The Complete Angler by Izaak Walton
Izaak Walton, English author and angler, was born at Stafford
on August 9, 1593, and until about his fiftieth year lived as a
linen-draper in London. He then retired from business and
lived at Stafford for a few years; but returned to London in
1650, and spent his closing years at Winchester, where he died
on December 15, 1683, and was buried in the cathedral there.
Walton was thrice married, his second wife being sister of the
future Bishop Ken. He had a large acquaintance with eminent
clergymen, and among his literary friends were Ben Jonson and
Michael Drayton. He was author of several charming biographies,
including those of the poet Donne, 1640, of Sir Henry
Wotton, 1651, of Richard Hooker, 1652, and of George Herbert,
1670. But by far his most famous work is "The Compleat
Angler; or, the Contemplative Man's Recreation," published in
1653. There were earlier books on the subject in English, such
as Dame Juliana Berner's "Treatise pertaining to Hawking,
Hunting, and Fishing with an Angle," 1486; the "Book of
Fishing with Hook and Line," 1590; a poem, "The Secrets of
Angling," by John Denny, 1613; and several others. The new
thing in Walton's book, and the secret of its unfading popularity,
is the charm of temperament. Charles Lamb well said that it
"breathes the very spirit of innocence, purity, and simplicity of
heart." A sequel to the book, entitled the "Second Part of the
Compleat Angler," was written by Charles Cotton, and published
The Virtues of Angling
PISCATOR, VENATOR, AND AUCEPS
Piscator. You are well overtaken, gentlemen! A
good morning to you both! I have stretched my legs
up Tottenham Hill to overtake you, hoping your business
may occasion you towards Ware, whither I am going
this fine fresh May morning.
Venator. Sir, I, for my part, shall almost answer your
hopes, for my purpose is to drink my morning's draught
at the Thatched House. And, sir, as we are all so happy
to have a fine morning, I hope we shall each be the happier
in each other's company.
Auceps. Sir, I shall, by your favour, bear you company
as far as Theobald's, for then I turn up to a friend's
house, who mews a hawk for me. And as the Italians
say, good company in a journey maketh the way to seem
the shorter, I, for my part, promise you that I shall be
as free and open-hearted as discretion will allow with
Piscator. I am right glad to hear your answers. I
shall put on a boldness to ask you, sir, whether business
or pleasure caused you to be up so early, for this other
gentleman hath declared he is going to see a hawk that a
friend mews for him.
Venator. Sir, I intend to go hunting the otter.
Piscator. Those villainous vermin, for I hate them
perfectly, because they love fish so well, or rather destroy
so much. For I, sir, am a brother of the angle.
Auceps. And I profess myself a falconer, and have
heard many grave, serious men scoff at anglers and pity
them, as it is a heavy, contemptible, dull recreation.
Piscator. You know, gentlemen, it is an easy thing
to scoff at any art or recreation; a little wit mixed with
all nature, confidence, and malice will do it; but though
they often venture boldly, yet they are often caught, even
in their own trap.
There be many men that are by others taken to be
serious, and grave men, which we contemn and pity: men
that are taken to be grave because nature hath made
them of a sour complexion—money-getting men, men
that are condemned to be rich; for these poor, rich men,
we anglers pity them most perfectly. No, sir! We
enjoy a contentedness above the reach of such dispositions.
Venator. Sir, you have almost amazed me; for
though I am no scoffer, yet I have—I pray let me speak
it without offence—always looked upon anglers as more
patient and simple men than, I fear, I shall find you to
Piscator. Sir, I hope you will not judge my earnestness
to be impatience! As for my simplicity, if by that
you mean a harmlessness which was usually found in
the primitive Christians, who were, as most anglers are,
followers of peace—then myself and men of my profession
will be glad to be so understood. But if, by simplicity,
you mean to express a general defect, I hope in
time to disabuse you.
