The History of Fly Fishing

No one really knows when fly fishing first began. It is believed that it existed long ago in ancient times. One of the earliest written references to fly fishing was made by Claudius Aelianus. In 200 AD he wrote of people that were fishing in a river with a hand made fly. He described how they attached red wool and feathers to a hook. The rods they used and the sting attached were each about six feet long. These people were the ancient Macedonians. Throughout history from Aelianus to the present people have been writing about fly fishing, and many thousands of others have been enjoying the sport.

The Princess of Soapwell, English, was an avid fly fisherman. Her name was Dame Juliana Berners and she was a master at her sport. At the time Columbus was searching for the New World, Dame Juliana was publishing an extensive treatise on the art of fly fishing. In her treatise she described the twelve styles of fly and included extensive instructions on how to tie them. She patterns were put into categories by the month that they were used most often.

She also described the rod that was used for fly fishing during that time. It measured about 18 feet long and was very flexible, The rods were made of several different types of wood which added to their flexibility. Their lines were short, by today's standards, and were made of hand braided horse hair. The general rule of the time was that the line should not be longer then the fishing rod. The line was tied to the tip of the pole.

Many fly fishermen of today have used her patterns for the fly. They say they are just as effective today as they were more than five hundred years ago. Several of the more popular patterns include the Black Gnat, the Wooly Worm, the Stonefly and the Whirling Dun.

In the mid 1600's Isaak Walton published his book "Compleat Angler." Throughout history from then on, Izaak Walton has been considered the patron saint on angling, and of fly fishing in particular. In truth, it was actually his friend, Charles Cotton, that had contributed the portion of the book that pertained to fly fishing. The flies and rods described in this book were very similar to those described by Dame Juliana. However, the lines described were slightly different. They were still made of horsehair but were about six feet longer then those of the 1400's. The main difference was that some of the lines were tapered. It is believed that this was the first time tapered lines were described in writing.

In the early 1800's, fishing line makers began mixing silk in with the horsehair. By the time of the Civil War the first all silk lines were made. They were coated with an oily coating which made them water resistant. Horsehair lines were almost never used after that. Occasionally they were found in England up to World War II.

The first nylon line was made in 1948 and from that point forward synthetic materials have been used by most people for fly fishing. In 1952, a technology was created that made an automatically tapered line withe extreme precision.


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