning fish, but the adaptation of English rules and theories with qualification, to our waters; and with the object of making the angler self-reliant ...I have devoted many spare hours to the following pages ... [and] hope that my simple narrations or allusions ... will touch a chord of sympathy of good-natured readers "who love to be quiet and go a-angling."

The importance of Norris's book derives from its comprehensive nature and its American perspective. It also recognizes the need to conserve stocks of fish and emphasizes the qualitative and reflective nature of the sport. In a section titled "Fly-Fishing Alone," he states:

With many persons fishing is a mere recreation, a pleasant way of killing time. To the true angler, however, the sensation it produces is a deep unspoken joy, born of a longing for that which is quiet and peaceful, and fostered by an inbred love of communing with nature, as he walks through grassy meads, or listens to the music of the mountain torrent. This is why he loves occasionally-whatever may be his social propensity in-doors-to shun the habitations and usual haunts of men, and wander alone by the stream, casting his flies over its bright waters; or in his lone canoe to skim the unruffled surface of the inland lake, where no sound comes to his ear but the wild, flute-like cry of the loon, and where no human form is seen but his own, mirrored in the glassy water.

No wonder, then, that the fly-fisher loves at times to take a day, all by himself; for his very loneliness begets a comfortable feeling of independence and leisure, and a quite assurance of resources with himself to meet all difficulties that may arise.

After the 1864 printing of the American Angler's Book, there was a rapid growth in additional American angling publications, both books and magazines. As Norris mentioned, the "new lines of travel"-railroads-brought new waters teeming with fish to the attention of intrepid fishermen; and, in addition, the post-Civil-War era afforded more time for leisure pursuits. Moreover, advances in printing and paper and other technological changes created an explosive growth in the sport. 3

There are many titles in the Draper Collection that reflect the remarkable post-Civil-War era interest in angling as an increasingly important American sport. As the rainbow and brown trout were to come to the eastern United States later in the nineteenth century, the stream trout of choice for early American fishermen was the brook trout. One of the places in the world where the largest brook trout could be caught was the Rangeley Lake region of Maine. R. G. Allerton, Brook Trout Fishing, An Account of a Trip of the Oquossoc Angling Association to Northern Maine, in June 1869 (1869), reported the extraordinary success of members of that club in catching thirty brook trout averaging more than six pounds each! This work contains a beautiful colored plate picturing one of these trout.

Other important titles of this era include William H. H. Murray, Adventures in the Wilderness (1869). Murray's critics, Allerton being one, accused him of writing puffery that would attract so many city folks to fishing that they would denude the Adirondacks of its fishery resources. Genio Scott's work, Fishing in American Waters (1869, 1875), has wonderful woodcuts and mentions the use of split bamboo rods and the importance of matching living insects while fishing with the fly. The Englishman Parker Gilmore or "Ubique" in Accessible Field Sports (1869) discusses salmon fishing in Canada and trout fishing in Maine and comments on the high quality of American fishing equipment and artificial lures.

W. C. Prime, I Go A-Fishing (1873, 1874), produced a book that became a classic; it contains wonderful reviews of the light fishing rods made by Thad Norris. George Dawson, editor of The Albany Evening Journal, wrote the first American book on fly-fishing. It is called Pleasures of Angling with Rod and Reel for Trout and Salmon (1876). Overall, the 1870s saw continued growth in the numbers of books and other angling publications published in America. Most importantly, many of these works described the expansion of this sport beyond the geographical confines of the eastern United States.

2 The Reed Draper Collection houses three copies of this important work, published in 1849, 1850, and 1855.

3 Among the myriad sporting periodicals founded during this period was the weekly folio journal Forest and Stream, which began in 1873. A Victorian entrepreneur, Charles Hallock, founded this sporting newspaper that was "devoted to Field and Aquatic Sports, Practical Natural History, Fish Culture, the Protection of Game, Preservations for Forests, and the Inculcation in Men and Women of a Healthy Interest in Out-Door Recreation and Study." As indicated, the stated objective of this journal also included reaching out to women, who were becoming an increasing part of the American angling scene. By the turn of the century, this journal reached more than one hundred thousand subscribers and, through several mergers, ultimately evolved into today's Field and Stream magazine.