PAM Storia ed Evoluzione

La mia passione per la pesca a mosca, è data anche dalla sua stessa storia, della sua evoluzione come tecnica, come materiali, ma soprattutto per quanto riguarda gli uomini e le donne che l’hanno caratterizzata. Per poter conoscere realmente quali fossero i modelli o i materiali alla moda o usati negli anni 30 ad esempio, non si può prescindere dal fatto di leggere quanto scritto all’epoca, anche perchè sulla grande rete, non sempre è possibile reperire delle fonti certe e “di prima mano”, quindi l’unica soluzione è trovare i testi dell’epoca come quelli scritti da Ritz, Halford, DeBussin… testi che hanno fatto essi stessi la storia, come i loro rispettivi autori. Spesso il freno maggiore, però, sta nel fatto che non si trovano traduzioni in Italiano, salvo rare eccezioni bisogna leggere gli scritti in Inglese o in Francese, ma nella versione “antica” della lingua, metà o fine 800 piuttosto che primi del ‘900; senza tirare in ballo il primo testo riconosciuto scritto tra le altre da una dolce signora, o meglio da una badessa: Dama Juliana Berners con il suo Treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle del 1450, che sinceramente ho trovato una autentica tragedia da leggere, alla pari di quelle scritte da Shakespeare negli stessi anni, in un Inglese arcaico.

  • Personaggi Famosi (Maestri Storici e Moderni), di Lancio, Costruzione e Rodmaking
    • Charles Ritz (Scrittore e RodMaker)
  • Storia della PAM
  • Libri Storici
    • Charles Ritz [pris sur le vif] tradotto da O.Velo [una vita per la pesca]
  • Aneddoti Vari sul mondo della pesca
  • Storia ed evoluzione dei materiali (canne, code, lenze…)

PERSONAGGI FAMOSI

Charles Ritz

  • modelli di mosche
    • Tups Indispensable
  • costruttori di canne
    • Hardy
    • Ritz
    • Pezot e Michel
  • esperti e campioni del lancio
    • champerau
  • costruttori di mosche
    • L. de Boisset
  • materiali in uso all’epoca
    • Bambu Referdu
    • Fibra di vetro (primi esperimenti)
    • nylon (primi esperimenti)
  • corsi d’acqua frequentati
    • Loue

STORIA DELLA PESCA A MOSCA

Trovare una narrazione completa ed organica sulla storia della PAM non è facile, dopo anni di ricerche e raccolta di materiale vario e “variegato” ho potuto optare per quello che sembra essere il migliore, quello che si basa su fonti serie ed attendibili, dimostrando un lavoro di ricerca serio e professionale. Il sito originale, a cui sto provvedendo a dare una traduzione in italico idioma, ed a cui molti altri siti hanno preso spunto o scopiazzato, purtroppo è offline da qualche tempo, ma è ancora possibile trovarne una copia su: www.archive.org. La mia sarà una libera traduzione dal sito originale flyfishinghistory.com del Dott. Andrew N. Herd, ovvero la “Storia della Pesca a Mosca“a cui avendo avuto cura di aver fatto un “backup” sul mio blog, spero di dare la visibilità che merita e che merita soprattutto l’autore originale. La traduzione procederà lentamente, tenendo affiancati versione italiana ed il testo originale in Inglese per un confronto immediato tra le due versioni (la mia interpretazione non potrà essere professionale, visto che il mio stesso Inglese è solo discreto e non eccelso, ma spero di fare cosa gradita a tutti quelli che non conoscono l’inglese o che preferiscono leggere in italiano; evitando di leggere gli strafalcioni dei traduttori online come babelfish, google translator…) Eventuali integrazioni verranno inserite, al fine di ampliare, integrare o correggere il testo. Possibilmente le integrazioni verranno scritte con un carattere diverso per distinguerle dal testo originale, alcune fonti di studio ed approfondimento sono riportate in fondo a questa pagina.

 

CHAPTER 1

THE ORIGINS OF FLY FISHING

Ælian 

he first reference to fly fishing is in Ælian’s Natural History, probably written about 200 A.D. Ælian was born in about A.D. 170 at Praeneste, where he later held a religious post, dying in about A.D. 230. At some point he became a pupil of Pausanias of Caesarea, who taught him rhetoric, and as a good student Ælian also learnt excellent Attic Greek. He later studied history under the patronage of the empress Julia Domna, and moving within her circle would have allowed him to meet not only Galen, but Oppian.

CAPITOLO 1

LE ORIGINI DELLA PESCA A MOSCA

Eliano

Il primo riferimento alla pesca con la mosca lo si ritrova nel De Natura Animalium (Περὶ Ζῴων Ἰδιότητος), probabilmente scritto nel 200 D.C. Claudio Eliano (in greco: Κλαύδιος Αἰλιανός) nasce intorno al 165/170 D.C. a Preneste (oggi Palestrina in provincia di Roma), dove diventò gran sacerdote nel tempio della Fortuna, non vi morì intorno al 230 D.C. nello stesso periodo diventò discepolo del sofista Pausania di Cesarea,che gli insegno Retorica, e da buon studente Eliano apprese eccellentemente il  greco attico. Successivamente studiò storia sotto il patrocinio dell’imperatrice Giulia Domna, a muovendosi nella sua corte gli consentì di incontrare non solo Galeno, ma anche Oppiano.

