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The Compleat Angler
Or the Contemplative Man's Recreation

by Izaak Walton

Dedicatory Material

To the Right Worshipful JOHN OFFLEY of Madely Manor in the County of Stafford, Esq.: My Most Honoured FRIEND


I have made so ill use of your former favours, as by them to be encouraged to intreat that they may be enlarged to the patronage and protection of this Book; and I have put on a modest confidence, that I shall not be deny’d, because it is a Discourse of Fish and Fishing, which you know so well, and both love and practise so much.

You are assured (though there be ignorant men of another belief) that Angling is an Art; and you know that Art better than others; and, that this is truth is demonstrated by the fruits of that pleasant labour which you enjoy when you purpose to give rest to your mind, and divest your self of your more serious business, and (which is often) dedicate a day or two to this Recreation.

At which time, if common Anglers should attend you, and be eye witnesses of the success, not of your fortune but your skill, it would doubtless beget in them an emulation to be like you, and that emulation might beget an industrious diligence to be so: but I know it is not attainable by common capacities. And there be now many men of great wisdom, learning, and experience, that love and practise this Art, that know I speak the truth.

Sir, This pleasant curiosity of Fish and Fishing (of which you are so great a Master) has been thought worthy the pens and practises of divers in other Nations, that have been reputed men of great learning and wisdom, and amongst those of this Nation, I remember Sir Henry Wotton (a dear lover of this Art) has told me that his intentions were to write a Discourse of the Art, and in praise of Angling, and doubtless he had done so, if death had not prevented him; the remembrance of which hath often made me sorry, for if he had lived to do it, then the unlearned Angler had seen some better Treatise of this Art, a Treatise worthy his perusal, which (though some have undertaken) I could never yet see in English.

But mine may be thought as weak and as unworthy of common view; and I do here freely confess, that I should rather excuse my self, than censure others, my own Discourse being liable to so many exceptions; against which you (Sir) might make this one, That it can contribute nothing to your Knowledge. And lest a longer Epistle may diminish your pleasure, I shall not adventure to make this Epistle any longer than to add this following truth, That I am really,

Your most affectionate Friend,
and most humble Servant,

Iz. Wa.

To all Readers of this Discourse but especially to the

I think fit to tell thee these following truths, That I did neither undertake, nor write, nor publish, and much less own, this Discourse to please my self: and having been too easily drawn to please others, as I propos’d not the gaining of credit by this undertaking, so I would not willingly lose any part of that to which I had a just title before I begun it, and therefore desire and hope, if I deserve not commendation, yet I may obtain pardon.

And though this Discourse may be lyable to some Exceptions, yet I cannot doubt but that most Readers may receive so much pleasure or profit by it, as may make it worthy the time of their perusal, if they be not very busie men. And this is all the confidence that I can put on concerning the merit of what is here offered to their consideration and censure; and if the last prove too severe, I have a liberty, and am resolv’d to neglect it.

And I wish the Reader also to take notice, that in writing of it I have made myself a recreation of a recreation; and that it might prove so to him, and not read dull and tediously, I have in several places mixt (not any scurrility, but) some innocent, harmless mirth; of which, if thou be a severe sowre-complexion’d man, then I here disallow thee to be a competent judge; for Divines say, There are offences given, and offences not given but taken.

And I am the willinger to justifie the pleasant part of it, because, though it is known I can be serious at seasonable times, yet the whole Discourse is, or rather was, a picture of my own disposition, especially in such dayes and times as I have laid aside business, and gone a fishing with honest Nat. and R. Roe; but they are gone, and with them most of my pleasant hours, even as a shadow that passeth away, and returns not.

Next let me tell the Reader, that in that which is the more useful part of this Discourse, that is to say, the observations of the nature and breeding, and seasons, and catching of fish, I am not so simple as not to know, that a captious Reader may find exceptions against something said of some of these; and therefore I must intreat him to consider, that experience teaches us to know, that several Countries alter the time, and I think almost the manner of fishes breeding, but doubtless of their being in season; as may appear by three Rivers in Monmouthshire, namely Severn, Wie, and Usk, where Cambden (Brit. f. 633) observes, that in the river Wie, Salmon are in season from Sept. to April, and we are certain, that in Thames and Trent, and in most other Rivers they be in season the six hotter moneths.

Now for the Art of catching fish, that is to say, how to make a man that was none, to be an Angler by a book; he that undertakes it shall undertake a harder task than Mr. Hales (a most valiant and excellent Fencer) who in a printed book called, A private School of Defence, undertook by it to teach that art or science, and was laugh’d at for his labour. Not but that many useful things might be learnt by that book, but he was laugh’d at, because that art was not to be taught by words, but practice: and so must Angling. And in this Discourse I do not undertake to say all that is known, or may be said of it, but I undertake to acquaint the Reader with many things that are not usually known to every Angler; and I shall leave gleanings and observations enough to be made out of the experience of all that love and practise this recreation, to which I shall encourage them. For Angling may be said to be so like the Mathematicks, that it can ne’r be fully learnt; at least not so fully, but that there wil stil be more new experiments left for the trial of other men that succeed us.

