Fishing: Fine tales of the riverbank

IT IS closed season for the salmon and trout, so over the past few months I have been enjoying reading about fishing with a Monte Cristo or seven never far from my lips (sadly no real fire but a radiator, viewed through cigar haze and a half light, is an okay substitute).

To those that have never read any fishing books, they seem dreadfully dull. But some of these books are so fine and so soothing they should be prescribed by doctors for those with high blood pressure. One of my favourite books of the moment, and one that I read and re-read, is "Salmon & Women" by Wilma Paterson and Professor Peter Behan (Witherby). Although it examines the theory that women catch bigger salmon (because the bigger ones tend to be cock fish and attracted to the pheromones the female fisher passes down the line), it is the tales of long ago that enchant me so. Such as that of Georgina Ballantine's UK rod and line record (still held to this day) with her 64lb fish, caught in October 1922 on the Tay. And the fabulously named and stylish Miss Lettice Ward, who caught - among other fine fish - a 50lb salmon in 1928 on the Kinnaird beat of the Tay (where I am going next month so shall look her name up in the log book). This book is written in a lovely, lolloping style that is a delight to read, with some wonderfully evocative photographs, including one of the Queen Mother fishing in New Zealand in 1927.

On the subject of women, a book to avoid is "The Women's Guide to Angling" by Judith Milner (Thomas Harmsworth). Any woman who needs a gender-specific guide to fishing should stay away from the river bank, or throw herself off it.

The Flyfisher's Classic Library does some wonderful books, all beautifully leather-bound. "Salmon Fishing" by John James Hardy is gorgeous, with salmon fly recipes at the back and great illustrations that are clearly old but all the more charming for it. "The Sea Trout" by fishing giant Hugh Falkus comes complete with a Medicine fly set in the inner cover: very special. Call the FCL (01354 653828) for its catalogue as the books are only available direct and discover some real gems.

Falkus is well worth reading. Sadly he died almost three years ago. His last book, co-authored by Malcolm Greenhalgh, was "The Salmon & Sea Trout Fisher's Handbook" (Excellent Press). Falkus used to refer to it as the "Till Book", because he hoped it would be sold next to the till in every tackle shop. It should be.

Remember the "Teach Yourself Books"? Well there is a great one on fly fishing by Maurice Wiggin that you can look out for in second hand shops. Out at the end of March is "The New Encyclopedia of Fly Fishing" by Conrad Voss Bark (former fishing correspondent of The Times) and Eric Restall (published by Robert Hale). It is a revised version of the 1986 edition and covers just about every aspect of fly fishing. Voss Bark has written a few books on fishing, including "A History of Flyfishing" (Merlin Unwin) which is definitely for the enthusiast; it taught me that the word angling comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "angul", meaning hook. Conrad's wife, Anne, is also the author of a fine tome: "West Country Fly Fishing" (Robert Hale), a compilation of some wonderful fishing tales by some fishing colossi such as Brian Clarke, Dermot Wilson and Ted Hughes. This is the book to read before bed for a blissful, peaceful slumber. (And all royalties go to the Westcountry Rivers Trust.)

Dorling Kindersley does some of my favourite books, with lovely shiny pages and loads of illustrations. They are expensive - all that gloss costs - but is a worthwhile investment. There is "The Encyclopedia of Fishing" which takes you through tackle, bait, flies, species (I use this book constantly to look up different sorts of fish), techniques, different sorts of water...a must-have and especially good for beginners because it assumes no prior knowledge without being patronising. DK also publishes "The Complete Fly Fisher's Handbook" by Malcolm Greenhalgh and Denys Ovenden. However, despite the title it covers only trout, but how! It takes you through the trout's natural diet, in clear language with fine illustrations and then tells how to imitate the natural with lots of fly recipes. An entomological feast.

Other good, useful recipe books are "Trout & Salmon Flies of Scotland" and "Flies of Ireland" (both Merlin Unwin). Jeremy Paxman's anthology, "Fish, Fishing and the Meaning of Life" (Penguin), is a great book to dip in and out of and would be the perfect accompaniment on a fishing trip.

Finally, well worth buying for long car journeys is the delightful "Fly Fishing Tales" (John Howard Productions), calming, soothing tales told by David Profumo, Bernard Venables and others of memorable days' fishing. The tape box also contains real flies as used by the narrators. If everyone had one of these in their cassette decks there would be no more road rage, only glorious glimpses into the magical world of fishing. Just don't close your eyes to try and picture it.