A Brief History of Fishing

Mankind has loved chasing after fish throughout history, both for food and for fun, and has ingeniously devised ever more efficient methods of capture since very early on. The oldest hooks date back almost 10 thousand years, and doubtless existed long before. Fishermen with pole and line were depicted in ancient Eygpt and China. Macedonians produced artificial flies in Roman times.

But the history of fishing could be said to have officially started in the western world with the publication, in England, in 1496, of “The Treatyse of Fysshynge With Angle,” written primarily for the English upper class, whose members traditionally angled for trout and salmon in inland waters. The essay talks about rods, lines and artificial flies. Unbelievably, some of the fly patterns described then are still in active use today! The name fly derives from an earlier time when people had actually used live flies for bait.

But still, until the 16th century, people fished with a long stick with line attached to the end! During the 17th century, about the time Izaak Walton was writing “The Compleat Angler,” someone put guides on a rod, which allowed a running line for the first time. Eureka! Reels and casting were born. And then came the long split bamboo rod.

Early fly line was made of horsehair; a single strand from the tail of the perfect stallion was approximately 4 lb. test. They could be plaited together for added strength. There was also gut line and later silk and linen.

Reels, which started as wooden spools, developed into the centre pin or fly fishing style model. In 1874, George Orvis patented what was essentially the modern version. The open-faced bait casting reel was invented in the U.S. in the 1820’s, and slowly grew in popularity. William Shakespeare of Kalamazoo came up with his level wind bait casting model in 1896. The spinning reel was the last to come into common use.

Fishing tackle has evolved and developed exponentially in modern times. One hundred years ago, the people in these photos may have used quaint, old fashioned equipment, but whether in pond, creek, river or lake, fresh water or salt, these fishermen and women caught fish. And like their modern counterparts today, with or without the satisfaction of success, they had a happy, exciting, and memorable time doing it!