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The "Trent Otter"

J.W. Martin
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The "Trent Otter" - J. W. Martin, the Man and His Fishing

PETER ROLFE

In this new book, Peter Rolfe examines the life and work of one of the great Victorian/Edwardian angler-authors. There is a carefully researched biography and bibliography together with a generous selection of extracts from his writing in books and the Fishing Gazette, providing a more complete picture of this famous man than has previously been available. Here's what Peter had to say in his Preface to the book:

J.W. Martin, The “Trent Otter”, began all of his books with a preface in which he stated in a modest and disarming way that he was a practical man writing for working people. He explained that he had been very poor, and that he wrote straightforwardly because he had to leave school when he was just ten years old.

I have always enjoyed Martin’s books and my original idea was just to share some of the best of his work, in the hope of introducing him to a wider audience. However, I quickly found that that was not enough: I wanted to get to know more about the man. Although he revealed quite a lot about himself in the books I became convinced that there was more to find out. So in the first part of this book I’ve tried to put together an accurate account of Martin’s life, to trace his progress from a poor and deprived childhood, through a successful late middle age to a cruel death, using whatever contemporary evidence I could find.

I need to explain that what I have written is not primarily for collectors or for experts who know the great river Trent much better than I do, though I hope they will all find something to enjoy in it. It is mainly for anyone who has heard of the “Trent Otter” and wishes to get to know more about him.

I hope, too, that my book will please anyone interested in the history of coarse fishing. I have tried to make it as factual as I can without turning it into a text book.

As for the extracts, I know that I cannot please everyone. Martin readers all have bits of the books that they most enjoy and someone is bound to be disappointed that I haven’t included his or her favourite. I have tried not to quote too many of the pieces that have occurred in angling anthologies, though of course some are so good that they forced their way in.
Most of the books are represented, but I have tended to favour the early 20th century second editions over their plainer predecessors, for the simple reason that I enjoy the anecdotes and stories and they became more numerous as Martin developed his writing. I have also included several pieces from The Fishing Gazette. These are even less well-known. Martin wrote for other papers and magazines as well but though I have found an occasional reference to publications such as The Angler or to Fishing, Fish Culture & the Aquarium Magazine, most of that material seems to be beyond recall.

The Appendices give an idea of my sources and acknowledge the help I have had from many people. Also, there is a table describing the publishing history of Martin’s books in what I hope is an immediately understandable way and a brief look at some of the covers. His catalogues have almost all disappeared but there are many references to them and his advertisements give us something of their flavour, so I have briefly added a small section on those.

John William Martin - ‘Jack’ to his friends, the “Trent Otter” to almost everyone – was one of the first professional fishermen at a time when angling was beginning to be massively popular. He was – as he proudly called himself – a practical fisherman, a working-class man who forced his way up the social ladder by skill and hard work. He lived for fishing and we can all share his pleasure at being on the river bank through his writing. He deserves to be much better known and I hope that this book will help achieve that.
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