By Sam Larson
I have a sizable collection of fly fishing books. Sometimes I’ll review one. I’ll keep it under 500 words. Any longer and you should just go read the book. Expect slander, personal opinion, and unbridled honesty. I like both books and fly fishing too much to be nice.
If you are an angler and a book person you need a copy of Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary on your bookshelf. Why? Because it’s gorgeous, and interesting, and unique, and it’s endlessly fun to flip through. Published by Mrs. Foster’s niece as a tribute to the eponymous female angler, it’s simply a fishing diary tallying type and quantity of fish caught over time. But in between the numbers, along the margins and sprinkled liberally throughout the pages, are watercolors, poems, sketches, and a million little details. Each page is so much more than just a list of numbers. The watercolors of traditional salmon flies are worth the price of purchase, the pen and ink sketches of sea trout and brown trout the litter the book are a delight, and the numbers themselves, listing size, the fly used, and all the ephemera of angling, are a delightful look back at what angling in England was like at the beginning of the 20th century. Covering 35 years of fishing Mrs. Foster’s fishing diary is just a fun book to have around.
I like this book a lot, almost despite it’s lack of writing, commentary, or attempts to understand. It’s a heck of a thing to hold the sum total of someone’s outdoors life in your hands, to flip through the pages and see what they got up to year after year, which flies they preferred, and which catches they thought the most of. It’s intimate, in a way. I’m also a history buff, specifically in possession of a degree in English history, and Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary provides great historical insight into a pretty specific time and place. This kind of primary source micro-history, as opposed to the macro-history of world wars, economics, and political movements, gets a lot closer to the lives of real people and that’s pretty great.
The edition that I purchased came in a (slightly battered) presentation box and that seems fairly common. Inside that box is a hardbound copy of the fishing diary. If you’re looking for an analysis of the diary, or commentary, this isn’t the edition for you. It’s simply a very high-quality, full-color replication of the original diary. And that’s all it needs to be, honestly. If you’re into beautiful books about fly fishing this is one you should own.