Despite his interest in the exotic, Ælian was not a traveller and he spent the vast majority of his life in Rome, which gave him easy access to the libraries he needed; he once boasted that he had never been outside Italy, had never been aboard a ship, and knew nothing of the sea; a statement which I find quite easy to believe having read his works. Ælian put his knowledge of Greek to good use when he wrote, and he drew from a vast range of reference works: his main source has been identified as being Pamphilus of Alexandria; but he also accessed a wealth of other writers including Democritus, Herodotus, Plutarch and Aristophanes. Nonostante il suo interesse nell’esotico, Eliano non era un viaggiatore e passò la maggior parte della sua vita a Roma, che gli permise un facile accesso alle librerie di cui aveva bisogno. Una voltà si vantò che non era mai stato fuori dall’Italia e mai salito su una barca, e che non conosceva nulla del mare, un affermazione  che ho trovato piuttosto semplice da credere dopo aver letto il suo lavoro. Eliano ha fissato le sue conoscenze in Greco per meglio utilizzarle mentre scriveva, e disegnò da una vasta gamma di lavori di riferimento: la sua principale fonte è stata identificata essere Pànfilo di Alessandria, ma accedette anche alle risorse di altri scrittori inclusi Democrito, Erodoto, Plutarco e Aristofane.
In the seventeen volume On the Nature of Animals Ælian mixes personal observation with fact, legend and fancy drawn from earlier authors, pouncing on passing ideas like a thirsty man upon flagons of ale, with the result that there is little order in the work. His book intentionally lacked structure and it contains frequent errors many of which Ælian could have eliminated with very little effort, not least his belief that goats could breathe through their ears. However, the book is pure entertainment which is why the author saw no reason why he should not discuss elephants in one breath and dragons in the next. We should be glad of this, because in the course of his frantic rush through all of nature Ælian chanced to write these immortal lines: Nel diciasettesimo volume di “Sulla Natura degli Animali” Eliano unisce osservazioni personali con fatti, leggende ed illustrazioni fantastiche di autori precedenti, facendo balzare l’idea come un uomo assetato sopra una caraffa di birra, con il risultato che c’è poco ordine nel lavoro. Il suo libro intenzionalmente manca di struttura e contiene frequenti errori, molti dei quali Eliano avrebbe potuto eliminare con uno sforzo molto piccolo, non ultimo la sua credenza che le pecore possono respirare attraverso le loro orecchie. D’altronde, il libro è puro intrattenimento  ed è per questo che l’autore non vide alcuna ragione per non discutere d’un fiato di Elefanti  e  di Draghi subito dopo. Per questo gliene dovremmo essere grati, perchè durante la sua corsa frenata attraverso tutto “la Natura” Eliano ha dato una svolta scrivendo queste righe immortali:
I have heard of a Macedonian way of catching fish, and it is this: between Borœa and Thessalonica runs a river called the Astræus, and in it there are fish with speckled skins; what the natives of the country call them you had better ask the Macedonians. These fish feed upon a fly peculiar to the country, which hovers on the river. It is not like the flies found elsewhere, nor does it resemble a wasp in appearance, nor in shape would one justly describe it as a midge or a bee, yet it has something of each of these. In boldness it is like a fly, in size you might call it a midge, it imitates the colour of a wasp, and it hums like a bee. The natives generally call it the Hippouros.
These flies seek their food over the river, but do not escape the observation of the fish swimming below. When then the fish observes a fly on the surface, it swims quietly up, afraid to stir the water above, lest it should scare away its prey; then coming up by its shadow, it opens its mouth gently and gulps down the fly, like a wolf carrying off a sheep from the fold or an eagle a goose from the farmyard; having done this it goes below the rippling water.
Now though the fishermen know this, they do not use these flies at all for bait for fish; for if a man’s hand touch them, they lose their natural colour, their wings wither, and they become unfit food for the fish. For this reason they have nothing to do with them, hating them for their bad character; but they have planned a snare for the fish, and get the better of them by their fisherman’s craft.
