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Age old traditions and a life-long dream fulfilled

Mick on River Test
The River Test

I have many friends that just collect works of antipodean origin and that is their choice but it was not for me.   In my enthusiastic past I laid down a set of parameters and that was to build a library that represented fly fishing down through the ages.   A big call I know, but I got pretty close and I do have some gems within my collection.
To collect them all for me is nothing but a dream. Between 1496 when Dame Juliana Berners wrote our first fly fishing book and the writings of Halford and Skues, angling publishers have produced some 5000 plus works on fishing.  To collect all of these early books was not part of my model; my goal was to sort out the classics and go for those.   With the baby boomers coming into the collecting scene some of the prices now being asked are well beyond my means. Such is life.
Works from England dominate the early days of fly fishing and it is difficult not to collect a pile of books written about the chalk streams of Hampshire, especially the River Test.  Its history is rich and long. Some of the earliest writings of the Test come from Colonel Peter Hawker of Longparish House where it is reported in 1814 he used to fly fish from horseback.  I wonder if today’s challenge would be from the roof of a Hummer!


Like many other angling bibliophiles I record the books that I have purchased in a well thumbed ledger.  Each book is listed by author; its condition and edition are also recorded including the cost which is in code in case the wife sees it.  It is amazing just how many 1st edition bargains are out there!
On the first page of this ledger I have written a number of antidotes.   One being the challenge of collecting fishing books, which simply reads:  “The Dusty Chase”, which I feel epitomises the never ending hunt for old fishing books.  I have used it on a number of occasions as the lead into articles I have written on book collecting.  Another states: “He who dies with the most books wins”; now this statement originated as a challenge between a fellow book collector (Alf Bennett) and me.  The late Jock Grey, a famous Australian angling bibliophile, once stated that with book collecting one must set their parameters.  The funny thing is he never followed his own advice, he simply collected everything.  So be it!  

It was written by Sir Ralf Payne Gallwey in 1893 of Colonel Hawker, and quoted in part: “In figure Colonel Hawker was over six feet and strikingly handsome and up to the end of his life was very erect. He was, no doubt, somewhat of an egotist but it was in a good-natured way and a confirmed but amusing grumbler against his personal ill-luck.”   

The Perfect Gillie
 Pic: A True Treatise on the Art of Fly Fishing, William Shipley 1838

"If there is such a thing as a flyfishing soul
then the Chalk Streams of Hampshire in Southern England must be entangled within its shadows" ...
Mick Hall

F M Halford on the River Test
Pic from Dry Fly Man’s Handbook 1913

On the Upper Test
 Pic from South Country Streams - G.A.B. Dewar 1899

Since the time of Hawker most of fly fishing’s great authors emanating out of Great Britain have had their roots entangled with these chalk streams.  Names like Halford, Skues, Sheringham, Hills, Senior, Dewar, etc. have all left an indelible mark that will last the test of time. 
On a recent trip to England to attend the British Fly Fair International at Stoke-on-Trent, I was offered the opportunity to join Ole Bjerke, marketing manager of Partridge of Redditch and three of his guests to spend a day on the River Test.  The venue was on a private estate known as Wherwell, just above Chilbolten and not far from the famous Mayfly Hotel, Fullerton Mill and the town of Stockbridge.

Being so late in the season our invitation was to fish for Grayling, as is common, to assist in the culling back of this species.  As we were to see, the fabled Brown Trout of the Test were already in spawning mode and in some sections of the river they were already very active on their Redds.

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