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A Brief Look at the Beginning of Fly-fishing

Aug 17, 2007
The beginning of the ancient and honorable art of taking fishes with an angle is lost in the dim, misty reaches of the past before men made a pictured or written record of events. Nearly all ancient peoples, however, had their quaint and curious fables on the origin of angling and many of these legends tell us that the art was handed down to men from the Gods which is, indeed, a reasonable supposition.

The earliest authentic mention of angling we find in the Book of Job, written about 1500 B.C. The Lord asks him: "Canst thou draw out Leviathan with a hook?" Fish hooks are also mentioned by Amos (IV, 2) written 787 B.C., and the prophecies of Isaiah (XIX, 8), written 760 B.C., sound a warning to unrighteous fishermen: "The fishers shall mourn and all they that cast angles into the brooks shall lament and they that spread nets on the waters shall languish."

In Egypt, the civilization contemporary with that of the Hebrews, angling was no doubt practiced in remote times. Lake Moeris was constructed for a fishing pond about 1500 B. c. and in later days Plutarch tells of the prank played by Cleopatra on Mark Antony. They were fishing together, you will remember, and Mark had divers go down and fasten big lunkers to his hook, which he pulled up in a matter-of-fact way, as if it were an everyday occurrence with him. Cleopatra detected the fraud, however, and invited a number of her friends to come the next day and see what a mighty angler was Mark. Then she had her divers go down and fasten a salted fish to his hook which sort of took the wind out of his sails, so to speak.

The Greeks were fond of angling, and Homer mentions the art several times while with the Romans, who understood fly fishing, it amounted to almost a passion and at least one prominent citizen of that great city was ruined financially by spending too much money on elaborate fish ponds. The poet Oppian saved his father from the wrath of the Emperor Severus by writing a book on angling and many other classical writers were interested in the subject.

Fly Fishing. Although fly fishing was probably practiced much earlier the first mention of it is made by Elian in his "History of Animals", written about 230 A.D. He describes a fly with a purple body and red hackles which was cast with a rod about eight feet long on a line of the same length and trout fishermen must derive considerable pleasure in the fact that this pioneer fly was used to catch "speckled fishes". The fly itself is still in use, being the pattern known as the red hackle. It is a killing trout fly and fairly good for bass. Every true fly fisherman should carry one if only for its association. The story of this fly is charmingly told by Mary Orvis Marbury in her "Favorite Flies and Their Histories."

It has been said that our Saxon ancestors earned the tribal designation "Anglo" because of their great skill in hook and line fishing, but it is quite probable that fly fishing was introduced into the British Isles by the Romans. They are also said to have introduced red chickens into Britain and we venture the theory that they took them there not only for cock fighting but to be assured of plenty of red hackles!
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