Great Fly Fishing Tips is  here to help the new Fly Fisherman and the experienced Fly Fisherman.  The goal is to provide tips and information about the sport of Fly fishing.

Since Fly Fishing came in to existence; in AD 200 the Roman Claudius Aelianus, his book On the Nature of Animais, described how people fished with a fly in the river Astracus in Macedonia. The prey is presumed to have been trout, since it had a “spotted exterior “.

The Macedonians “fastened red wool around a hook, and fixed onto the wool two feathers which grew under a cock’s wattles, and which in colour are like wax. Their rod is six feet long, and their line is the same length. Then they throw their snare, and the fish, attracted and maddened by the colour, comes straight at it, thinking from the pretty sight to gain a dainty mouthful; when, however, it opens its jaws, it is caught by the hook, and enjoys a bitter repast, a captive.” These feather creations presumably were more reminiscent of today’s jigs than of flies, but we have no reason to doubt their fishing ability. Although they probably fished mainly for their daily food, that does not mean that the Macedonians did not find pleasure in fishing with a rod and flies.

In the beginning of the 13th Century a German romance written in about 1210 by Wolfram von Eschenbach mention the catching of trout and grayling using a “feathered hook” The hero of the novel wades barefoot in a stream to catch trout and grayling with a fly. From 1360 onwards, across a vast area reaching from the Swiss plain to Styria, other texts identify fly fishing as the chosen method of commoners.

In the early 15th Century a manuscript, kept at the Bavarian abbey of Tegernsee, lists at least fifty different fly patterns for catching carp, pike, catfish, burbot and salmon as well as trout and grayling.

These are some late 15th Century fishing hooks found in Southern England. 500 year old fishing tackle. In 1496 we find the proof that people fished with flies for the sake of the sport. In her Book of St Albains, Dame Juliana Berner described fishing methods of the time in an article entitled “A Treatyse of Fysshynge Wyth an Angle”.

Dane Juliana Berner is believed to have been the abbess of a Benedictine nunnery in Sopwell. Her article, written in 1425 and subsequently hand-copied by monks until it was printed seventy years later, is absolutely decisive for the early development not only of flyfishing but of sportfishing in general. It is the earliest known printed work in English on fly fishing. It described, in detail how fishing for trout and salmon was conducted with artificial flies.  The Book of St Albains was devoted to the greatest arts of the age, such as heraldry and hunting, and that it was written for nobles and gentlemen.

In 1652 The Compleat Angler was written by Isaak Walton, then aged 60. It listed the twelve flies from the Treatyse. Through the conversation between the book’s two characters, Mr Piscator and Mr Venator, we get a good view of how fishing with a rod and hook was done at the time. The tradition from Dame Juliana Bernet is clear: fishing was done for enjoyment.

The Compleat Angler may also be called the first true handbook of sportfishing. It describes not only the eating habits of fish and their resting places, but also how to go about luring them onto the hook with all manner of baits, as well as how to serve up the catch. Today this book has been published in about 400 new editions on numerous languages.

Izaak Walton was undoubtedly one of the leading caracters in the history of sportsfishing. The etching to the left shows him sitting with his fishing rod. His tombstone can be seen in Winchester, Hampshire. The bag on the picture is Waltons personal fishing bag. This bag can be seen today in Flyfisher’s Club in London.
In 1676 it was expanded with a section on flyfishing by Charles Cotton. He listed sixty five trout flies. By now the book has seen almost 400 editions and been translated into many languages. With time it has become one of the real classics in fishing literature. By Cotton’s day, there were already marked regional variations in fly patterns, and it seems likely that much development had taken place in the 16th Century. Charles Cotton’s flyfishing section is regarded as very significant for the progress and diversification of flyfishing until the beginning of the nineteenth century. He can therefore be called something like the founding father of modern flyfishing.

Fishing equipment during the 17th century was simple and not very different from that employed in 15th Century time. The rods were often made of jointed wood, long and – by our standards – very clumsy. The lines were made of twined horsehair and, since no reels were available, they were top-knotted. Progress in improving fishing equipment was quite slow. In the mid-1660s, however, hooks began to be made more durable by hardening them. Plagues and fires forced needlemakers, among others, to move out of London. Redditch soon become a center of hookmaking, and the old handicraft of smithing was transformed into a large-scale operation. Industrialization also brought with it improvements in the quality of hooks: they became thinner and lighter, though still thick and unwieldy compared with those of today. Running rings first appeared on rods towards the end of the seventeenth century. The invention gave anglers much more control over the line while a fish was being played, but it didn’t have much effect on casting distances, because of the nature of the lines in use at the time. Early rings were extremely unreliable, and had a strong tendency to pull out of the rod when under pressure, which no doubt contributed to their slow uptake.

