Angles on Fishing

Unusual book breaks new ground



Angling and Ethics


Alexander Schwab


Angles of Fishing

Unusual book breaks new ground

This unusual book breaks new ground inasmuch as it attempts to look at contemporary recreational fishing in its entirety. A venture perhaps doomed to failure because the subject matter seems to expand naturally and generate an infinite number of new questions. Why is it, for example, that beer and claret seem to play a significant role in recreational fishing? Or, why is it that women are better anglers than men? Is it in fact the case that the mythical and practical foundations of recreational angling are female?
Angles on Fishing also revisits, re-examines and reappraises the themes of Hook, Line and Thinker (2003) and Dear Jim (2004). Environmentalism, animal rights and the ethical questions related to them are today even more topical than they were then.
There is a feast for the eyes too: the selection of angling paintings by Turner, Monet, Feininger, Klee and others is unique. Some of the paintings and the extraordinary fishing photography are published for the first time in a book

I will hold my hand up here and admit that I am biased. I have always enjoyed everything Alexander Schwab has written and this book is no exception. How the hell can you dislike a book which is promoted by a flyer featuring a man holding a gun, with the caption ,Believe it or not, this painting is about pike fishing’. I ask you. Nothing Alex writes is boring. In fact, nothing Alex writes ever resembles anything else anybody has ever written, which is the main reason why he is never boring. He is by turns, philosophical, funny, challenging and outrageous and I am glad to say that Angles on Fishing is all four of these, by degree enough to make you want some of whatever the man is taking. There are quite a few challenges in this new work from the Schwab pen. The first is that much of it is about the sort of folk who would like us to stop fishing, what they think, why they think it, and how we can go about countering it. Given that the attitude of most fishermen is to pretend that we aren’t vulnerable to a change in public opinion, this expose of just how far anti-angling sentiment has advanced in Switzerland is a real eye-opener. Right after this rather chilling exposé, comes a chapter on fishing and drinking – or is it fishing and art? Which leads me onto the illustrations, which range from the amazing (a salmon jumping into the mouth of a bear) to the thought provoking (a man fishing out of the window of a second storey apartment). And a section on blonde fishing jokes. Yes, really. The only snag is that it costs ninety-nine squids. Do not ask me why, but for this you get a copy signed by the author. If you are a Schwab fan, you probably own it. If not, you need to read out more.

Angles on Fishing is Alexander Schwarb’s third book on the philosophy and ethics of angling and his best yet. While I found the first two, Hook, Line and Thinker, and Dear Jim: Reflections on the Beauty of Angling, somewhat uninspiring, they were well received by other reviewers. Whether or not books of this sort appeal to the individual is very much a matter of personal taste.

As the author says in his Preface, Angles on Fishing is about the ‘more’ in the motto of The Flyfishers’ Club, that ‘there is more to fishing than catching fish’. Schwab sees that ‘more’ as including the pleasure fishing gives, and such things as the art, music, humour, beauty and even the beer associated with it, and — above all — the ethics of the sport. He covers that ground coherently, comprehensively, intelligently and wittily. In particular, he lays waste to the fallacious arguments deployed against angling by `animal rights’ lobbyists and some environmentalists while, at the same time, noting their success in having their views taken increasingly seriously by legislative bodies.. He sounds repeated and sensible notes of caution against complacency. He is well qualified to undertake so analytical a task, and to do so in English, because. although he was brought up in Switzerland, he has a Master’s Degree in Philosophy from Aberdeen University.

Schwab’s two previous books were not greatly enhanced by their illustrations — good photographs rendered in monochrome when they would have been more engaging had they been in colour. This one is different. It is illustrated throughout with a profusion of fascinating and well reproduced images.

Where I have a real difficulty with Angles on Fishing, though, is with the £99 price tag. No doubt the author and publishers would seek to justify it by pointing out that it is in a limited edition of 333, all signed by the author. I am not convinced that that is reasonable. Presentationally, it seems to be a compromise between a `coffee table book `on the one hand and an interesting and amusing read on the other, filling neither role particularly comfortably. That is a pity, because I think Schwab’s text is well worth reading, and I suspect that it would reach a wider readership if the presentation and pricing were a little less pretentious.

Incidentally, a boxed edition, limited to just 12 signed copies, bound in dark blue leather and embellished with perch skin is available for £395.