Angling in Special Collections

The Angling in Special Collections exhibition features books, ephemera, and art focused on angling from the National Sporting Library & Museum's collections. This is a digital version of the live exhibition which was presented in the Forrest E. Mars, Sr. Exhibit Hall located in the Library's lower level from June 12, 2020 through August 30, 2020. The exhibit includes books from the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book room including a first edition of The Compleat Angler, and two of the earliest American books on the sport of angling, a large collection of mounted and framed flies from the George Chapman collection, a bamboo fly rod built by Henry "Hank" Woolman III, and angling related art from the Museum's permanent collection. The NSLM also asked the public to participate by sending us photos of their best catches. During the live exhibition these photos were projected on a wall in the gallery.


The Compleat Angler: or the contemplative man’s recreation; being a discourse of fish and fishing, not unworthy the perusal of most anglers by Izaak Walton (1653). London: Richard Marriot. The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton (1593-1683) was first published in 1653. The book is a combination of fishing manual and a celebration of country life. It relates a five day expedition in May during which "Piscator," the fisherman, teaches "Venator," the hunter, how to fish. There is the expected discussion of baits and hooks, how to catch several kinds of fish, and even cooking techniques. But interspersed throughout are songs and poems, meditations, stories, folklore, and quotes from literature and the Bible. These elements highlight the spiritual side of angling and the fisherman’s relationship with the surrounding environment.

Walton continued to refine The Compleat Angler in several new editions over the next 23 years. The final edition that he was involved with in 1676 included a second section written by Charles Cotton (1630-1687). This book, by Walton and Cotton, would go on to become one of the most frequently reprinted books in the English language, alongside the Bible and Shakespeare’s First Folio. One bibliography lists at least 284 editions and reprints of the Compleat Angler. The National Sporting Library & Museum holds more than 90 editions in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

Business and Diversion Inoffensive to God, and Necessary for the Comfort and Support of Human Society by Joseph Seccombe (1743). Boston: S. Kneeland and T. Green. The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

This 21 page book is the first on fishing printed in America, and the second about American Sport in general. Penned under the name “Fluviatulis Piscator,” it is a transcription of a sermon that was delivered by the author, Reverend Joseph Seccombe (1706-1760) at Amoskeag Falls in 1739. The printed text prefaces Seccombe’s sermon with a line from scripture, John 21:3: “Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing.”

Seccombe notes that the disciples were themselves fishermen and emphasized the following two points: 1) “In the general, that the common Enterprises of Life are not inconsistent with Piety towards God: But that infinite Holiness may be pleased with them.” And that, 2) “Fishing is innocent as Business or Diversion.” Today we might associate fishing and leisure in general with secular values, but Seccombe’s example, shows us that fishing can also be regarded as service to God and even a sacred duty.

The Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle: reprinted from The Boke of Saint Alban's by Dame Juliana Berners (1827). London: William Pickering. The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

This is William Pickering's first edition of the first known English work on fishing. Reprinted from The Boke of St. Albans, the famed sporting book originally published by Wynkyn de Worde in 1496, this essay on angling is generally attributed to Dame Juliana Berners (flourished 1460), a prioress of Sopwell nunnery circa 1450. If that attribution is correct, it is not only the earliest printed English work on fishing, but also one of the earliest published English works by a female author. Regardless of its source, it seems to have served as an inspiration both to Izaak Walton and to William Pickering.

The volume is an overall guide to fishing providing would-be anglers with information on where to fish, how to build rods, and the use of both natural and artificial baits. It describes what is known today as "matching the hatch." The fisherman uses artificial flies that mimic the live insects active at the specific time of the season, making it more likely that a fish will fall for the deception and bite on the artificial fly and its hidden hook. One of the most striking things about Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle is its discussion of the importance of conservation and also the etiquette of angling both between anglers and between the fisherman and the stream-side landowners. These concepts would not become mainstream in the fishing community for hundreds of years.