But, gentlemen, I am not so unmannerly as to engross
all the discourse to myself; I shall be most glad to hear
what you can say in the commendation of your several
Auceps. The element I use to trade in, the air, is an
element of more worth than weight; an element that
doubtless exceeds both the earth and water; in it my
noble falcon ascends to such a height as the dull eye of
man is not able to reach to; my troop of hawks soars
up on high, so that they converse with the gods.
And more, the worth of this element of air is such
that all creatures whatsoever stand in need of it. The
waters cannot preserve their fish without air; witness
the not breaking of ice and the result thereof.
Venator. Well, sir, I will now take my turn. The
earth, that solid, settled element, is the one on which I
drive my pleasant, wholesome, hungry trade. What pleasure
doth man take in hunting the stately stag, the cunning
otter! The earth breeds and nourishes the mighty elephant,
and also the least of creatures! It puts limits to
the proud and raging seas, and so preserves both man
and beast; daily we see those that are shipwrecked and
left to feed haddocks; but, Mr. Piscator, I will not be so
uncivil as not to allow you time for the commendation
of angling; I doubt we shall hear a watery discourse—and
I hope not a long one.
Piscator. Gentlemen, my discourse is likely to prove
suitable to my recreation—calm and quiet.
Water is the eldest daughter of the creation, the element
upon which the spirit of God did first move. There
be those that profess to believe that all bodies are water,
and may be reduced back into water only.
The water is more productive than the earth. The
increase of creatures that are bred in the water is not
only more miraculous, but more advantageous to man for
the preventing of sickness. It is observed that the casting
of Lent and other fish days hath doubtless been the
cause of these many putrid, shaking agues, to which this
country of ours is now more subject.
To pass by the miraculous cures of our known baths
the Romans have made fish the mistress of all their
entertainments; and have had music to usher in their
sturgeons, lampreys, and mullets.
Auceps. Sir, it is with such sadness that I must part
with you here, for I see Theobald's house. And so I
part full of good thoughts. God keep you both.
Venator. Sir, you said angling was of great antiquity,
and a perfect art, not easily attained to. I am
desirous to hear further concerning those particulars.
Piscator. Is it not an art to deceive a trout with an
artificial fly? A trout! more sharp-sighted than any
hawk! Doubt not, angling is an art worth your learning.
The question is rather, whether you be capable of learning
it? Angling is like poetry—men are to be born
so. Some say it is as ancient as Deucalion's flood, and
Moses makes mention of fish-hooks, which must imply
But as I would rather prove myself a gentleman by
being learned, and humble, valiant, and inoffensive, virtuous,
and communicable, than by any fond ostentation
of riches, or, wanting those virtues, boast these were in
my ancestors, so if this antiquity of angling shall be an
honour to this art, I shall be glad I made mention of it.
I shall tell you that in ancient times a debate hath
arisen, whether the happiness of man doth consist more
in contemplation or action?
Some have endeavoured to maintain their opinion of
the first by saying that the nearer we mortals approach
to God by way of imitation, the more happy we are.
And they say God enjoys Himself only by a contemplation
of His own infiniteness, eternity, power, goodness
and the like.
On the contrary, there want not men of equal authority
that prefer action to be the more excellent, such as
experiments in physics for the ease and prolongation of
man's life. Concerning which two opinions I shall
forbear to add a third, and tell you, my worthy friend,
that both these meet together and do most properly
belong to the most honest, quiet, and harmless art of
An ingenious Spaniard says that "rivers and the inhabitants
thereof were made for wise men to contemplate,
and fools to pass by without consideration."
There be many wonders reported of rivers, as of a
river in Epirus, that puts out any lighted torch, and
kindles any torch that was not lighted; the river Selarus,
that in a few hours turns a rod to stone, and mention is
made of the like in England, and many others on historical
But to tell you something of the monsters, or fish, call
them what you will, Pliny says the fish called the BalŠna
is so long and so broad as to take up more length
and breadth than two acres of ground; and in the river
Ganges there be eels thirty feet long.
