Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler (4/1/14)

  • Posted by Dawn Merritt
    Walton’s Philosophy on Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Was Embraced by Our Founders and Is Embodied in Organization Today

    By Scott Kovarovics, IWLA Executive Director

    When the men who founded the Izaak Walton League met for the first time, they could have called their new organization almost anything. They were Midwestern sportsmen, journalists, salesmen, and even one preacher. For many of them, the lands and waters they knew and loved best were along the upper Mississippi River in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa. Yet they did not choose a regional name – the Upper Mississippi Conservation League, for example – nor did they pick a name focused on one natural resource or one species of fish or wildlife. 

    Instead, they named their new organization for Izaak Walton, who wrote a book in 1653 entitled The Compleat Angler. In the Angler, Walton uses fictional characters to write about fishing as equal parts philosophy, recreation, social bonding, and conservation. By the time the Izaak Walton League of America was founded in 1922, nearly 275 years had passed since Walton penned the first edition of this book. Yet Walton and The Compleat Angler had profound meaning for League founders who loved to fish; who understood that clean water is essential to people, fish, and wildlife; and who saw Walton as an inspirational voice for conservation and the art of angling. These men had a blank slate on which to pen the new organization’s name – and they choose the Izaak Walton League of America.

    Fast forward to 2014. The League’s namesake and The Compleat Angler are front and center once again. Today, Oxford University Press released a new, scholarly edition of The Compleat Angler. More than 350 years after the first edition was published, the Angler continues to inspire us and countless readers around the world. 

    For the League, Walton is so much more than an historical figure. As one reads The Compleat Angler, we learn about the man, his love for angling and the outdoors, his vision for conservation – and we see how his philosophy is embodied in our organization today. As I read the introduction to the new edition and thought more about the larger significance of the Angler and Walton’s messages, several conclusions came to mind:
    Walton was a man ahead of his time: He understood the connections between lands, waters, and wildlife. He understood that a healthy environment was essential to outdoor recreation he loved. The League embodies this comprehensive approach to conserving and utilizing natural resources.
    Walton was a teacher and a mentor: The book is all about the mentor patiently teaching the novice not only how to fish but how a healthy environment supports the sport the teacher loves. Being a mentor is a role so many Ikes play today – teaching kids to fish for the very first time while also educating them the importance of clean water and healthy habitat, mentoring new hunters, and helping fellow citizens tackle conservation and environmental challenges where they live.

    Walton was a practical angler: He was philosophical about fishing, but he wanted to catch fish too! The Compleat Angler is a practical guide for using the resources around us to support the recreational pursuit. This approach is firmly grounded in a concept that we embrace today but was not well understood or widely practiced in Walton’s time: Sustainability. 
    This new edition of The Compleat Angler is a great opportunity to educate a new generation about Izaak Walton and how a healthy environment supports the incredible array of outdoor recreation we enjoy in America today. If you haven’t read the book in a while (or perhaps ever), I invite you to pick it up and follow Walton on a journey that began in England centuries ago and Ikes proudly continue today.

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