He settled in London where he began trading as an ironmonger in a small shop in the upper story of Thomas Gresham's Royal Burse or Exchange in Cornhill. In 1614 he had a shop in Fleet Street, two doors west of Chancery Lane in the parish of St Dunstan's. At about this time he became friendly with Dr. John Donne, then vicar of the parish church.
Walton's first wife was Rachel Floud (married December 1626), a great-great-niece of Archbishop Cranmer. She died in 1640. He married again soon after, his second wife being Anne Ken — the pastoral Kenna of The Angler's Wish—stepsister of Thomas Ken, afterwards bishop of Bath and Wells.
After the Royalist defeat at Marston Moor, Walton retired from his trade. He went to live near his birthplace in Stafford, where he had bought some land; but by 1650 he was again living in Clerkenwell. The first edition of his famous book The Compleat Angler was published in 1653. His second wife died in 1662, and was buried in Worcester Cathedral, where there is a monument to her memory. One of his daughters married Dr. Hawkins, a prebendary of Winchester.
The Compleat Angler was published in 1653, but Walton continued to add to it for a quarter of a century. It was dedicated to John Offley, his most honoured friend. There was a second edition in 1655, a third in 1661 (identical with that of 1664), a fourth in 1668 and a fifth in 1676. In this last edition the thirteen chapters of the original have grown to twenty-one, and a second part was added by his loving friend and brother angler Charles Cotton, who took up Venator where Walton had left him and completed his instruction in fly fishing and the making of flies.
Walton did not profess to be an expert with the fly; the fly fishing in his first edition was contributed by Thomas Barker, a retired cook and humorist, who produced a treatise of his own in 1659; but in the use of the live worm, the grasshopper and the frog "Piscator" himself could speak as a master. The famous passage about the frog—often misquoted about the worm
appears in the original edition. The additions made as the work grew were not merely to the technical part; happy quotations, new turns of phrase, songs, poems and anecdotes were introduced as if the leisurely author, who wrote it as a recreation, had kept it constantly in his mind and talked it over point by point with his numerous brethren. There were originally only two interlocutors in the opening scene, "Piscator" and "Viator"; but in the second edition, as if in answer to an objection that "Piscator" had it too much in his own way in praise of angling, he introduced the falconer, "Auceps," changed "Viator" into "Venator" and made the new companions each dilate on the joys of his favourite sport.
Although The Compleat Angler was not Walton's first literary work, his leisurely labours as a biographer seem to have grown out of his devotion to angling. It was probably as an angler that he made the acquaintance of Sir Henry Wotton, but it is clear that Walton had more than a love of fishing and a humorous temper to recommend him to the friendship of the accomplished ambassador. At any rate, Wotton, who had intended to write the life of John Donne, and had already corresponded with Walton on the subject, left the task to him. Walton had already contributed an Elegy to the 1633 edition of Donne’s poems, and he completed and published the life, much to the satisfaction of the most learned critics, in 1640. Sir Henry Wotton dying in 1639, Walton undertook his life also; it was finished in 1642 and published in 1651. His life of Hooker was published in 1662, that of George Herbert in 1670 and that of Bishop Sanderson in 1678. All these subjects were endeared to the biographer by a certain gentleness of disposition and cheerful piety; three of them at least—Donne, Wotton and Herbert—were anglers. Their lives were evidently written. with loving pains, in the same leisurely fashion as his Angler, and like it are of value less as exact knowledge than as harmonious and complete pictures of character. Walton also rendered affectionate service to the memory of his friends Sir John Skeffington and John Chalkhill, editing with prefatory notices Skeffington's Hero of Lorenzo in 1652 and Chalkhill's Thealma and Clearchus a few months before his own death in 1683. His poems and prose fragments were collected in 1878 under the title of Waltoniana.
The best-known old edition of the Angler is J Major's (2nd ed., 1824). The book was edited by Andrew Lang in 1896, and various modern editions have appeared. The standard biography is that by Sir Harris Nicolas, prefixed to an edition of the Angler (1836). There are notices also, with additional scraps of fact, annexed to two American editions, Bethune's (1847) and Dowling's (1857). An edition of Walton's Lives, by G Sampson, appeared in 1903. See also Izaak Walton and his Friends, by S Martin (1903).
At least two organizations have been inspired by and named after Izaak Walton. Inspired by The Compleat Angler, advertising mogul and land developer Barron Collier founded the Izaak Walton Fishing Club in 1908 at his Useppa Island resort near Fort Myers, Florida. It was considered one of the most exclusive sporting clubs in the world. The Izaak Walton League is an American association of sportsmen that was formed in 1922 in Chicago, Illinois to preserve fishing streams.
The 17th century Izaak Walton Hotel at the south end of Dovedale commemorates his close association with that river - the hotel also owns the fishing rights on the Staffordshire bank of the Dove.