I know we islanders are averse to the belief of these
wonders, but there are many strange creatures to be now
seen. Did not the Prophet David say, "They that occupy
themselves in deep water see the wonderful works
of God"; and the apostles of our Saviour, were not they
four simple fishermen; He found that the hearts of such
men, by nature, were fitted for contemplation and quietness—men
of sweet and peaceable spirits, as indeed most
Venator. Sir, you have angled me on with much
pleasure to the Thatched House, for I thought we had
three miles of it. Let us drink a civil cup to all lovers of
angling, of which number I am now willing to count
myself, and if you will but meet me to-morrow at the
time and place appointed, we two will do nothing but
talk of fish and fishing.
Piscator. 'Tis a match, sir; I will not fail you, God
willing, to be at Amwell Hill to-morrow before sun-rising.
Master and Pupil
Piscator. Sir, I am right glad to meet you. Come,
honest Venator, let us be gone; I long to be doing.
Venator. Well, let's to your sport of angling.
Piscator. With all my heart. But we are not yet
come to a likely place. Let us walk on. But let us first
to an honest alehouse, where my hostess can give us a
cup of her best drink.
Seneca says that the ancients were so curious in the
newness of their fish, that they usually did keep them
living in glass-bottles in their dining-rooms, and did
glory much in the entertaining of their friends, to have
the fish taken from under their tables alive that was
instantly to be fed upon. Our hostess shall dress us a
trout, that we shall presently catch, and we, with brother
Peter and Goridon, will sup on him here this same
Venator. And now to our sport.
Piscator. This is not a likely place for a trout; the
sun is too high. But there lie upon the top of the water
twenty Chub. Sir, here is a trial of my skill! I'll catch
only one, and he shall be the big one, that has some
bruise upon his tail.
Venator. I'll sit down and hope well; because you
seem so confident.
Piscator. Look you, sir! The very one! Oh, 'tis a
great logger-headed Chub! I'll warrant he will make a
good dish of meat.
Under that broad beech tree yonder, I sat down when
I was last a-fishing; and the birds in the adjoining grove
seemed to have a friendly contention with the echo that
lives in a hollow near the brow of that primrose-hill.
There I sat viewing the silver stream slide away, and
the lambs sporting harmlessly. And as I sat, these sights
so possessed my soul, that I thought as the poet hath it:
"I was for that time lifted above earth;
And possess'd joys not promised at my birth."
But, let us further on; and we will try for a Trout.
'Tis now past five of the clock.
Venator. I have a bite! Oh me! He has broke all;
and a good hook lost! But I have no fortune! Sure
yours is a better rod and tackling.
Piscator. Nay, then, take mine, and I will fish with
yours. Look you, scholar, I have another. I pray, put
that net under him, but touch not my line. Well done,
scholar, I thank you.
And now, having three brace of Trouts, I will tell
you a tale as we walk back to our hostess.
A preacher that was to procure the approbation of a
parish got from a fellow preacher the copy of a sermon
that was preached with great commendation by him that
composed it; and though the borrower preached it, word
for word, yet it was utterly disliked; and on complaining
to the lender of it, was thus answered: "I lent you indeed
my fiddle, but not my fiddlestick; for you are to
know, everyone cannot make music with my words,
which are fitted for my own mouth." And though I lend
you my very rod and tacklings, yet you have not my
fiddlestick, that is, the skill wherewith I guide it.
Venator. Master, you spoke very true. Yonder
comes mine hostess to call us to supper; and when we
have supped we will sing songs which shall give some
addition of mirth to the company.
Piscator. And so say I; for to-morrow we meet
again up the water towards Waltham.
Fish of English Streams
Piscator. Indeed, my good scholar, we may say of
angling, as Dr. Boteler said of strawberries, "Doubtless
God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God
never did"; and so, God never did make a more calm,
quiet, innocent recreation than angling.