But I think all that love this game may here learn something that may be worth their money, if they be not poor and needy men; and in case they be, I then wish them to forbear to buy it; for I write not to get money, but for pleasure, and this Discourse boasts of no more; for I hate to promise much, and deceive the Reader.

And however it proves to him, yet I am sure I have found a high content in the search and conference of what is here ofler’d to his view and censure: I wish him as much in the perusal of it, and so I might here take my leave, but will stay a little and tell him, that whereas it is said by many, that in flye-fishing for a Trout, the Angler must observe his twelve several flies for the twelve moneths of the year; I say he that follows that rule, shall be as sure to catch fish, and be as wise as he that makes Hay by the fair dayes in an Almanack, and no surer; for those very flyes that use to appear about and on the water in one moneth of the year, may the following year come almost a moneth sooner or later, as the same year proves colder or hotter; and yet in the following Discourse I have set down the twelve flyes that are in reputation with many Anglers, and they may serve to give him some light concerning them. And he may note that there is in Wales, and other Countries, peculiar flyes, proper to the particular place or Country; and doubtless, unless a man makes a flye to counterfeit that very flye in that place, he is like to lose his labour, or much of it: But for the generality, three or four flyes neat and rightly made, and not too big, serve for a Trout in most rivers all the Summer. And for Winter flie-fishing it is as useful as an Almanack out of date. And of these (because as no man is born an artist, so no man is born an angler) I thought fit to give thee this notice.

When I have told the Reader, that in this third Impression there are many enlargements, gathered both by my own observation, and the communication of friends, I shall stay him no longer than to wish him a rainy evening to read this following Discourse; and that (if he be an honest Angler) the East wind may never blow when he goes a Fishing.

I. W.


To my dear Brother-in-law Mr. Iz. Walton, upon his Compleat Angler.

Erasmus in his learned Colloquies
Has mixt some toyes, that by varieties
He might entice all Readers: for in him
Each child may wade, or tallest giant swim.
And such is this Discourse: there’s none so low,
Or highly learn’d, to whom hence may not flow
Pleasure and information: both which are
Taught us with so much art, that I might swear
Safely the choicest Critick cannot tell,
Whether your matchless judgment most excell
In Angling or its praise: where commendation
First charms, then makes an art a recreation.


Twas so to me: who saw the cheerful Spring
Pictur’d in every meadow, heard birds sing
Sonnets in every grove, saw fishes play
In the cool crystal streams, like lambs in May:
And they may play, till Anglers read this book;
But after, ’tis a wise fish scrapes a hook.

Jo. Floud, Mr. of Arts

To the Reader of the Compleat Angler.

First mark the Title well; my Friend that gave it
Has made it good; this book deserves to have it.
For he that views it with judicious looks,
Shall find it full of art, baits, lines, and hooks.

The world the river is; both you and I,
And all mankind, are either fish or fry:
If we pretend to reason, first or last
His baits will tempt us, and his hooks hold fast.

Pleasure or profit, either prose or rhime,
If not at first will doubtless take’s in time.
Here sits in secret blest Theology,
Waited upon by grave Philosophy,
Both natural and moral; History
Deck’d and adorn’d with flowers of Poetry;
The matter and expression striving which
Shall most excell in worth, yet not seem rich:
There is no danger in his baits; that hook
Will prove the safest, that is surest took.

Nor are we caught alone, but (which is best)
We shall be wholsom, and be toothsom drest:
Drest to be fed, not to be fed upon;
And danger of a surfeit here is none.

The solid food of serious Contemplation
Is sauc’d here, with such harmless recreation,
That an ingenuous and religious mind
Cannot inquire for more than it may find
Ready at once prepar’d, either t’ excite
Or satisfie a curious appetite.
More praise is due; for ’tis both positive
And truth, which once was interrogative,
And utter’d by the Poet then in jest,
Et piscatorem piscis amare potest.

C. H., Mr. of Arts.

To my dear Friend, Mr. Iz. Walton, in praise of Angling, which we both love.

Down by this smooth streams wandering side
Adorn’d and perfum’d with the pride
Of Flora’s Wardrobe, where the shrill
Aerial Quire express their skill,
First in alternate melody,
And then in chorus all agree.
Whilst the charm’d fish, as ecstasi’d
With sounds, to his own throat deny’d,
Scorns his dull Element, and springs
I’ th’ air, as if his Fins were wings.


