Fishing Lines: Publish and be damned hopeful

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The Independent Online
IMAGINE you are a bank manager. Times are tough. It's been another busy day: a procession of struggling students, mortgage defaulters, small business whingers.

But you have hardened your heart, obeyed head-office diktat and told them to sell the furniture and pay up by next week, or else.

It's your last appointment before the doors close. A 55-year-old former artist, who claims his 'non-figurative work' (whatever that is) appears in 20 public collections, wants to borrow your money to reprint limited numbers of old fishing books in expensive bindings] Collateral: none. Partners with money: none. Current position: on the dole. Relevant experience: running a book-packaging firm that has just gone bust.

Even Justin Knowles is somewhat bemused that his bank manager was daft enough to back the idea. After all, he had written to all his friends, and only one had offered to help, giving him pounds 100. Knowles used the money, plus the last of his savings, to travel to New York. He had hopes that an American friend would come to his rescue and finance the venture. But his would-be benefactor did not turn up for the meeting.

'That wasn't a good time,' Knowles admits. 'Nobody wants to know you when you are down.' Two years on, The Flyfishers Classic Library is still so poor that his wife, Sarah, has worked for a year without wages. But he now has 1,000 bibliophiles on file. That bank manager may not be so dumb after all.

Many angling classics are beyond the pocket of most fishermen. 'I got fed up with talking to anglers and finding that many had never read or even seen some of the great writings on fishing, simply because the books were so rare,' Knowles said. 'I wanted to show people how good these books are.'

He was determined to do more than reprint old books. 'I try to make every edition as complete as possible, but in some cases I make revisions or modifications. In Where the Bright Waters Meet, by Harry Plunket Greene, I have added two chapters that he wrote towards the end of his life, dropped the original photos because they were so poor, replacing them with a new colour plate and a better photo of the author.'

This year's output includes Land and Water Salmon Flies, 1886-1902, by G M Kelson, a previously unpublished book that has been compiled from cards. And to coincide with Izaak Walton's quatercentenary, he is bringing out a version of The Compleat Angler which combines the 1823 text and research (carried out by one John Major) with 16 wood engravings from 1927. 'There are 440 editions and I've sifted through most to get the right one,' Knowles says.

Knowles is uncomfortably aware that enthusiasts may be getting his own view of a great angling book, but he has had no complaints yet. Not even from the bank manager.

The Flyfishers Classic Library is at Dartmoor View, Bovey Tracey, Newton Abbot, Devon TQ13 9HQ (telephone 0626 834182).