That Medallion, there

I like to think of anglers as a community of action and thought

| Aug 3, 2010

There’s that medallion, that logo, that trade-mark, to our left, alongside this article. My esteemed editor, Bob Wells, at Boulder Reporter, stuck it there. I worry that it might puzzle you; so let me explain.

Three years ago I began to feel that, in order to go on writing this stuff with any semblance of authority and then send it out all over the known world, as a sort of amateur, faux company producing texts of various sorts, I would need a “sign,” a logo by which to be identified. So, with a light heart, I set out to invent one.

The first element to suggest itself was that fly — I had tied it and my friend and designer Michael Signorella scanned it nicely. Not just any fly, but a Wickham’s Fancy, a famed dressing devised by the distinguished Dr. T. C. Wickham, an early member of London’s Flyfishers’ Club, who had established the first syndicate of anglers on the famous River Test at Houghton in 1875.

A Wickham’s Fancy was the first fly that, as a school boy at Winchester College, the pre-eminent G.E.M. Skues bought for himself. I had even gone so far as to plant an imaginary Dr. Wickham, frail and failing, in the last year of his life, in the audience of my THE GREAT DEBATE between Skues and Halford. I wanted proper recognition for the good doctor, to welcome him as a presiding spirit over my entire enterprise. That contest, as I imagined it, over the wet vs. the dry fly took place, in my invention, at The Flyfishers’ Club, 98 years ago. We produced it here in the recital hall of Boulder’s public library in 2006.

This sprightly fly, with ginger hackle palmered over a gold tinsel body, was originally thought of as a dry fly, but has come down to us on this side of the Atlantic as a standard wet fly. In any case, it is an emblem of a great period in British and American fly fishing — a fly of the old school, once found in every fly book, now nearly forgotten.

Next, I have always felt that angling is all of a piece, whether it is with a dry fly or a worm in Boulder Creek, an Eskimo hole in Arctic ice, an open boat on the North Sea, Atlantic salmon in Russia, or Indians spearing fish in the Amazon. Nor would I want to forget the women and children who have anxiously waited, since time began, for the return of their fisher-men from dangerous seas. And I include the fishwives endlessly processing the catch at dock-side. I include them all. All in it together.

Fishing is fishing. It is a whole.

And it is certainly ancient.

I like to think of anglers as a community of action and thought, a company in the spirit of medieval guilds, where men of like profession bound themselves together in a brotherhood in order to advance in technology, commerce, and fellowship. The trades they professed in common often identified them with the workmen of the Scriptures; and, in this case of fishermen, with Saint Peter himself.

And so I had a name, a mystique, and a title:

The Whole and Ancient Company of Anglers.

I believed in it and was in business. Then, Signorella designed it into this magic circle of a sign with the hook at the center, sharply barbed, not de-barbed to impotence in the popular modern manner. In any system of symbols, the hook is surely a potent, simple, and ancient member. It is a beautiful object in its own right.

Here it is as the epigraph to my second book, Late in an Angler’s Life:

Every Where in Every Time
There Work
The Whole and Ancient Company of Anglers,
The Order of the Desperate,
Who Let Down Nets and Lines to Fish,
From the Bottom to the Top
From the Beginning to the End
Let Me Be Counted in That Number!

With a logo and a motto, I felt justified to broadcast my gazette to the public. It has stubbornly resisted dealing exclusively with fishing, and has insisted on slipping off into all the heart-breaking stuff of which my life– and I assume that of my readers — is made.

So, there you have it: there’s that medallion.


Gordon Wickstrom is a Boulder native, navy man in the Philippines, CU grad and Stanford Ph.D., professor of drama, director and sometime actor. He retired home to Boulder in 1991, fishes with his wife Betty, and writes books, essays and columns on the angling life and on theatre. He is the oldest living — in captivity — writer about fishing in English, and a member, for the sake of his obituary, of the Flyfishers’ Club of London.