Ho sentito di un metodo Macedone di catturare il pesce, e consiste in questo: tra Boroea (Veria o Veroia ndt) e Tessalonica (Salonicco ndt) scorre un fiume chiamato Astraeus (probabilmente l’Arapitsas ndt), dove si trovano dei pesci con una livrea puntinata; come i nativi di quel paese lo chiamino è meglio chiederlo ai Macedoni. Questi pesci si alimentano su una mosca tipica di quel paese, che volteggia sopra il fiume. Non  è come le mosche che si trovano altrove, e non sembra nemmeno una vespa nell’aspetto o nella forma, qualcuno la descriverebbe come un’ape o un moscerino, ma presenta qualcosa di entrambi. Fastidiosa come una mosca, grande come un moscerino, colorata come una vespa e ronza come un ape. I nativi generalmente la chiamano Hippouros (coda di cavallo in greco, forse una Stratiomys ndt).
Queste mosche cercano il cibo a pelo d’acqua, ma non sfuggono allo sguardo dei pesci che nuovano sotto di loro. Quando un pesce osserva una mosca sulla superficie, risale lentamente, avendo cura di non smuovere l’acqua al suo disopra, per paura di scacciare la preda, quindi emerge dalle tenebre, apre lentamente la bocca ed ingoia la mosca, come un lupo porta via una pecora da un ovile o un aquila un oca dall’aia; fatto questo torna sotto l’increspatura dell’acqua. Ora, nonostante, i pescatori lo sappiano, non la utilizzano assolutamente come esca per pescare; perchè se una mano umana la tocca, esse perdono il loro colore naturale, le loro ali appassiscono, e diventano cibo poco attrattivo per il pesce. Per questa ragione di esse non se ne fecero nulla, le odiavano per questa brutta caratteristica; ma pianificarono un metodo per pescare, traendone il meglio grazie all’abilità manuali dei pescatori.
They fasten red (crimson red) wool around a hook, and fix onto the wool two feathers which grow under a cock’s wattles, and which in colour are like wax. Their rod is six feet long, and their line is the same length. Then they throw their snare, and the fish, attracted and maddened by the colour, comes straight at it, thinking from the pretty sight to gain a dainty mouthful; when, however, it opens its jaws, it is caught by the hook, and enjoys a bitter repast, a captive. Fissano lana rossa (rosso cremisi) attorno ad un amo, e fissa alla lana due piume che crescono sotto il bargiglio del gallo, e che assomiglia al colore della cera. Le loro canne sono lunghe sei piedi, e le lenze della stessa lunghezza. Lanciano la loro trappola, il pesce, attratto ed eccitato dal colore, sale diritto su di essa, pensando che quella vista corrisponda ad un delicato boccone; apre le fauci, ed invece si gusta un amaro pasto, rimanendo catturato all’amo.
The quote above is taken from Radcliffe’s Fishing from the Earliest Times, Murray (1921), and with various alterations it is the one most often reprinted, often without any credit. In his text, Radcliffe tells us that he adapted his translation from Lambert’s Angling Literature in England (1881). Prior to this, a Latin translation was available in Gesner’s Historia Animalium, printed in 1558, where it lay unread for nearly three centuries until Oliver rediscovered it in 1834. If you want to read an early English translation, it can be found in Westwood and Satchell’s Bibliotheca Piscatoria; and finally, there is an excellent modern translation in the Loeb Classical Library Aelian On Animals, which you can read here. Il trafiletto qui sopra riportato è tratto dal libro Fishing from the Earliest Times scritto da William Radcliffe, nel 1921 ed edito dalla J. Murray di Londra, e con varie modifiche è quello più spesso riportato, spesso senza citare la fonte. Nel suo libro, Radcliffe ci dice che ha adattato la sua traduzione da Angling Literature in England di Osmund Lambert edito nel 1881 sempre a Londra ma dalla S. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington. Precedente a questo, è disponibile una traduzione latina in Historia Animalium stampata nel 1558, ad opera di Konrad Gesner, che rimase non letta per i successivi tre secoli fino a quando Oliver la riscoprì nel 1834. Se siete interessati ad una delle prime traduzioni Inglesi, potete trovarla nella Bibliotheca Piscatoria di Westwood e Satchell edita nel 1883, ed infine esiste una traduzione moderna eccellente di “On Animals” di Eliano edito dalla Loeb Classical Library nel 1958 con la traduzione a cura di A. F. Scholfield.
The Macedonian fly must be the most interesting flies of all time, but imagining what it looked like is very difficult, partly because of what Ælian leaves unsaid. My own reading of his description of the Hippouros is that:

