It was drizzling on the afternoon I went to visit the 88-year-old Pariente, who was quick to point out that he took up fly-fishing in the Forties, when Spain was recovering from its civil war and waders were just beginning to make their way into the country from across the Pyrenees.

That one of the earliest records of fly-fishing in the world survives today, is almost entirely due to his efforts and vision. Penned by Juan de Bergara in 1624, the Astorga Manuscript stands as the first rigorous classification of artificial flies for trout fishing.

The Astorga Manuscript was given as a gift by the County Council of Leon to Spanish dictator Francisco Franco on 11 June 1964. (The general was a salmon enthusiast, and fishing grounds were generously stocked prior to his outings to make sure this enthusiasm never waned.) Before this happened, however, Pariente, who had been President of the Leon Fishing Federation since 1956, managed to have photographs taken of the Manuscript.

While some claim the original handwritten manuscript was burned along with many other volumes contained in Franco's library, Pariente believes it was sold by the general's son-in-law, the Marquis of Villaverde, in a London auction. In any event, Pariente's photographs were the only thing that kept the Astorga Manuscript from total oblivion.

Pariente keeps Photostat copies of these photos under lock and key, and it is obvious that they are priceless to him. Juan de Bergara's Old Spanish is more complex than the hackles he describes, which are quite sophisticated even by modern standards. At its best, his compact script resembles that of Antonin Artaud, and only in patches does it become as legible as a hurried physician's. It didn't take long for me to conclude that, with its numerous side notations, cross-outs and faded spots, the Astorga Manuscript would be incomprehensible to anyone but a Spanish philologist armed with a high-powered magnifying glass and the patience of an angler. I was therefore relieved when Pariente handed me his typed transcription.

The relatively underground existence of the Astorga Manuscript, combined with a title that in no way intimates its contents, may explain why The American Museum of Fly Fishing does not include it in its list of historical works on fly-fishing. Placed in its proper context, it predates Isask Walton's The Compleat Angler of 1653 and comes ten years after Gervase Markham's Second Book of the English Husbandman.

Pariente is a "gentleman angler" of the old school. In addition to his passion for botany, fishing and hunting, he is a great admirer of the arts. Numerous paintings adorn the walls of his high-ceilinged apartment, and he is particularly fond of one by Jose Vela Zanetti, the Dominican artist who painted the mural in the Secretariat building of the United Nations in New York. The painting depicts a proud rooster, of the sort whose feathers are still used by Spanish fly-tying artisans.

Pariente published his first article, "Nomenclature of Leonese Hackles and Artificial Flies for Trout Fishing," in 1966. His "Trout Fishing in the Rivers of Leon" (1979) is much more anecdotal and has been out of print for many years. When I asked him about his intentions of reissuing it, he assured me he had none. Self-effacingly he added, "Fishermen aren't the type who read much." His "50 Years of History on the Riverbank" appeared in 1985. Finding a copy is not an easy task, as distribution is limited to what Pariente's daughter hand-delivers to a few local bookshops. To say that these memoirs are an oddity among fly-fishing literature is an understatement. In them one finds references to Cervantes, Delibes, Hemingway and Ortega y Gasset, snippets of verse, political commentary, and the affirmation that "God certainly could have created a more beautiful animal than the trout, but didn't."

Before taking my leave, I asked Pariente to describe the essence of the angler. "Something of a philosopher who never loses hope," he said. The terseness of his response threw me, so much so that I didn't press the point. Had I asked him if he meant carrying around a vest-sized edition of 'Being and Nothingness' and having the wherewithal to stick it out when the fish aren't biting, he probably would have smiled, such was his patience with all things, man and beast and manuscript alike.