Some years ago a book editor used to play an amusing and often acid verbal game of equating publishing houses with colleges. It went something like this: Harper's was Harvard, Doubleday Ohio State, Random House UCLA, Simon & Schuster NYU, and Crown, well, night school at Temple. That last rating surely would be different today, especially for anyone with outdoor enthusiasms. Within the past year Crown has turned out a remarkable number of fishing and hunting books known as "Sportsmen's Classics," and as a result the publishing house has taken on a new luster, at least for the likes of me.
The man responsible is Nick Lyons, a 39-year-old angler and father of four whose professional pace—besides editing at Crown, Lyons is an assistant professor of English at Hunter College in Manhattan—must leave little time for sleep. He joined Crown as a proofreader seven years ago, and has since become an author, with an appealing, humorous memoir, The Seasonable Angler, published by Funk and Wagnalls.
As a keen student of angling and its literature since boyhood (his grandfather owned a hotel in the Catskills), Lyons knew that certain books published a generation ago were bringing high prices from out-of-print specialists, even though the books had been "remaindered"—that is, sold at huge discounts in bookstores. Last year when Lyons was promoted to executive editor at Crown he began its Sportsmen's Classics series. Among his projects so far, Lyons has had Crown bring out new versions of Vincent Marinaro's A Modern Dry-Fly Code—which had been selling at $50 for an out-of-print, limited, leather-bound edition—for $10 and Preston Jennings' A Book of Trout Flies for $7.50. Both books are now in their third printings. Lyons pulled off another coup when he had Crown secure the rights to reprint and revise Art Flick's New Streamside Guide to Naturals and Their Imitations, originally published by Putnam. The Crown version has sold more than 20,000 copies at $4.95 each. Still another revised reprint that has done well for Lyons and Crown is James E. Leisenring and Vernon S. Hidy's The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and Fishing the Flymph ($4.50).
One of the new books in the Sportsmen's Classics series is a first-rate anthology, Fisherman's Bounty ($6.95), which Lyons himself compiled and edited. He also commissioned several pieces for it, including the arresting "Blue Dun" by Frank Mele, flytier and symphony orchestra violinist. Other originals in the series are Frank Woolner's Grouse and Grouse Hunting ($7.50) and the startling Selective Trout ($6.95) by Douglas Swisher, a salesman, and Carl Richards, a dentist, who have developed no-hackle flies. Within two weeks the whole first printing of 7,500 copies was sold out. Since then another 7,500 have been sold.
The latest book in the series, published this September, is perhaps Crown's jewel: Sparse Grey Hackle's Fishless Days, Angling Nights ($7.50), an expanded version of the author's Fishless Days, first printed in a limited edition by the Anglers' Club of New York in 1954 and worth as much as SI 50 in the out-of-print market.
Sparse Grey Hackle is the pen name of Alfred W. Miller, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal, who adopted the nom de p�che in 1931 when he wrote about pollution of the Beaverkill River, the fabled Catskill trout stream. Now approaching 80, Sparse appears on the dust jacket in full color, rod in hand, pipe in mouth, deerstalker hat on head, bespectacled, like a benign God the Father savoring the joys of an afternoon on the water. And his philosophy, as he writes in the prologue, is simple and refreshing: "Soon after I embraced the sport of angling I became convinced that I should never be able to enjoy it if I had to rely on the cooperation of the fish...although fish do make a difference—the difference—in angling, catching them does not; so that he who is content to not-catch fish in the most skillful and refined manner, utilizing the best equipment and technique, will have his time and attention free for the accumulation of a thousand experiences, the memory of which will remain for his enjoyment long after any recollection offish would have faded."
Accordingly, he exults in the pleasures of a drink of water from a mountain spring and dwells on the minor mysteries of why once successful flies such as the Quill Gordon suddenly become unenticing. He recounts how when waders disappeared from tackle stores in World War II a resourceful friend obtained a splendid pair in "neat, clerical black" from a religious supply house catering to Baptist preachers. But Sparse is more than a witty chronicler of the vagaries of angling; he is also, and most importantly, a solid link in the history of fishing in this country, and Fishless Days, Angling Nights contains informative insights into the lives and times of Theodore Gordon, Edward R. Hewitt and George La-Branche, all giants of the sport with whom Sparse Grey Hackle now rightfully shares center stage.