  • the fly probably didn’t occur in Italy.
  • it hovered.
  • it was approximately midge-sized.
  • it was coloured like a wasp (yellow and black), but with a body shape unlike one
  • it made a humming noise.
  • and it landed on the water and floated there for long enough for fish to take it (maybe he has this back to front and was actually describing hatching duns – easy mistake to make).
Quella Macedone dovrebbe essere la più interessante mosca di sempre, ma immaginare a cosa assomiglia è molto difficoltoso, anche per quello che  Eliano non dice. la mia opinione sulla descrizione dell’Hippouros o Hippurus è il seguente:

  • la mosca probabilmente non esiste in Italia
  • gironzolava sopra il pelo dell’acqua
  • era approssimativamente di medie dimensioni
  • era colorata come una vespa (giallo e nero), ma non con una siloutette tipica
  • faceva un ronzio rumoroso
  • e si posava sull’acqua e vi galleggiava abbastanza a lungo perchè un pesce la prendesse (forse al contrario, in realtà descriveva la schiusa dell’insetto (nella forma di sub-imago) – un errore comune da fare)
But, Ælian makes it clear that the fishermen didn’t use this fly to fish with, so the description of the Hippouros is interesting but nothing to do with the fly pattern he describes. We can’t call this fly “The Hippouros Fly” because if you read the text very critically, Aelian appears to be saying that fishermen did not imitate the Hippouros: Ma Eliano ha chiarito che i pescatori non usano l’insetto per pescarci, così la descrizione dell’Hippouros è interessante ma ha niente a che vedere con  il modello di mosca descritta. Non possiamo chiamare questa imitazione “Mosca  Hippousos” perchè se leggete con molta criticamente il testo, Eliano apparentemente sembra dire che i pescatori non imitano l’Hippouros:
Now though the fishermen know this, they do not use these flies at all for bait for fish; for if a man’s hand touch them, they lose their natural colour, their wings wither, and they become unfit food for the fish. For this reason they have nothing to do with them, hating them for their bad character… Ora, nonostante, i pescatori lo sappiano, non la utilizzano assolutamente come esca per pescare; perchè se una mano umana la tocca, esse perdono il loro colore naturale, le loro ali appassiscono, e diventano cibo poco attrattivo per il pesce. Per questa ragione di esse non se ne fecero nulla, le odiavano per questa brutta caratteristica…
So you could read the next bit as a description of the fly they do use, rather than imitating the Hippouros. This would make sense, because the imitation is brown and red, while the Hippouros is yellow and black. According to our man in Rome: Così, si può leggere prossimo passo come una descrizione dell’imitazione che essi utilizzano, piuttosto che un imitazione dell’Hippouros. Questo ha senso, perchè l’imitazione è rossa e marrone, mentre l’Hippouros è gialla e nera. In accordo con il notro uomo di Roma:
…but they have planned a snare for the fish, and get the better of them by their fisherman’s craft.
They fasten red (crimson red) wool around a hook, and fix onto the wool two feathers which grow under a cock’s wattles, and which in colour are like wax.
…ma pianificarono un metodo per pescare, traendone il meglio grazie all’abilità manuali dei pescatori.
Fissano lana rossa (rosso cremisi) attorno ad un amo, e fissa alla lana due piume che crescono sotto il bargiglio del gallo, e che assomiglia al colore della cera.
So you could argue on two counts that this fly is not a Hippouros imitation, in which case, it is only of theoretical interest what the Hippouros was. Si potrebbe argomentare facendo due conti che questa mosca non una imitazione dell’Hippouros, nel qual caso, è di interesse puramente teorico sapere come l’Hippouros fosse.
If we do think it is a Hippouros imitation, then we have to square the difficult circle of reconciling a pattern with a red body with a natural fly which had a yellow body. The only way I can think of doing this is if there is a fly which changes its body colour from yellow to red, but if we think the Hippouros is being imitated here, we also have to consider Aelian’s “hovering”. The biggest problem here is that he was describing all this third hand. It might be that he was actually describing the ascent of duns – Ephemera danica duns and most spinners look as if they are hovering. On the other hand, it might be that he was describing a truly hovering fly; but I can’t think of any patterns anywhere which imitate this sort of insect, chiefly because they are hardly of any importance to fish in their diet. Se pensiamo che sia una imitazione di Hippouros, dobbiamo far quadrare il cerchio in modo da conciliare un modello con un corpo rosso ed un insetto reale con un corpo giallo. L’unica strada che mi viene in mente che possa accadere una cosa simile, è una mosca che cambia di colorazione da giallo a rosso, ma se pensiamo che questa sia l’imitazione di Hippouros, dobbiamo anche considerare il librarsi riportato da Eliano. Qui Il problema maggiore è che egli descrive il tutto di terza mano. Potrebbe essere che egli effettivamente descrive l’ascensione delle sub-imago – le sub-imago Ephemera danica e molte imago appaiono come in “sospensione sopra l’acqua”. D’altra parte, potrebbe essere che descriva una mosca che realmente si libra; ma non riesco ad immaginare nessun modello che imita questo tipo di insetto, principalmente perchè di minima importanza nella dieta dei pesci.
If you want to know about some interesting attempts to guess what the Macedonian fly looked like, click here. Se siete interessati a conoscere alcuni interessanti tentativi di indovinare come appaia la mosca Macedone, cliccate qui.

CHAPTER 2

In search of the Astræus

here comes a time in the life of every fly fishing historian when an urge comes to visit the place where it all began, or at least, the place where it was first described. My personal opinion is that you can’t call yourself a historian unless you have at the very least had a pipe-dream about going there.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? After all, there are maps? Wrong.

Macedonia, my friends, is in the Balkans, and things work differently there. Very differently. To say that things are politically complex is a wild understatement, and to interpret a map of Macedonia, you have to know not only when it was drawn, but who drew it, why he drew it, and what nationality he was.

CAPITOLO 2

Alla ricerca degli Astrei

Arriva un momento nella vita di ogni storico della pesca a mosca quando urge andare a visitare il posto dove tutto è iniziato, o al limite, il posto dove è stato per primo descritto. La mia opinione personale è che non ti puoi chiamare uno storico se non hai avuto un “visione” di andarci.

Sembra semplice, vero? Dopo tutto ci saranno delle mappe? Sbagliato.

La Macedonia, cari miei, è nei Balcani, e le cose funzionano in modo diverso da quelle parti. In modo molto diverso. Dire che le cose sono politicamente complesse è una selvaggia sottostimata, e per interpretare una mappa della Macedonia, devi conoscere non solo quando è stata disegnata, ma chi l’ha disegnata, perchè l’ha disegnata e di quale nazionalità era.

