Brief History of Fly Fishing

Believe it or not, the earliest references to fly fishing date back to about 200 AD in a book entitled “AElian’s Natural History”. AElian, a Roman, wrote of the Macedonian’s way of fishing. He wrote of fishermen in the area that were said to visit a river called the Artraeus for a fish they described as having speckled skin (could they have been trout?). They noted an insect that hovered over the water and observed that when it fell to the surface the fish would rise up and sip it in.  By tying an imitation of that insect to a hook on a line cast by a crude rod, they could fool an occasional fish into becoming dinner. I seriously doubt that anyone in that era had heard of catch and release.

It was not until 1496 that the first book in English was published entitled “The Treatyse of  Fyshynge with an Angle”. The author was said to be Dame Juliana Berner although the evidence of this was said to be slim. This was the most important treatment of fly fishing to be written; containing such details as how to make a rod, line, hooks and even flies. It elevated the sport of fly fishing to a level of prominence until then held only by the sport of hunting, which in those days was the sport of kings and noblemen.

A painting of Izaac Walton

Virtually nothing more was written about the subject of fly fishing until the end of the British Civil War around 1651. At that time a group of five men, one of whom was Izaac Walton, wrote the “Complete Angler”. Walton is certainly the best known of the authors and is often referred to as the Father of fly fishing.

The above facts were taken from a wonderful book titled “The History of Fly Fishing” by Dr. Andrew N. Herd of England. For the history buffs among you I highly recommend further reading. Excerpts of the book are available online.


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