Scrope Days and Nights

William Scrope - Days and Nights of Salmon Fishing

John Murray 1843

One of the great classics of the early nineteenth century, this is a book written with rare wit by a great raconteur. Days and Nights gives an outstandingly good account of what it was like to fish at the dawn of the salmon fly fishing craze which struck in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, but it is worth reading just for the fun of it.

Scrope would fish for just about anything, anywhere, with any method, but he was a great salmon fisher. Here is his advice on wading, written in the days before waders were invented:

Avoid standing upon rocking stones, for obvious reasons; and never go into the water deeper than the fifth button of your waistcoat: even this does not agree with tender constitutions in frosty weather. As you are likely not to take a just estimate of the cold in the excitement of the sport, should you be of a delicate temperament, and be wading in the month of February, when it may chance to freeze very hard, pull down your stockings, and examine your legs. Should they be black, or even purple, it might, perhaps, be as well to get on dry land; but if they are only rubicund, you may continue to enjoy the water, if it so pleases you.

Days and Nights ranges about as widely as a book which is supposed to be about fishing can possibly go and it is filled with characters and stories. The chapter on 'burning the water' is one of the great descriptions of the long-banned practice of spearing salmon in shallow water at dead of night, which isn't quite the kind of thing you expect to read in a book written by the neighbour and friend of Sir Walter Scott, but then there was nothing conventional about Scrope and his writing is the better for it. His style is remarkably modern and Days and Nights is extremely funny now, a hundred a fifty years after it was written.

The second edition is much cheaper than the first and the work has been reprinted fairly recently.