This edition preserves the original 15th century language and spelling, and is illustrated with a woodcut frontispiece of a fisherman taken from de Worde's 1518 edition that is cited as the earliest known depiction of an angler fishing with a rod.

Fly Case, Containing Flies for the Season, and Extracts from The Fly-Fisher’s Entomology by Alfred Ronalds (1844)

Published in 1844 in conjunction with the publication of the third edition of Alfred Ronalds' The Fly-Fisher's Entomology, this fly case contains 24 pages of text printed on vellum, with full descriptions of 47 flies. There are 72 actual specimens of flies mounted on 15 felt pages with blanket stitch borders.

The first edition of The Fly-Fisher’s Entomology was published in 1836. It was the first comprehensive work related to the entomology associated with fly-fishing. Ronalds (1802-1860) conducted extensive research on trout behavior and his initial chapters deal with these observations. He discusses how to determine where trout are most likely be found in a stream, and he was able to observe and describe the way that trout see the world both above and below the water. This is known today as the "window of vision." Trout are visual predators so understanding how they see their prey is critical to success as a fisherman.

The bulk of the book is about the aquatic insects that trout feed upon and the development of artificial flies which might entice a fish to strike. Organized by the month of their appearance, Ronalds methodically describes the insects and their stages of development. Next he identifies the corresponding artificial fly and outlines its construction. This pairing of a fly pattern with an actual insect is innovative and begins the standardization of angler's names for artificial flies. Here's a example from the 1849 edition:

  • No. 28. Green Drake [Plate XIII]. This fly, proceeding from a water nympha, lives three or four days as shown; then the female changes to the Grey Drake (No. 29.), and the male to the Black Drake (see p. 89.). The Green Drake cannot be said to be in season quite three weeks on an average. Its season depends greatly upon the state of the weather; and it will be found earlier upon the slowly running parts of the stream (such as mill dams) than on the rapid places. Imitation: Body - The middle part is of pale straw coloured floss silk, ribbed with silver twist. The extremities are of a brown peacock's herl, tied with light brown silk thread. Tail -- Three rabbit's whiskers. Wings and Legs -- Made buzz from a mottled feather of the mallard, stained olive. (See Dyes, Chap. II. p. 35. article 4.) To make it with wings in their state of rest, part of a feather similarly stained must be used, and a pale brown Bittern's hackle, or in case of need, a partridge feather must be wrapped round the same body under the wings.

Although The Fly-Fisher's Entomology was Ronalds' only book, its utility quickly became apparent. It was published in 11 editions between 1836 and 1913 and has been extensively reprinted over the last 100 years.

The American Anglers Guide: being 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 by An American [John J. Brown] (1845). New York: Burgess, Stringer & Co. The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

This is the first edition of the first book-length guide to angling written by an American and printed in America. It was authored under the pseudonym “An American Angler” by John J. Brown, a well-known New York dealer of fishing tackle. The guide includes chapters on ocean, river, lake and pond fishing; necessary tackle and baits, and instructions on the making of artificial flies. In it, Brown details how fly-fishing is conducted in America. 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 from 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.

Dry Fly Entomology: A brief description of leading types of natural insects serving as food for trout and grayling with the 100 best patterns of floating flies and the various methods of dressing them, Volume II by Frederick M. Halford (1897). London: Vinton & Co., Limited. The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Frederic Halford (1844-1914) was an avid fly fisherman and prolific author on the subject. His preferred method of fishing was with a dry-fly, the aim of which is to mimic the downstream drifting of a real fly on the surface of the water. In order to be successful, the angler must have an excellent understanding of the fish being targeted and the stream in which they live. The fisher also needs the ability to land his fly with pinpoint precision. These abilities combined with a fly that behaves in a natural-seeming manner may result in the desired strike by the fish. Halford developed a full range of floating flies and perfected a method of tying them. He also frequently participated in debates with other anglers in which he insisted that the dry-fly technique was superior to any other form of fly-fishing. Today Halford is commonly referred to as “The Father of Modern Dry-Fly Fishing.”

