PART ONE (1653)
by Izaak Walton
In 1653, Izaak Walton - a diehard Anglican - published his first edition of The Compleat Angler. He would publish four more editions in his lifetime. In the next 350 years this simple coarse fishing manual - written as a countryside ramble cum travelogue - became one of the most reprinted and much beloved books in the English language. 

The Compleat Angler a lovely bucolic idyll, the most famous book in the literature of sport.”

Carl Otto v. Kienbusch (1956)


The Compleat Angler remains a publishing phenomenon - more than 500 editions, and never out of print since 1759.”

David Profumo
'Compliments for Fishing'
The Spectator (1997)


The Compleat Angler after Robinson Crusoe perhaps the most popular of English classics.”

Richard Le Gallienne
'Introduction' to The Complete Angler (1896)


Millions of readers have rejoiced at the bucolic beauty and idyllic imagery of Walton’s perambulating parable of a wise old angler teaching a younger man how to fish, and how to enjoy rural life to its fullest.

“What Walton does for us transcends all mechanical devices and all scientific knowledge of nature and habits of fish. He does not merely furnish a manual of instructions: he teaches a way of life.”

Bliss Perry
'Introduction' to The Compleat Angler (1928)


In the most famous fishing book of all, Walton maintained that ‘angling may be so like mathematics that it can never be fully learnt,’ and then went on to spend the rest of the book telling his readers how they could indeed learn to fish."

Jeremy Paxman
Fish, Fishing and the Meaning of Life (1994)


Even if you don’t know your bass bug from your blue flash damsel fly — and have never backcast in your life — you’ve probably still heard of The Compleat Angler, the ultimate manual on all things fishing, written by Izaak Walton in the 1650s.
Its technical advice is interspersed with verse and witty observations, as well as musings on nature, advice on how to prepare a small frog as bait, and the best way to stuff a pike.

Emma Wells in The Times (2014)


PART TWO (1676)
by Charles Cotton
In 1676, 83 year old Walton published his Fifth edition along with a second part on fly-fishing written by close family friend and long-time fishing companion, Charles Cotton. 

“It was when the Fifth edition added Cotton’s part - treating fishing in mountain streams with artificial flies - that the Angler became truly Compleat.” 

Rodolphe L. Coigney
Isaac Walton (1989)


By 1676 and the publication of Walton’s Fifth edition, coupled with Cotton’s First edition as Part 2 of The Complete Angler, going fishing became more of an event once again, and the sentiment Piscator non solum piscatur (there is more to fishing than catching fish) became not only acceptable, but the prime reason for going fishing. In this respect Walton’s influence was not only singular but persists to this day and has permeated much of the vast literature on angling ever since that time."

Bryn Hammond
Halcyon Days (1992)


“Walton wrote his Compleat Angler, still revered as the ‘bible’ of fishing, although Cotton did the segment on fly-fishing, the first definitive work on the subject and possibly the root cause of most of our modern-day troubles.”

Alan Pratt
Pardon My Backcast (1996)


In his Part Two, Cotton carried on the teacher / student story-line from Walton's original - along with retaining the dialogue format. 

In this last edition the thirteen chapters of the original had grown to twenty-one, and a second part was added by his friend and brother angler Charles Cotton, who took up Venator where Walton had left him and completed his instruction in fly fishing and the making of flies.

Where Walton had set his tale on the River Lea in North London; Cotton set his story, in the Peak District, on his stretch of the River Dove - where he was born. 

“Truly enough Cotton’s breezy, practical treatise differs as much from Walton’s quaint and delightful pastoral, as does the March wind which sings in Viator’s window at Beresford from the showers which rain May butter on the honeysuckle hedges and flower decked meadows of Walton’s Lea valley.” 

Gerald G. P Heywood
Charles Cotton & His River (1928)


Walton's Fifth and Cotton's First were the final editions published by either author in their lifetime. But, in the next 350 years the two books were printed side-by-side over 600 times.

What makes The Compleat Angler such an unfailing delight is its mingling of simplicity and wisdom, its genial human and artistic pride. Walton was careful to protest that, in writing his "discourse of fish and fishing," Walton made "a recreation of a recreation"; and so that his book might not "read dull and tediously," he had "in several places mixt some innocent Mirth.

The Morning Post (1928)


“An immediate success when if was first published in 1653, Walton's classic celebration of the joys of fishing continues to captivate anglers and nature lovers with its timeless advice and instruction.  Originally cast in the form of a dialogue between an experienced angler named Piscator and his pupil Viator, the book details methods for catching, eating, and savoring all varieties of fish, from the common chub to the lordly salmon. More than an engaging guide to the subtle intricacies of the sport, Walton's reflective treatise is a graceful portrait of rural England that extols the pleasures of country life."

Penguin Random House [Canada] (1998)


Millions have read Walton with joy who have never caught a fish since childhood, if at all. Indeed, he is not a terribly good guide to the art of fishing ... We do not read The Compleat Angler for the fish, or for instruction in how to catch them. There are hundreds of more efficient books for such purposes, whether manuals or ichthyologies. We read Izaak Walton for a special quality of soul."

Kenneth Rexroth
Classics Revisited (1968)


“While fly-fishing was invented in ancient times, the English take credit for evolving the art of fly-fishing to what it has become today. In 1653, Izaak Walton wrote The Compleat Angler, a collection of fly- fishing stories enhanced by Walton’s personal philosophy on life. The well-known book became somewhat of a bible for England’s tightly-knit fly-fishing community.”

