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Home | Saltwater Fishing Articles

Origin Of Fly Fishing

By Michael Russell

Fishing. Take a rod and a line and throw it in some water. Splash it around a bit and wait until something tugs. If only it were that easy. The truth is, fishing as a sport is not as easy as most people think and is a lot more complicated than just throwing your line is some water. For starters there are several types of fishing depending on what kind of fish you want to catch.

In this article we're going to focus on fly fishing and it's origin.

Fly fishing goes all the way back to around 200 AD. The first reference to it was written by Aelian who was born around 170 AD. Early in his life he knew nothing of the sea. In his early writing "On The Nature Of Animals" he writes about a certain way of catching fish supposedly invented by the Macedonians. A particular fish that runs through the Astraeus River in Macedonia happens to feed on flies that are peculiar to that region. These flies are not found anywhere else. The natives of the land called this species of fly Hippouros. These flies seek their food over the river and are never very far away from the fish in the river below. Because of this it is relatively easy for the fish to jump out of the water, catching the flies in their mouths and eating them.

It is from seeing this that the Macedonian's got the idea to use these flies to catch the fish. However, because it is unclean for their people to touch this species of fly they had to develop a way to catch the fish without actually handling the flies. So what they did was fasten red wool around a hook. They then fixed onto the wool two feathers which grow under a cock's wattles. The rod they used was six feet long and the line was also the same length. They then threw the line in the direction of the flies. The fish seeing this line which is disguised to look like the fly think they are going to have a nice meal and instead are caught by the fisherman's trap. Fly fishing was developed.

It should be pointed out that according to accounts of what the fly looked like and what the actual "bait" looked like it would seem that the Macedonians didn't try to imitate the fly exactly, as the fly color was yellow and the bait color was red. Some speculation is that the fly changed color when near water but this was never proven.

For those interested, the story above was taken from Radcliffe's "Fishing From The Earliest Times," which was published in 1921. This version of the story is the one most often printed with no credit given to the original author. Radcliffe himself states that he adapted this translation from "Lambert's Angling Literature in England" first published in 1881. Prior to this there was a Latin translation which was printed in 1558. This printing however wasn't discovered until 1834.

In a later article we'll cover modern day fly fishing.



Michael Russell
Your Independent guide to Fishing

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