The volume seen here is the second volume of the deluxe edition of Dry Fly Entomology. The first volume contains the text and the second comprises boards displaying actual specimens of the artificial flies described in the first volume. NSLM's copy is signed by Frederic Halford.

The Angler’s Club Bulletin Vol. 1 no. 1 – May 1920 to Vol. 6 No. 1 – Jan. 1927

The Anglers' Club Bulletin was a monthly newsletter published by the Anglers' Club of New York. The club, formed in 1905, was conceived by Edward Cave and Perry Fraser, both members of the editorial staff at Field and Stream magazine. On November 21, 1905, the first meeting was held at the editorial offices of Field and Stream located on West 21st Street in New York City.

It is a social club which sponsors outings, dinners, and demonstrations for its members. Eugene V. Connett, who would go on to publishing and writing fame with his Derrydale Press, founded The Anglers' Club Bulletin in May, 1920. In addition to functioning as an information organ for the Club, it is also a literary magazine featuring prose, poetry, and articles by and about the Club's members.

The NSLM holds issues of The Anglers' Club Bulletin from 1920-1984 in the Library's periodicals collection as well as a number of books published by the Anglers' Club of New York for its members.

The Book on Hackles for Fly Dressing by William Baigent, M.D., with an introduction by W. Keith Rollo (1937). Newcastle Upon Tyne, privately printed by Mawson Swan & Morgan Ltd. The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

This rare publication features 11 cards with 164 mounted hackle specimens. The instructional text walks the reader through the steps needed to make hackles, from the skinning of the neck, and the curing of the skin, to the dyeing of the hackles themselves. The volume contains an introduction from the author’s friend, Lieutenant Colonel Keith Rollo.

Baigent (1862-1935), known for his long-hackled dry flies which were later sold commercially through Hardy’s, thought that the text was secondary to the hackles themselves: “Descriptions are of little avail; the actual hackle itself must be placed before the eye of the reader for scrutiny or close inspection, and for other reasons too numerous to mention here.”

The Way of a Man with a Trout by G.E.M. Skues, edited by T. Donald Overfield, flies tied by Jim Nice (1977). London: Ernest Benn. The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

George Edward MacKenzie Skues, usually known as G. E. M. Skues (1858–1949), was a British lawyer, author and fly fisherman. He developed the method of fishing known today as nymph fishing. Rather than tempting trout with imitations of flying insects at the water's surface, he advocated for imitating nymphs, the earlier developmental stages of the same insects. Most of the insect's life occurs underwater. It is only during its final adult stage that it emerges into the air to mate and die. Nymphs are a favorite food source for trout so imitating them is a likely way to hook a fish. Much like dry-fly fishing, the technique hinges on lures that look and behave as much like the live insect as possible. The fisher must not only select a fly at the correct stage of development, but must also be able to land the fly at the correct depth in the water column, and have it drift in the current as naturally as possible.

The Way of a Trout with a Fly (1921) is considered the seminal work on nymph fishing. This deluxe two-volume set contains 20 nymphs that were tied to the stringent specifications of G.E.M. Skues by famed English fly dresser, Jim Nice. Only 150 sets of the deluxe edition were made. In total, 3,000 nymphs were tied for the 150 sets. The NSLM owns set number 75.

The Atlantic Salmon by Lee Wulff (1989). Goshen, Connecticut: The Angler's and Shooter's Press. The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

This special edition volume of Lee Wulff’s most famous book is bound in a special full leather case and contains five salmon flies by Wulff himself mounted in its lid. Lee Wulff (1905-1991) was one of the world's best known and most respected sports fishermen. He is best remembered today as the pioneer of the concept of "catch and release." In 1936, he wrote, “Game fish are too valuable to be caught only once” which changed the concept of fly fishing and conservation from that point on. In addition to there being more fish to be caught, he also said that the fish learned from catch and release and became more challenging to catch a second time, forcing anglers to improve their skills. Wulff was also a conservationist and supported organizations that work to protect and preserve fish and fishing habitats, such as Trout Unlimited.

