If you’re a student of bass fishing there’s no doubt you’ve at least heard of James Alexander Henshall – the father of bass fishing. In 1881, Henshall wrote the first book on the black bass, titled “Book of the Black Bass,” and coined what is without a doubt the most revered quote for the species, “I consider him, inch for inch and pound for pound the gamest fish that swims.”
As stated above, his book was first printed in 1881 by Robert Clarke and Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. Between 1881 and 1900, 13 variants of the first edition were also printed by Robert Clarke and Company.
In 1904, Book of the Black Bass was revised and combined with his other book, More About the Black Bass, and printed again by Robert Clarke and Company. Over the course of the next 35 years, the book would be reprinted a number of times – the last printing conducted in 1939.
Then in 1970, a fledgling bass organization called the Bass Anglers Sportman Society, run by Ray Scott, reprinted the original book and offered it to their members.
Much has been written about Henshall and his contribution to the popularity of the black bass. It’s safe to say that he put micropterus on the map at a time when trout were considered the only game fish of the freshwater and his name is still recognized for that fact.
This brings me to today’s feature, a piece I found much by accident, from an 1883 Century Magazine. It’s a piece Henshall penned only two years after his publication of Book of the Black Bass. The article, aptly titled Black Bass Fishing, is a look at bass fishing in 1883.
The article is written as a story of three men; Professor Silvanus, his disciple Ignatius and what can only be seen as their servant, Luke, about to depart on a trip for a day’s fishing.
From a purely ethics-based standpoint, the article is a bit racist but you also have to take into consideration the time it was written. Conversely, with respect to bass, the story is a full lesson on black bass and wholly discusses the species of black bass, seasonal habits, their distribution and tackle best fitted of the time.
The likely end of the story would be with the professor and his disciple catching some bass, and this does come to pass, but it’s hardly the end. Instead, Ignatius asks the professor about the ways of the Florida angler. In that reply, you’ll see an answer that refers to “skittering and bobbing.” The forerunners of flipping – pre-1883.
The whole article is presented below.
I’d like to thank Clyde Drury for bringing me up to speed on the history of Dr. James A. Henshall and his publications. For those of you with a desire to read or collect old books and magazines related to bass fishing, you may be interested in Clyde’s book, titled Books of the Black Bass. This book is a complete bibliography of anything ever written about bass and bass fishing. Old editions are available on the net and he’s coming out with a new revised edition soon.