History Of Fly Fishing: From Past To Present

The calm water... the silent air... the peacefulness in the shrubs and trees that frame the waters... these are the quintessential makings of a perfect fly fishing experience. And though an exploration into the history of fly fishing won't likely turn you into a more adept angler, it can provide added flavor to your appreciation of the sport. Despite what many people think, fly fishing has been practiced since the Roman empire ruled much of the globe. Below, we'll take a brief tour through the history of fly fishing, including its gradual spread to the masses and the evolution of the equipment used.

The Romans Introduce Fly Fishing

Fly fishing is often credited to a teacher who lived in Rome during the 2nd century. His name was Claudius Aelianus and he left detailed accounts of his fly fishing experiences while on the Astraeus River. He describes, in vivid detail, the fly rod and line used to ensnare the fish. Aelianus paints a mental image of the flies he used to lure the fish onto his hook. But, some say that fly fishing can be traced two hundred years further. William Radcliff wrote a book titled "Fishing from the Earliest Times" in which he credited fly fishing to a Spaniard named Marcus Valerius Martialis. But, Martialis's details are vague and his mention of flies is unclear.

Fly Fishing Begins To Spread

After the death of Aelianus, little was documented about fly fishing for the next 1,000 years. However, that changed in 1496, when a defining book titled "The Treatyse on Fysshynge with an Angle" was released. Fly fishing techniques were described in exquisite detail. But, it would be another 150 years until the groundbreaking "Compleat Angler," written by Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton, would be published and circulated.

After "Compleat Angler" was published, fly fishing experienced a boost of popularity throughout England. Instructional books that explained the art and technique of tying flies and casting lines were published. Clubs catering to fly fishing enthusiasts began to appear. Soon, an informal caste system amongst fly fishermen emerged as those living in Southern England preferred dry fly fishing while looking down upon their brothers in the north who enjoyed wet fly fishing.

When fly fishing had finally found its way to the United States, both methods (wet and dry) were welcomed. America proved to be less discriminating than those in England.

Better Equipment Becomes Available

As fly fishing became more popular, the equipment used evolved. Different materials were used for the fly lines. Silk was substituted for horse hair. Similarly, better rods were developed. Bamboo replaced previous woods, making the casting of silk lines easier in windy conditions. Further improvements were devised by modifying the process by which bamboo rods were constructed. Fly reels, too, were developed to become more than mere fly line storage units. As better equipment became available during the later part of the 19th century, fly fishing began to attract a new crop of devotees. A new industry was born.

Fly Fishing Today

The constant improvement in fly fishing equipment along with fictionalized work from notable authors like Ernest Hemingway catapulted the sport into mainstream consciousness. Before long, millions began making the trek to quiet waters to enjoy fly fishing. Today, the exodus of baby boomers from the workplace is creating another surge in the industry. Retirees, with the discretionary income to purchase the best gear, are gravitating toward the serenity of fly fishing. It's likely that future generations will continue to enjoy this timeless sport.