Trout and Bass introduction by Stephen Bodio, illustrations by Alan James Robinson, with an afterword by Jack Gartside (1993). Easthampton, Massachusetts: Press of the Sea Turtle. The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Trout and Bass is a diverse collection of angling literature both prose and poetry by John Dennys, Izaak Walton, John Gay, James A. Henshall, J.G. Wood, George J. Seabury, and R.H. Russell. This deluxe edition is bound in quarter vellum and is accompanied by individually cased watercolors and etchings by wildlife artist and outdoorsman, Alan James Robinson. The edition also includes a special clam shell case with a selection of twelve trout and six bass flies tied by master fly-tier Jack Gartside, considered one of the most talented and innovative fly-tiers of the modern era.

Bamboo Fly Rod made by Henry N. Woolman, III. The gift of Jacqueline B. Mars

Henry “Hank” Woolman III (1931-2019) was an avid fly fisherman and was well known for his tied flies and handmade cane (bamboo) rods. He was self-taught in all his angling endeavors and excelled in them. Eventually he turned his passion into a business that was located in Middleburg, VA, called The Outdoorsman. In the late 1970’s Hank helped to found the Rapidan chapter of Trout Unlimited and for more than 20 years he donated one of his fly rods annually to raise funds for the organization. Hank also worked as a fishing guide both in Virginia and later in Yellowstone.

Hank in his workshop. Photo courtesy of John Ross.

In addition to his fishing activities, Hank loved riding to hounds. He served as a Joint Master for the Orange County Hounds in the mid-1960s and spent 22 years as huntsman for the MOC Beagles helping to instill the love of hounds and hunting in future fox hunters. He served as a hound show judge for 30 years and in 2006 was awarded the Julian M. Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his lifetime contribution to hounds and hunting.

Making Hank’s achievements all the more impressive is the fact that he accomplished many of them after losing his right hand in a farming accident in 1971. He adapted to this situation by building skill in his left hand and figuring out how to continue, not simply to participate in the activities he loved, but to excel in them. As his good friend Eve Prime Fout (1929-2007), artist , equestrian, and conservationist once said, “Hank can do more with one hand than most of us can do with two.”

George Thomas Chapman, Jr. Collection of Mounted Flies

In 2011, George Thomas Chapman Jr. (1919-2016) donated his fly-fishing library to the National Sporting Library & Museum. The Chapman Collection comprises 2,000 titles on fly-fishing and fly-tying, the majority printed in the 20th century. Included in this donation was an impressive array of framed flies tied by authors, instructors, and prominent fishers from across the United States. Many of the flies are signed by the fly-tiers and dedicated to Chapman. Additional flies from this collection may be viewed in the Library’s Main Reading Room.

Artwork from the Museum's permanent collection

Edith Anna Oenone Somerville (Irish, 1848-1949), An Irish Trout Stream, 1929, oil on canvas, 17 ¼ x 13 inches. Gift of John H. Daniels, 2002
Dale Weiler (American, contemporary), In Your Dreams, cast 2009 bronze, 11 x 24 x 21 inches. Gift of Loti Woods and Dale Weiler, 2019
Keith Burtonshaw (British, 1930-2008), Esthwaite Water, watercolor on paper, 14 ¼ x 18 ¼ inches. Gift of Anna B. Francis
Two paintings by John Bucknell Russell (Scottish, 1820-1893), Left: The Day's Catch, 1865, oil on canvas, 21 x 29 inches. Right: The Day's Catch, 1864, oil on canvas, 21 ¼ x 29 ¼ inches. Each the gift of Dr. and Mrs. Timothy J. Greenan, 2011

Best Catch!

Photos submitted by friends of the National Sporting Library & Museum showing their best catches.