Reading About Bass By Dave Cooling

It’s the middle of Winter, said Bob the Editor, in his usual perceptive manner, it being the first week of January. There arenít many bass about for our members to catch – tell me something new! Surely you could knock up a page for the Mag about books on bass angling – call it perhaps the best 5 books on bass angling. It should only take you a few minutes.

Three weeks after this instantly forgotten conversation I was dragged out of the snug depths of my bed on a freezing Sunday morning by a persistently ringing telephone at some ungodly hour. Where is that article? I need it tomorrow! Ah well!

So what makes a good book? Truth is, a good book is one that answers a need. I could suggest 5 good story books to while away a pleasant evening, 5 good method books about the range of methods to catch a bass, and another 5 about how it used to be done, 5 more about where to fish, and maybe 5 about why. And so it goes on, and whichever 5 I choose, someone else is sure to favour 5 others.

However, I will stick my neck out as usual and wait with interest for that someone to chop it off. First a history book. Actually it doesn’t make a lot of difference, because most of the angling writers up to say the 1930s just used to copy the tackle and tactics recommended by all the other writers (surely that doesn’t happen nowadays?). Well my own personal choice from this period would have to be F.D. Holcome’s Modern Sea Angling, published in 1921 by Frederick Warne, because – well, just because I like it.

image:photo of front cover of Hooked on Bass

The method book is not easy; I have caught bass on the fly, on the float, on the leger and on the lure, and even with a pirk and muppet on a wreck – the bass took a red muppet if you’re interested. There is no single answer, and you are forced to choose between a single method book, which would have to be Bob Cox’s Uptide and Boatcasting, published by A. & C. Black in 1985, or the much more versatile and nearly definitive Hooked on Bass by Mike Ladle and Alan Vaughan published by Crowood Press in 1988.

The factual book is simple; there is only one book on the science of bass, and it deserves a place on the bookshelf of every fanatic despite its price. Graham Pickett and Mike Pawson’s Sea Bass – Biology, Exploitation and Conservation published by Chapman & Hall in 1994 is the bible, even if, like the Bible, some bits are hard to swallow.

image:photo of front cover of Successful Shore Fishing

Story books have a place in this list; they can be entertaining, they can be informative (if the stories have a basis in fact). How many anglers have to own up to having been propelled down their path by the likes of Mr Crabtree? There are two obvious contenders which feature bass heavily; Anthony Pearson’s Successful Shore Fishing published by Newnes in 1967 is a classic of the genre, but perhaps leans too much towards fiction. I prefer the other classic, Clive Gammon’s A Tide of Fish, published by Heinemann in 1962, which more constructively combines real information with the storyteller’s craft.

image:photo of front cover of Sea Fishing in Hampshire & IOW

While I am not really in favour of venue books, there is a set which have stood the test of time. Those published by Angling Times in conjunction with Ernest Benn in the 1960’s. Hugh Stoker’s Sea Fishing in Dorset is probably the best known, but there is a whole range from the NorthWest (by Bob Gledhill) to the Tweed (by Ernest Merritt). Stoker’s Sea Angling Hotspots comes somewhere around here as well.

I will not choose a tackle book for there is too little around that is any good, and too much changes every year. If I had to make a sixth choice for tackle, I could only mention lures as a sufficiently constant theme, and here you would have to balance the breadth of Chris & Sue Harris’s Encyclopaedia of Lures (Crowood 1993) against the depth of Mike Ladle and Harry Casey’s Lure Fishing – A New Approach to Spinning (A. & C. Black 1988).

image:photo of front cover of Lure fishing

Are these the best? Who am I to say? Where are such little delights as the Osprey Angler’s Bass by Des Brennan, and Bass – How to Catch Them by Alan Young? The answer of course, is on my bookshelf, along with a couple of hundred other books on angling, all of which are deserving of some acclaim, and any of which can satisfy a certain need and a certain mood.

There should be one other book in this list, the diary that every angler should keep of his triumphs and his failures, those easily forgotten snippets of information which easily become forgotten or confused if they are not committed to ink, yet in theory build over the years into the answer to every problem. I often resort to the diary I have kept for some years, and bitterly regret the loss of the years I did not.

But last night I read a piece of doggerel penned by Richard Large in Trout & Salmon, December 1973, which made me wonder whether the fact or the fantasy is preferable. I make no apologies for stealing it:

I thought that I would keep a book
And in it I would write,
A note of all the fish I took
The date, the bait, the bite.

Now what I took to be success
Before my book began,
Was but a failure to assess
My memory’s élan.

As more I write, so more I wish
My book has never been,
For now I see my worthy fish
Are few and far between.

And though the glory of the past
Lived only in my mind,
It helped to soothe each hopeless cast,
When fortune was unkind.

May I wish you the best of fortune in your reading and your fishing, and to misquote Dave Allen May your rod go with you.

This article first appeared in BASS Magazine 74, Spring 1995