And when I see how pleasantly that meadow looks;
and the earth smells so sweetly too; I think of them
as Charles the Emperor did of the City of Florence;
"that they were too pleasant to be looked on, but on
To speak of fishes; the Salmon is accounted the king
of fresh-water fish. He breeds in the rivers in the month
of August, and then hastes to the sea before winter;
where he recovers his strength and comes the next summer
to the same river; for like persons of riches, he has
his summer and winter house, to spend his life in, which
is, as Sir Francis Bacon hath observed, not above ten
The Pike, the tyrant of the fresh-waters, is said to be
the longest-lived of any fresh-water fish, but not usually
above forty years. Gesner relates of a man watering
his mule in a pond, where the Pike had devoured all the
fish, had the Pike bite his mule's lips; to which he hung
so fast, the mule did draw him out of the water. And
this same Gesner observes, that a maid in Poland washing
clothes in a pond, had a Pike bite her by the foot.
I have told you who relate these things; and shall conclude
by telling you, what a wise-man hath observed:
"It is a hard thing to persuade the belly, because it has
Besides being an eater of great voracity, the Pike is
observed to be a solitary, melancholy and a bold fish.
When he is dressed with a goodly, rich sauce, and oysters,
this dish of meat is too good for any man, but an
angler, or a very honest man.
The Carp, that hath only lately been naturalised in
England, is said to be the queen of rivers, and will grow
to a very great bigness; I have heard, much above a
The stately Bream, and the Tench, that physician of
fishes, love best to live in ponds. In every Tench's head
are two little stones which physicians make great use of.
Rondeletius says, at his being in Rome, he saw a great
cure done by applying a Tench to the feet of a sick man.
But I will not meddle more with that; there are too
many meddlers in physic and divinity that think fit to
meddle with hidden secrets and so bring destruction to
The Perch is a bold, biting fish, and carries his teeth
in his mouth; and to affright the Pike and save himself
he will set up his fins, like as a turkey-cock will set up
his tail. If there be twenty or forty in a hole, they
may be catched one after the other, at one standing; they
being, like the wicked of this world, not afraid, though
their fellows and companions perish in their sight.
And now I think best to rest myself, for I have almost
spent my spirits with talking.
Venator. Nay, good master, one fish more! For it
rains yet; you know our angles are like money put to
usury; they may thrive, though we sit still. Come, the
other fish, good master!
Piscator. But shall I nothing from you, that seem to
have both a good memory and a cheerful spirit?
Venator. Yes, master; I will speak you a copy of
verses that allude to rivers and fishing:
Come, live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove;
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines, and silver hooks.
When thou wilt swim in that live bath,
Each fish, which every channel hath,
Most amorously to thee will swim,
Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.
Let others freeze with angling reeds,
And cut their legs with shells and weeds,
Or treacherously poor fish beget
With trangling snare or windowy net;
For thee, thou need'st no such deceit,
For thou, thyself, art thine own bait,
That fish, that is not catched thereby
Is wiser far, alas, than I!
Piscator. I thank you for these choice verses. And I
will now tell you of the Eel, which is a most dainty fish.
The Romans have esteemed her the Helena of their
feasts. Sir Francis Bacon will allow the Eel to live
but ten years; but he mentions a Lamprey, belonging to
the Roman Emperor, that was made tame and kept for
three-score years; so that when she died, Crassus, the
orator, lamented her death.
I will tell you next how to make the Eel a most excellent
dish of meat.
First, wash him in water and salt, then pull off his
skin and clean him; then give him three or four scotches
with a knife; and then put into him sweet herbs, an
anchovy and a little nutmeg. Then pull his skin over
him, and tie him with pack-thread; and baste him with
butter, and what he drips, be his sauce. And when I
dress an Eel thus, I wish he were a yard and three-quarters
long. But they are not so proper to be talked
of by me because they make us anglers no sport.
The Barbel, so called by reason of his barb or wattles,
and the Gudgeon, are both fine fish of excellent
My further purpose was to give you directions concerning
Roach and Dace, but I will forbear. I see yonder,
brother Peter. But I promise you, to-morrow as
we walk towards London, if I have forgotten anything
now I will not then keep it from you.