Michael D. Shook
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fly-Fishing (1999)


The Compleat Angler, written under Cromwell’s reign, Walton saw his inspired fishing manual-cum-metaphysical-treatise as a beacon of sanity amid the madness of war and Puritanism; it inspired everyone from Alexander Pope to Nicolas Poussin."

Gabriel Tate in The Times (2017)

Fly fishing silhouette




“Angling is the only sport that boasts the honour of having given a classic to literature. Izaak Walton's success with The Compleat Angler has given him a secure place in the Pantheon of letters.”

Henry Van Dyke
Fisherman's Luck (1899)


Old Izaak himself is as easy to read as today's paper, but his predecessors are like the meat in the less accessible parts of the lobster. It's there if you want to dig for it, but unless you're practically starved; it's hardly worth the trouble.

Arnold Gingrich
The Fishing In Print (1975)


“The work for which Izaak Walton is best known, The Compleat Angler, or the Contemplative Man's Recreation first appeared in 1653, but he continued to revise and add to it until 1676. 
The book has been criticized on technicalities by knowledgeable fishermen, but while Walton fished as a leisure pursuit, he cheerfully acknowledged that ... fishing was a recreation, as was writing: he did both for his own pleasure.
The book - discursive, rambling and whimsical - has over the years endeared itself to many who have never fished at all.”


In the 303 years since it was published, Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler has occupied a sure place as one of the most popular of English classics — and earned its author a reputation as one of the most genial of men.

Time magazine (31 Dec, 1956)


Walton was 60 when The Compleat Angler was first published in 1653. It is, to a large extent, intended to be a practical handbook of the angler's art, but it is much more than that. We find practical advice on baits, recipes for cooking fish and reflections on life pleasantly intermingled ... Izaak Walton is generally accepted as being the first person specifically to devote himself to portraying and interpreting the atmosphere, sights and sounds of the countryside and its inhabitants. This book is one of the most popular of the English classics.

Neville Malkin (1974)



“Charles Cotton, above all, a prince of fly-fishers to whom the whole angling fraternity is for ever indebted.”

Gerald G. P Heywood
Charles Cotton & His River (1928)


“So, who was this Charles Cotton? He was a lot of things. But most of all he was a fly-fisherman … and a really great one ... A man prized for his wit and conversation ... and remarkable as it may seem, he wrote his contribution to The Compleat Angler in just ten days.” 

Geoffrey Palmer
The Compleat Angler TV Series (2006)


“Cotton's fly-fishing section is regarded as very significant for the progress and diversification of fly-fishing until the beginning of the nineteenth century. He can therefore be called the founding father of modern fly-fishing.”

Darrel Martin
The Fly-Fisher's Craft (2006)


“We may suppose Cotton, tempted by the vicinity of a river plentifully stored with fish, to have chosen angling for his recreation; and, looking upon it as an art, to have applied himself naturally to fly-fishing.” 

J.E. Harting
'Introduction' to The Complete Angler (1893)


“At his ancestral home on the banks of the river Dove, surrounded by mountains, valleys, and moorlands, the poet would live for most of his life. Cotton's physical environment fostered a love of nature just as his social and cultural background fostered an appreciation for literature, especially poetry.” 

Jean Gagen
Dictionary of Literary Biography

Fly fishing silhouette


1593 - Izaak Walton born in Stafford
1630 - Charles Cotton born in Beresford
1653 - Walton publishes 1st Edition
1655 - Walton publishes 2nd Edition
1661 - Walton publishes 3rd Edition

Early artist impression of Beresford Hall, Staffordshire -
birthplace of Charles Cotton in 1630.

1668 - Walton publishes 4th Edition
1676 - Walton publishes 5th Edition
1676 - Cotton publishes Part Two
1683 - Walton dies in Winchester
1687 - Cotton dies in London

Parts of the commemorative Walton Window in Winchester Cathedral, where Izaak was buried in 1683. 

Fly fishing silhouette

A Fine (& Far Off) Bromance

Izaak Walton Charles Cotton portrait the compleat angler 1676

“It is the most famous friendship in the history of angling, and one of the most touching of all times.”

Roderick Haig-Brown
Izaak Walton: Friends and Rivers (1984)


“Walton without Cotton 
is like good manners without meat!”

Eric Taverner & John Moore
The Angler’s Weekend Book (1949)


“What spot more honoured than this peaceful place?Twice honoured, truly, Here Charles Cotton sang,
Hilarious – his whole-hearted sons, that rang
With a true note, through town and country ways,
While the Dove trout in chorus splashed their praise.
Here Walton sat with Cotton, in the shade,
And watched him dubb his flies, and doubtless made
The time seem short, with gossips of old days.
Their cyphers are enlaced above the door,
And in each Angler’s heart, firm-set and sure.
While rivers run, shall those twin names endure –
WALTON and COTTON linked for evermore –
And ‘Piscatoribus sacrum’ – where more fit
A motto, for their wisdom, worth and wit!”

Thomas Westwood
Twelve Sonnets and an Epilogue
In Memoriam I. Walton (1884)


Who was Charles Cotton? Serious fishermen consider him 'father of fly fishing' as all fishermen, and non-fishermen, consider Isaak Walton "father of fishing". They know, too, that Cotton and Walton were not only contemporaries but close friends. They fished together, discoursed together, loved one another as father and son and spoke of one another as father and son. 

Van Egan
A Fishing House on a River (1976)


Original text, video and colour photos
© Copyright Colin M Jarman (2022)