Tis here that pleasures sweet and high
Prostrate to our embraces lye.
Such as to Body, Soul, or Fame
Create no sickness, sin or shame.
Roses not fenc’d with pricks grow here,
No sting to th’ Honey-bag is near.
But (what’s perhaps their prejudice)
They difficulty want and price.
An obvious Rod, a twist of hair,
With hook hid in an insect, are
Engines of sport, would fit the wish
O’ th’ Epicure and fill his dish.
In this clear stream let fall a Grub,
And straight take up a Dace or Chub.
I’ th’ mud, your worm provokes a Snig,
Which being fast, if it prove big,
The Gotham folly will be found
Discreet, e’re ta’ne she must be drown’d.
The Tench (Physician of the Brook)
In yon dead hole expects your hook,
Which having first your pastime been,
Serves then for meat or medicine.
Ambush’d behind that root doth stay
A Pike, to catch and be a prey.
The treacherous Quill in this slow stream
Betrayes the hunger of a Bream.
And at that nimbler Ford (no doubt)
Your false flye cheats a speckled Trout.
When you these creatures wisely chuse
To practise on, which to your use
Owe their creation, and when
Fish from your arts do rescue men,
To plot, delude, and circumvent,
Ensnare and spoil, is innocent.
Here by these crystal streams you may
Preserve a Conscience clear as they,
And when by sullen thoughts you find
Your harassed, not busied, mind
In sable melancholly clad,
Distemper’d, serious, turning sad;
Hence fetch your cure, cast in your bait,
All anxious thoughts and cares will straight
Fly with such speed, they’l seem to be
Possest with the Hydrophobie.
The waters calmness in your breast,
And smoothness on your brow shall rest.
Away with sports of charge and noise,
Sweeter are cheap and silent toyes.
Such as Actaeons game pursue,
Their fate oft makes the Tale seem true.
The sick or sullen Hawk to day
Flyes not; to-morrow, quite away.
Patience and Purse to Cards and Dice
Too oft are made a sacrifice:
The Daughters dowre, th’ inheritance
O’ th’ son, depend on one mad chance.
The harms and mischiefs, which th’ abuse
Of wine doth every day produce,
Make good the doctrine of the Turks,
That in each grape a devil lurks.
And by yon fading sapless tree,
’Bout which the Ivye twin’d you see,
His fate’s foretold, who fondly places
His bliss in womans soft embraces.
All pleasures, but the Anglers, bring
I’ th’ tail repentance like a sting.
Then on these banks let me sit down,
Free from the toilsom Sword and Gown,
And pity those that do affect
To conquer Nations and protect.
My Reed affords such true content,
Delights so sweet and innocent,
As seldom fall unto the lot
Of Sceptres, though they’r justly got.

Tho. Weaver, Mr. of Arts.

To the Readers of my most ingenious Friends Book,
The Compleat Angler.

He that both knew and writ the lives of men,
Such as were once, but must not be agen:
Witness his matchless Donne and Wootten, by
Whose aid he could their speculations try:
He that convers’d with Angels, such as were
Ouldsworth and Featly, each a shining star
Shewing the way to Bethlem; each a Saint;
Compar’d to whom our Zelots now but paint:
He that our pious and learn’d Morley knew,
And from him suck’d wit and devotion too:
He that from these such excellencies fetch’d,
That He could tell how high and far they reach’d;
What learning this, what graces th’ other had;
And in what sev’ral dress each soul was clad.

Reader, this HE, this Fisherman comes forth,
And in these Fishers weeds would shroud his worth.
Now his mute Harp is on a Willow hung,
With which when finely toucht, and fitly strung,
He could friends passions for these times allay;
Or chain his fellow-Anglers from their prey.
But now the musick of his pen is still,
And he sits by a brook watching a quill:
Where with a fixt eye, and a ready hand,
He studies first to hook, and then to land
Some Trout, or Pearch, or Pike; and having done,
Sits on a bank, and tells how this was won,
And that escap’d his hook; which with a wile
Did eat the bit, and Fisherman beguile.
Thus whilst some vex they from their lands are thrown,
He joyes to think the waters are his own;

And like the Dutch, he gladly can agree
To live at peace now, and have fishing free.

April 3. 1650. Erw. Powel, Mr. of Arts

To my dear Brother, Mr. Iz. Walton, on his Compleat Angler.

This Book is so like you, and you like it,
For harmless Mirth, Expression, Art and Wit,
That I protest ingenuously ’tis true,
I love this Mirth, Art, Wit, the Book, and You.

Rob. Floud, C.

Charissimo amicissimoque Fratri Domino Isaaco Walton, Artis Piscatoriae peritissimo.

Unicus est Medicus reliquorum piscis, et istis
Fas quibus est Medicum tangere, certa salus.
Hic typus est Salvatoris mirandus Jesu,

Litera mysterium quaelibet hujus habet.
Hunc cupio, hune capias (bone frater Arundinis);
Solveret hic pro me debita, teque Deo.
Piscis is est, et piscator, (mihi credito) qualem
Vel piscatorem piscis amare velit.

Henry Bagley, Artium Magister.

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