Now you are in the picture, we can go to work.Ælian’s On the Nature of Animals is our primary source and all the author has to say is this:I have heard of a Macedonian way of catching fish, and it is this: between Borœa and Thessalonica runs a river called the Astræus, and in it there are fish with speckled skins; what the natives of the country call them you had better ask the Macedonians.
Now if there is a problem, it the sad and certain fact that the author never stirred so much as a toe outside Rome. While it is disappointing that we aren’t reading a first hand account, it is probably reliable, since Ælian would have had plenty of opportunity to meet people who had been to the Balkans, given that a Roman army first entered Macedonia in the winter of 200-199 BC and that the unfortunate country was annexed as a province by the Senate only a few decades later. But on the other hand, Ælian pounces on passing ideas like a thirsty man upon flagons of ale, with the result that there is little order in the work – he discusses elephants in one breath and dragons in the next, which makes his testimony just that little bit flaky.
 Couple Ælian’s vagueness to the disorderly nature of Balkan history and geography and you have a puzzle fit for kings. Just to give you an idea of the problems we face, I present a nineteenth century map of Macedonia. If you look above the lake at Pella (just above the big bay, to right of bottom centre) you will see a river called the Astræus. The one thing I can tell you for certain about this river is that it probably isn’t the Astræus.
Why are we unsure about the location of the river? I mean, surely they don’t move, do they? Well, no, the river has probably stayed put, though man may have interfered with the environment to some extent (see below). But there aren’t any good Roman maps of the area, and by the time good maps did appear, the river names had been changed. If you want to see how much change has occurred – try looking at this map -, which shows how the frontiers stood in 1914.
Part of the reason why it is difficult to identify the location with complete certainty is that the Macedonia that Ælian knew has known its share of the flames of war, with the result that today it is divided between Greece, Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia. The ancient geography is confusing, with many redundant place names, and the chequered political history of this area means that maps are not always what they may seem.
In 1995, a very erudite paper by Professor N.G.L Hammond, an acknowledged expert on Macedonian history ( The Location of the Trout River Astraeus, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies . 36. 2 p173f) pointed out that a considerable drainage project took place in the region in the early twentieth century and that the river which Herodotus and Ælian knew was probably subsumed into a ‘regional channel’ which carried the water from the western foothills of the plain of Beroea into the river Haliacmon. If you have a big enough monitor, a fast connection and the right kind of brain, you will be able to see what has been done by clicking here to open a 1707 map of the area, then here to see a 1690 map , then here to see a 1695 map, and finally here to see a 1720 map, before comparing them with the modern version. If you don’t have the right kind of mind, you will be confused, like I am (-: And I should warn you that these files are all about 125k, so they won’t appear instantly.

If Hammond is correct, his work would place the Astræus near the red ‘107’ on the modern road map above. The regional channel can be identified as following the line of the Moglenica, which now flows entirely within Greece. But Hammond’s paper opens up a wonderful new area – that of the mythology associated with the Astraeus, and those of you who are interested should click here to find out more about it.

There have been more recent attempts to pinpoint the river by Darrell Martin, Dr. Voljc, Charles Jardine and others, but though they make fascinating reading, none of them really strikes me as telling the whole story. In the face of these conflicting opinions, more research is needed before we can be really sure of the location of this elusive and fabled river – if we ever can be.

The other question we might ask is – did fly fishing really originate in Macedonia? The bare fact that the first reference we have to fly fishing locates it in a particular country doesn’t necessarily mean it began there, but I don’t find it too difficult to believe that fly fishing either originated in the Balkans, or came to Europe through Macedonia. My own view is that fly fishing went on undisturbed, but unrecorded, for a thousand years. If fly fishing did originate in the Balkans, it is possible that during this period the technique spread across Europe and perhaps to the Far East and beyond.

So who spread the word? To some extent, the sheer effectiveness of the method must have been its greatest recommendation, but one vehicle for the dispersion of fly fishing across such a wide area might have been the occupying Roman army and the administrators who followed in its wake. Sadly, while the vision of footsore legionaries tramping across Europe carrying fly lines in their dusty baggage is an appealing one, the two centuries that elapsed between Ælian’s publication and the sack of Rome provide hardly enough time for the theory to be correct, unless fly fishing was discovered long before On the Nature of Animals was written – which is more than possible. Another option is that fly fishing was spread by the merchants who travelled in caravan type groups all over the Balkan peninsula during this period, and for long after. As part of their legacy, camels were kept in Macedonia until shortly before the beginning of the second world war. Nomadic shepherds are a third possibility, because they travelled far and wide through this ancient land in search of quality pasture. The sites they favoured are usually above 1500-1800 feet, which is the same area where trout live in southern Europe, and one of the very striking things about Macedonia is that even today shepherds are very often traditional fly fisherman. During the day they moved with their sheep, but since the dogs really did the work, they had plenty of time to cast a fly.

If you have any more to add on this subject, I would be delighted to hear from you – just go back to the home page and follow the email link.