18th Century advances

Even if both Bernet and Walton/Cotton showed great interest in the insects taken by fish, it was first in 1747 that the initial book on flytying first appeared, The Art of Angling by Richard Bowlker. This is widely regarded as the first handbook on the subject and something of a trend maker. He not only presented a list of his own flies, indicating some knowledge of entomology, but gave direct instructions for special types of fishing, such as upstream fishing.

By the eighteenth century, the tackle trade was well established and selling every conceivable article a fisherman might need, as well as many that they didn’t. One firm called Ustonson, which began trading in the 1760s and supplied tackle to King George IV. Small primitive reels began to be manufactured, with room for storing a small amount of line. At about the same time, it had been discovered that the lines could be tapered by twining in more horsehairs at the middle than at the end. The new machines of the industrial revolution produced a variety of tapered manufactured lines. The new lines were tapered, and could be cast with greater accuracy than hand-woven horsehair. The mid-eighteenth century marked the beginning of the end of the use of level lines which incorporated both the running line and the fly line.

By the end of the century, many fishermen were buying their flies from tackle dealers, rather than tying their own. Trout and salmon flies saw very little change in the eighteenth century. In 1790, a fisherman could turn up with Cotton’s selection in his fly box and few would have remarked upon it; forty years later he would have been laughed at. It was the calm before the storm.

19th Century and the Victorian Age

Apart from the development of the multiplier, reel design had barely altered since Walton’s day and early nineteenth century reels were inadequate: the wide drum, narrow diameter reel continued to dominate the market. The British reels of this period that survive are of low quality. In America, a separate line of reel design was beginning to emerge. The majority of American reels were home-made affairs having crude wooden spools with iron seats. In the early nineteenth century many Americans were still importing their reels, or making their own. Old timers often fished with discarded wool spools, bound into frames by the local tinsmith.

But the native industry was gearing up, and single-action brass or German silver reels with curved handles soon became common. George Snyder, a watchmaker and silversmith from Paris, Kentucky, is believed to have made the first quality reels in the United States, sometime between 1805 and 1810. Snyder realised that there was a need for a reliable multiplying reel, and he set down to invent one. Within a few years, other firms had started up, including Meek, Hardman and Milam, between them responsible for the further perfection of the design of the multiplying reel. These “Kentucky reels” were distinguished from British multipliers by the fact that they worked, and it wasn’t long before designs emerged that were capable of casting a line directly from the spool; a trick that you didn’t try twice with a British reel. Several innovations were first seen on American reels, among them the balanced crank handle and the first free-spool mechanism .

By the outset of the nineteenth century, the rod’s length had been considerably shortened from 16-18 to 11-12 feet (around 5 to 3.5 meters). There were frequent experiments with different kinds of rod materials such as greenheart, hickory and bamboo. In the mid-1840s, an American violin-maker managed to construct the first split-cane rod by gluing bamboo ribs together. This was a real breakthrough, as a perfect rod material had now been found along with a superior method of construction in order to build really strong, practical rods.

Split-cane rods, compared with earlier types, were light and pliable. In addition, they cast significantly better than their predecessors. However, they were still heavy and hard to handle as casting tools. Despite their overall advantage, it was to be some years before their production could streamlined to make mass manufacture profitable. The Americans Charles Orvis, Hiram Leonard and an Englishman named Hardy began production of quality rods. By 1850, tapered reel lines were pretty much standard issue and it was quite routine for fishermen to reverse a fly line when one end had worn.

It was not only the development of the fly rod which started things moving in the mid-nineteenth century. Lines were also greatly improved. Thanks to the introduction of oiled silk lines, the casting length could be as much as tripled. More or less simultaneously the horsehair was replaced by silk gut. Today’s modern flyfishing had thus begun to take shape.

Flyfishing underwent extensive changes during the nineteenth century. The development of equipment, the interest in entomology the creation of new fly patterns and all helped. Flyfishing was, and remained, a way of fishing surrounded by a certain mysticism – an attitude which has indeed persisted far into out own century.

Flyfishing tended ever more to become a science. Alfred Ronald was the first author to point out the relevance of insect breeding. His book of 1836 was, in fact, the first entomological description of insects in nature and their imaginary equivalents. Ronald’s book inevitably increased the interest in insect studies. It suddenly became a matter of great concern to tie exact insect imitations by carefully observing all sorts of flying creatures at the water and recreating these faithfully for the fish.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, a lively debate blossomed about how the fly should be laid out. Upstream casting, downstream casting, and casting more or less across the stream were important questions. It was C. Stewart who made himself the champion of the upstream cast in his book Practical Angling (1857) which presented the technique and its advantages: by approaching the fish from the rear it is easier to imitate the insects’ natural route downstream, and playing can occur without disturbing the fish upstream Stewart was also of the opinion that it was mote important to show the insect’s size, form and appearance than to tie exact imitations.

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