Venator. Come, we will all join together and drink a
cup to our jovial host, and so to bed. I say good-night
Piscator. And so say I.
Piscator. I will tell you, my honest scholar, I once
heard one say, "I envy not him that eats better meat,
or wears better clothes than I do; I envy him only that
catches more fish than I do."
And there be other little fish that I had almost forgot,
such as the Minnow or Penk; the dainty Loach; the
Miller's-Thumb, of no pleasing shape; the Stickle-bag,
good only to make sport for boys and women anglers.
Well, scholar, I could tell you many things of the rivers
of this nation, the chief of which is the Thamisis;
of fish-ponds, and how to breed fish within them, and
how to order your lines and baits for the several fishes;
but, I will tell you some of the thoughts that have possessed
my soul since we met together. And you shall
join with me in thankfulness to the Giver of every good
and perfect gift for our happiness; which may appear
the greater when we consider how many, even at this
very time, lie under the torment, and the stone, the gout,
and tooth-ache; and all these we are free from.
Since we met, others have met disasters, some have
been blasted, and we have been free from these. What
is a far greater mercy, we are free from the insupportable
burden of an accusing conscience.
Let me tell you, there be many that have forty times
our estates, that would give the greatest part of it to be
healthful and cheerful like us; who have eat, and drank,
and laughed, and angled, and sung, and slept; and rose
next day, and cast away care, and sung, and laughed, and
I have a rich neighbour that is always so busy that
he has no leisure to laugh. He says that Solomon says,
"The diligent man makest rich"; but, he considers not
what was wisely said by a man of great observation,
"That there be as many miseries beyond riches, as on
this side them."
Let me tell you, scholar, Diogenes walked one day
through a country fair, where he saw ribbons, and looking-glasses,
and nut-crackers, and fiddles, and many other
gimcracks; and said to his friend, "Lord, how many
things are there in this world Diogenes hath no need!"
All this is told you to incline you to thankfulness:
though the prophet David was guilty of murder and
many other of the most deadly sins, yet he was said to be
a man after God's own heart, because he abounded with
Well, scholar, I have almost tired myself, and I fear,
more than tired you.
But, I now see Tottenham High Cross, which puts a
period to our too long discourse, in which my meaning
was to plant that in your mind with which I labour to
possess my own soul—that is, a meek and thankful heart.
And, to that end, I have showed you that riches without
them do not make a man happy. But riches with them
remove many fears and cares. Therefore, my advice is,
that you endeavour to be honestly rich, or contentedly
poor; but be sure your riches be justly got; for it is well
said by Caussin, "He that loses his conscience, has
nothing left that is worth the keeping." So look to that.
And in the next place, look to your health, for health is
a blessing that money cannot buy. As for money, neglect
it not, and, if you have a competence, enjoy it with a
cheerful, thankful heart.
Venator. Well, master, I thank you for all your good
directions, and especially for this last, of thankfulness.
And now being at Tottenham High Cross, I will requite
a part of your courtesies with a drink composed of sack,
milk, oranges, and sugar, which, all put together, make a
drink like nectar indeed; and too good for anybody, but
us anglers. So, here is a full glass to you.
Piscator. And I to you, sir.
Venator. Sir, your company and discourse have been
so pleasant that I truly say, that I have only lived since
I enjoyed it an turned angler, and not before.
I will not forget the doctrines Socrates taught his
scholars, that they should not think to be honoured for
being philosophers, so much as to honour philosophy by
the virtue of their lives. You advised me to the like
concerning angling, and to live like those same worthy
men. And this is my firm resolution.
And when I would beget content, I will walk the meadows,
by some gliding stream, and there contemplate the
lilies that take no care. That is my purpose; and so,
"let the blessing of St. Peter's Master be with mine."
Piscator. And upon all that are lovers of virtue, and
be quiet, and go a-angling.