And if you want to read a more academic treatment of the same thing, follow this link and read on…

Fly fishing in medieval times

ntil recently, little was known about fly fishing in medieval Europe, but it has been shown that fly fishing was practised as early as the beginning of the thirteenth century. If you want to know how these anglers fished, click here. German texts mention the catching of trout and grayling using a “feathered hook” (vederanglel) from that date onward. The first reference is from a romance written in about 1210 by Wolfram von Eschenbach, whose hero Schionatulander wades barefoot in a stream to catch trout and grayling with a fly. Other texts identify fly fishing as the chosen method of commoners from 1360 onwards, across a vast area reaching from the Swiss plain to Styria.

At least a dozen manuscripts document early sport fishing in Britain in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. None of these early texts offer anything like a complete a description of their subject, most only favouring fishing with a passing reference, but they do indicate that fishing must have been practised on a relatively wide scale and at some level of sophistication. Perhaps the most illuminating treatment of the subject is in a cryptic Bavarian manuscript volume, which dates from the early fifteenth century. This manuscript, kept in the property manager’s office at the Bavarian abbey of Tegernsee, lists at least fifty different un-named fly patterns. Interestingly, the Tegernsee manuscript lists patterns for catching carp, pike, catfish, burbot and salmon as well as trout and grayling. Our idea of suitable quarry seems to have contracted over the intervening centuries, although fly fishing for pike and carp is making something of a revival these days.

There are at least three fifteenth century English treatises which mention fly fishing. One is the British Library Harley 2389, which describes how to take “trowte”

… in June, iuly an agust in the vpper part of the water with an artificiall flye, made vppon your hooke with sylke of dyverse coloures lyke vnto the flys which be on the waters in these monethes, and fethers be good & pecokes and popiniayes.

The second is Medicina piscium in the Bodleian Library Rawlinson C 506, which describes flies for both trout and salmon:

And iff ye fische for hym in the lapyng tyme ye must dubbe your hoke with the federys of a pertriche or with the federysse of a whyld doke and ye must loke what colowre that the fley is that the trowgth lepythe aftir and ye same colowre must the federisse be and the same colowre must the sylke be of for to bynde the federysse to your hoke.

The third is the Treatyse of Fishing with an Angle the earliest known printed work in English on fly fishing, the full text of which can be found by following the link on this page.

The Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle

he Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle was published as part of the second edition of The Boke of St. Albans in 1496. Two manuscript versions exists, dated prior 1450, but even the most complete copy lacks some of the text of the printed version, in particular the list of flies. We know who published the Treatyse – Wynkyn de Worde, Caxton’s apprentice and successor. The identity of the author is less certain. It is often said that the author was Dame Juliana Berners, but the evidence for this is pretty slim.

The Treatyse is the most complete early reference work on fly fishing. The text includes instructions on how to make a rod, line, hooks, instructions for twelve fly patterns and hints about how to catch the common varieties of British fish.

The Treatyse stands out among works of the period, not least because it is the first printed book on fly fishing, but also because it champions fishing, putting it on the same plane as hunting. Hunting was the sport of kings and nobles, and the Treatyse’s claim must have caused a few raised eyebrows at the time. However, the influence of the Treatyse was immense. It was a popular work and was reprinted many times over the century that followed its first publication.

There were no more major works on fly fishing for another two centuries, so the Treatyse stands alone, an extraordinary achievement, whatever its origins, and whoever the author may have been. The best way of making your mind up about the Treatyse   is to click here and read it – it won’t take you very long.


Fly fishing techniques in the fifteenth century

 

he truth is that we know very little about how people fished a fly prior to the seventeenth century. We can extrapolate to some extent from our knowledge of the equipment they used; rods fourteen feet or more in length, with a twisted horsehair line fixed to the top of the rod – no reel was used. The limitations of the equipment mean that is unlikely that fifteenth century fly fishermen used lines much longer than twice the length of their rod.

It is often assumed that fifteenth century fly fishermen cast the fly, rather than letting their line blow at the mercy of the wind, but this is pure speculation, even if it is reasonable speculation. If they did cast, it would have been with a simple “pick up and lay down,” since the false cast wasn’t invented until the nineteenth century. We have no detail on how a fly was fished, and neither do we have a single clue as to whether the fly was fished up or down. It is highly unlikely that we shall ever know.

The majority of fly fishermen were after trout, since salmon easily outclassed the equipment that was available. Salmon were caught on the fly, but it wasn’t common. Imagine the difficulties of playing a fresh salmon on a short fixed line and you will understand the problem.

The field craft advice in the Treatyse differs very little from modern books, the angler being advised to stay out of the sight of the fish as far as possible, and cautioned to avoid even his shadow falling on the water. We tend to think of the early fly fishing as a clumsy affair, but it wasn’t, unless trout have squeezed in a great deal of evolution in the last five hundred years. No, fifteenth century practitioners were skilled men and women, who not only caught trout with equipment that we would regard as totally inadequate, but who also caught good trout in numbers large enough to sustain the possibility of professional fishing. Where the fifteenth century fisherman differed from his modern counterpart was in his dependency on and vulnerability to the weather. Our forebears prayed for enough wind to disturb the surface of the water, and hide their approach from the trout. And when they had enough wind to fish, they prayed that it blew in the right direction. The day when a fly line could be cast into the wind was centuries away.

