Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler Offers Conservation Vision for the Future


Izaak Walton League Embodies That Vision Across America Today

Gaithersburg, MD – As the Izaak Walton League of America closes in on a century of service conserving America’s natural resources and ensuring public access to those resources, Oxford University Press today issued a new edition of Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler. This is the first scholarly edition in more than 25 years of the second most reprinted book in the English language (second only to the King James Bible).

When the men who founded the Izaak Walton League met for the first time in 1922, 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 loved were along the upper Mississippi River in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa. Yet they did not choose a regional name or pick a name focused on a specific fish or water resource.

Instead, they named their organization for the author of The Compleat Angler – one of the most original and influential books about the environment. In this book, Walton uses fictional characters to write about fishing as equal parts philosophy, recreation, social bonding, and conservation. Walton and The Compleat Angler had profound meaning for League founders who loved to fish, who understood that clean water is essential to human health as well as healthy fish and wildlife, and who saw Walton as an inspirational voice for conservation and the art of angling.

“You don’t have to travel to England to appreciate Walton’s vision for a ‘brotherhood of the angle’,” says Bob Chapman, Izaak Walton League national president. “In defending angling as the best of outdoor sports, Walton’s Piscator tells his fellow sportsmen, ‘O Sir, doubt not but that Angling is an Art,’ a sentiment shared by anyone who has enjoyed a quiet day with a fishing rod. Just as their namesake did, Izaak Walton League members encourage everyone in the community to enjoy the great outdoors and work to protect natural resources.”

Walton was ahead of his time in many ways. He understood the connections between lands, waters, and wildlife and that a healthy environment was essential to the outdoor recreation he loved. To ensure sustainable fishing, he promoted wildlife management techniques – size limits, fishing seasons, and the need for basic regulations – that are now fundamental to modern resource management.

The founders of the Izaak Walton League brought Walton’s comprehensive approach to managing natural resources to modern America, and our members continue to promote science-based resource management. League members believe (as their namesake did) in the sustainable use of our natural resources today to ensure those resources are available for use by future generations.

Walton was also a practical angler. He wanted to catch fish, and he promoted using the resources around us to help fill our creels. Walton encouraged anglers to be knowledgeable about the rivers they fish, to use as bait the critters fish would normally eat, and to get to know the habits of the fish they sought – an approach familiar to anyone involved with fishing today. Walton’s role as a teacher and mentor is one that many Izaak Walton League members play, teaching youth to fish while also educating them about the importance of clean water and healthy habitat for fish and wildlife – and for all of us.

“Walton’s vision of fishing as a holistic experience that enhances our bonds with each other and with the natural world is profoundly compelling and attractive,” says Professor Marjorie Swann, who edited this new edition. Swann added an introduction to the work and extensive notes that help put the book in today’s context. “The Compleat Angler models environmental engagement as an enjoyable activity. For Walton, being an angler is serious fun.”

You can find more information about Izaak Walton and his legacy on the Izaak Walton League’s Web site.


Founded in 1922, the Izaak Walton League of America and our more than 44,000 members protect America's outdoors through education, community-based conservation, and promoting outdoor recreation.