Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

Book review - “The Song of the Solitary Bass Fisher” by James “Leakyboots” Batty

“This isn’t a book about how to catch bass. It’s a book about how I catch bass. There’s a difference.” I knew I was going to like this new bass fishing book from about page one, and what continues to fascinate me with how “The Song of the Solitary Bass Fisher” by James “Leakyboots” Batty has wormed its way into my head is that via the author’s wonderfully engaging, to the point, and opinionated writing it became very evident very quickly that I am exactly the kind of angler and/or fishing writer that he holds no truck for at all - and I really like this. Fishing fits us all in and fishing needs people like James Batty to help illuminate what we so love to do in his unique and wonderfully accessible way.

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This is categorically not a technical manual about bass fishing but I defy any angler not to pick up a whole heap of useful information and ways to go about your own fishing from this book. I have never met James Batty the author and via his writing I get the impression that we could not be more different, but because fishing is so utterly awesome in the way it allows for so many different kinds of people to lose themselves within it, I can’t help but admire how the author is so absorbed by what is a pretty small area of coastline - and hellfire does he sound like he knows his local patch inside out.

Anglers like this absolutely fascinate me, and in no small part because I just can’t be like this. For sure I love my local area, but it’s not enough for me and I accept that I will most likely never know it as well as James Batty knows his part of Cornwall. I need to go wandering for my fishing because it’s the way I’m made, so when somebody like this author is so obviously connected to where he lives and does his fishing and then chooses to write a wonderfully engaging, amusing and insightful book, well I doff my cap and say a big thanks for giving an angler like me so much pleasure from it. Why the hell not celebrate where you live if it offers you all the fishing you could ever want right on your doorstep?

When you read this book - and I implore you to do so - you always need to bear in mind my quote from the top of this review: “This isn’t a book about how to catch bass. It’s a book about how I catch bass. There’s a difference.” James Batty tell you how it is for him and his fishing, and I love how he seamlessly inserts all manner of anecdotes and opinions into his his writing - and I do love a good opinion! I found myself reading the book and imagining that I was with James on his local beach at about 4am and then I start laughing when he breaks away (in different fonts and/or italics) to either regale you with a story about a particular fishing session or proffer a thought or an opinion.

How about this one for example: “ In the USA I understand the Coast Guard charges fees to people who need to be rescued. It seems like a good idea to me, and something the RNLI should consider, with the tariff on a sliding scale based on the level of stupidity of the folk who call them out. Bad luck or sudden change in the weather: free. Putting to sea in an unreliable boat: five hundred quid. Being cut off by a rising tide: two grand. Jumping off a pier: your wetsuit, car, and house.” Stick that in your pipe and smoke it! Far too many people never say what they think, but let me assure you that the author says it exactly as he sees it all the way through this wonderful book, and I hugely respect him for it.

Bass fishing is bass fishing though, and without a doubt there’s a lot in this book that gets me thinking about my own bass fishing and how I might look at things differently. In some respects you could read this book and come away with the feeling that the author might bang on a bit about cheap fishing tackle being the best and chucking a whole squid no more than a few yards, but that to me would be missing the point. For me “The Song of the Solitary Bass Fisher” by James “Leakyboots” Batty is exactly the kind of book that fishing needs. Fishing needs its characters who say it like it is and who know their fishing inside out yet also have the skills to translate that obsession and knowledge across to us.

I do though have a few minor complaints about the book which in truth don’t remotely take away from how gloriously the book is written. I can’t stand the word “fisher”, but having written a few books myself I would hazard a guess that the author would have originally used words such as “angler” or “fisherman” but the publishers would have insisted upon the word “fisher” because of the way the world increasingly is these days.

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From a visual point of view I don’t think the book jumps off the shelf at all, but you must place my opinion here into context. So much of my working life revolves around trying to make fishing look as good as possible, and as such the front cover of this wonderful book just doesn’t inspire me one single bit with either the design or the photos that have been used. Sorry, this might just be me, but the visual side of fishing means so much to me and I don’t think this book has succeeded on that front at all. Does it matter? Most likely not at all these days, but with how good bass fishing can look? A bit of a shame if you ask me.

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As an aside, you won’t believe how hard I fought against the truly awful front cover (above) of my first ever book that I wrote and photographed for a publisher called Dorling Kindersley. I had no say over that cover, they were of course entirely free not to use one of my photographs, but the photo they used was plain crap and it always struck me as not quite real anyway (seriously Photoshopped?), and yes, damn right, it still bugs the hell out of me! Sorry, I have digressed…………

Within the book itself there are a number of black and white photographs of big, dead bass, but before those of us who are very interested in bass conservation throw our collective toys from our prams, we need to remember that a lot of people go fishing and want to take fish home to eat and what on earth is wrong with that? Personally I can’t see the point in killing really big bass if you want to take one home to eat, but perhaps the author has a huge family and also I would point out that a lot of the photographs in the book look fairly old. I am not having a pop at James Batty here, but it would be remiss of me not to tell you what I think. To be perfectly honest I think the book would be better off without any of the black and white photographs that have been used anyway, and this stems purely from the fact that they just aren’t any good.

My minor complaints aside, I implore you to buy and read this book. It seems to be available all over the place online (here for example) and I hope they sell the hell out of it. As I said earlier, fishing needs anglers (“fishers”?) and books like this………...