In fact, the first mention of casting a fly wasn’t made until 1620, and then it was by Lawson , in one of his more economical moments. To be fair, every word on fly fishing left to us by Lawson is in the form of footnotes to a poem by John Dennys, a circumstance that must have been fairly limiting for him, and it is a pity that he didn’t write more. Even the tone of Lawson’s writing suggests that he was an expert fisherman. He advised fishing with:

… a line twice your rod’s length of three hairs’ thickness, in open water free from trees on a dark windy afternoon, and if you have learned the cast of the fly.

Walton and his contemporaries

o all intents and purposes, we know nothing about fly fishing during the interval between the publication of The Treatyse on Fysshynge with an Angle and the end of the English Civil War. The Civil War (1642-1651) might have divided the nation and families as history was written in iron and blood, but for us, it had the useful effect of prompting a group of five men to write about fly fishing. The five are Thomas Barker, Colonel Robert Venables, Isaac Walton, Charles Cotton and Richard Franck.

The typical seventeenth century fly fisherman used a twisted horsehair line, tapered from seven hairs or more at the thickest part down to three hairs or less at the point. All lines were home-made, and although horsehair was the rule, pure silk, and silk/horsehair mixes were used on occasion. The line was usually fixed to the top of the rod, in which case the length was less than twice the length of the rod. Some anglers allowed the line run free through a loop at the tip of the rod, the free line being held in the angler’s hand, or sometimes attached to a reel. Many fishermen still made their own rods, and a typical specimen might have a cane butt, covered with thin leather or parchment, or painted after the fashion of the London makers at the time. Cotton used single handed rods up to eighteen feet (!) long, but this was unusual and most rods would have been shorter than that. For the fly-fisherman, hazel was recommended, as it made a long light rod that could easily be managed with one hand. The last two feet of the top was cut off and a ‘small shoot of black thorn or crab tree’ fitted onto it, the end of this shoot being cut off in turn and replaced with a small piece of tapered whalebone. The reel was fitted onto the rod by a spring clip with a pad of leather or some other material inside, so that it could be attached at any position on the butt.

In the main, fishermen preferred to cast downstream, but the reality was that they must cast downwind, so they would cast upstream if necessary (there was an argument raging about up versus downstream even in Venables’ day.) A day’s fishing on a winding river might involve several changes of direction of cast; first downstream, then up, as the angle of incidence of the wind on the river changed. The good fisherman tried to cast with the sun at his back, “whipping” the line repeatedly, so that the flies had little time to sink, and as little as possible of the line was drowned. Our model angler prayed for conditions which would make us pack up and go home: wind and coloured water. A windy day was a good day, since it offered the best chance of concealment for the angler; a principle which would hold for another two hundred years.

Walton, a late convert to fly fishing, listed the twelve flies from the Treatyse, but Cotton, writing in the fifth edition of the Complete Angler, gives us sixty five trout flies, marking the beginning of a huge diversification of patterns. By Cotton’s day, there were already marked regional variations in fly patterns, and it seems likely that much development had taken place in the sixteenth century.

We have few details about early salmon flies, but if we read between the lines, a seventeenth century salmon fly might have had a dull body, made of bear’s hair, perhaps wrapped in coloured silk, and hackled with cock, pheasant, partridge, or the gaudy feathers of macaw, flamingo or parakeet. The fly might be left as a palmered pattern, or it could be dressed with one, two, or even three pairs of wings, taken from the teal, heron, mallard or falcon. The size of the patterns would have ranged from large trout fly size upwards.

The calm before the storm:fly fishing in the eighteenth century

here were few startling breakthroughs in the fishing world of the eighteenth century, which was a time of consolidation and incremental change. The rod is a case in point. Early seventeenth century rods lacked running rings, although they sometimes had tip rings. Running rings first appeared on rods towards the end of the seventeenth century. The invention gave anglers much more control over the line while a fish was being played, but it didn’t have much effect on casting distances, since the nature of the lines in use at the time precluded much more than a minimal “shoot”. Early rings were extremely unreliable, and had a strong tendency to pull out of the rod when under pressure, which no doubt contributed to their slow uptake.

By the latter half of the eighteenth century, an increasing differentiation between types of rods was evident and there was increasing sophistication in the choice of materials for the sections. Jointed rods were becoming more common, although the joints (often made of wood, sometimes reinforced with brass,) were horribly unreliable. Trout fly rods were still much longer than we are used to: as much as fourteen to seventeen feet, but the majority were shorter. Typical rods might measure twelve foot long for fishing with lines that terminated in two hairs or more; nine feet for fishing single hairs “for the small fly”, and seventeen feet for salmon. Deal, ash or willow were used for butts, and hickory or hazel for tops, with the by now standard whalebone extension. “Bambou cane” was just coming into use for the construction of top sections, chiefly of salmon rods. An experienced angler might reckon to throw twelve yards of line with one hand, and seventeen with both, using a sixteen foot rod. Whether anyone would have wanted to cast single-handed with a sixteen foot six rod is another question.

Traders were in business making tackle as early as 1600. Gervaise Markham suggested to his readers that they buy their rods in haberdashers’ stores, where there was a ‘great choice’. By the eighteenth century, the tackle trade was well established and selling every conceivable article a fisherman might need, as well as many that they didn’t. A multitude of dealers sprang up during and after Walton’s time, including the great firm Ustonson, which began trading in the 1760s and which was to supply tackle to King George IV.

Making rods was one thing, but it wasn’t long before the commercial possibilities of reels were recognised. Kirby was advertising “the best sort of Winches” in local papers by 1726 and brass winches of various designs were being advertised for sale throughout the latter half of the eighteenth century. It was during this second quarter of the eighteenth century that fishing became popular with merchants and shop keepers, which accounts for why the tackle trade expanded so greatly at the time.

In the last half of the century, there came an awful development – the multiplying reel. The appearance of the multiplier so early in the history of the fly reel is unfortunate, because it sentenced anglers to a century of misery. The multiplier probably arrived on the market about 1750 or so, and was a natural response to the poor design of single action reels of the day. These tended to be wide, with small diameters, and very narrow spindles that made retrieving a fish very tricky if it ran out more than a few yards of line. The multiplier gave the angler a much higher rate of retrieve, but most designs had brass gears, which ground to pieces if they were put under any kind of strain. The illustration shows a clamp foot multiplier – click on it for a better view.

From the days of the Treatyse, anglers had had to twist their own fly lines, generally out of horsehair, but the industrial revolution changed all that. The new ease with which machines could be invented and produced had its first consequences for fly fishing: a variety of tapered manufactured lines became available.

The new lines were tapered, and could be cast with greater accuracy than hand-woven horsehair. The mid-eighteenth century marked the beginning of the end of the use of level lines which incorporated both the running line and the fly line. By 1850, tapered reel lines were pretty much standard issue and it was quite routine for fishermen to reverse a fly line when one end had worn. However, the rapid advances in line manufacture brought a new set of problems in their wake. By the late eighteenth century lines woven from silk and horsehair had appeared, and by the early nineteenth twisted and plaited silk lines had come on the market. Horsehair lines had many disadvantages: they were very light, couldn’t be ‘shot’ easily and had awful memory, particularly when newly-wound off one of the narrow spindled reels in use at the time. On the other hand, silk lines absorbed water very quickly, wore out quickly, and became too heavy to cast with; a problem which would not be resolved until finely-plaited dressed silk lines became widely available in the 1890s. Mixed silk and hair lines were an unhappy compromise, the two materials having quite different properties, but nonetheless they were widely used. They were expensive, wore out quickly, lacked strength, kinked easily, and owing to the protrusion of numberless points of hair ran very badly through the rod rings.

By the end of the century, many fishermen were buying their flies from tackle dealers, rather than tying their own. If considerable advances in rods, reels and lines, had occurred, trout and salmon flies saw very little change in the eighteenth century. In 1790, a fisherman could turn up with Cotton’s selection in his fly box and few would have remarked upon it; forty years later he would have been laughed at. It was the calm before the storm.

The era of innovation: 1800 to 1850

he first half of the nineteenth century was the period when the winged wet fly emerged, and marked the beginning of the evolution of the fully-dressed salmon fly. It was also a time of experimentation, with improvements to rod design being made, plaited silk lines entering into production, and silkworm gut coming into widespread use.

Early nineteenth century rods weren’t much different from their predecessors, the best being made from ash, hickory and lancewood; with Calcutta bamboo being substituted for lancewood if it could be found of good enough quality. With the exception of lancewood and bamboo, these materials had been the mainstay of rod building for two centuries, and they were to remain so for another thirty years. Jointed rods were still as liable to snap off short as they ever had been. Much ingenuity was applied to finding a solution to this problem, and variety of joints were in use by the nineteenth century: a female brass socket taking a wood male end, brass female socket accepting brass-coated male end, and screw joints. The quest would not end until it became possible to manufacture strong thin-walled suction joints. Despite the many other advances that had occurred, whalebone was still in use for rod tops, a length of four or five inches being regarded as sufficient. By now, few bothered to make their own rods, but the one piece of amateur rod-making knowledge that was essential for the early nineteenth century angler was an ability to make his own tops, which broke with monotonous regularity (sometimes several a day.) The length of a salmon rod was unchanged from Walton’s day, but trout rods were beginning to get shorter. The common length of trout rods was between twelve and fourteen feet, although in 1806, Mackintosh suggested that a double handed trout rod should not be less than sixteen feet long! Salmon rods were longer again, perhaps seventeen or eighteen feet.

By 1800 the reel was in almost universal use by fly fishermen. The clamp foot reel was still in widespread use, with “spike” foot reels only slightly less popular. Spike foot reels literally had a threaded spike which was passed through a hole drilled in the butt of the rod, a wingnut fixing the spike where it emerged on the upper side of the handle. There was a good deal of disagreement about whether the reel should go above or below the rod, with the experts evenly divided on the subject. The majority of the advocates of placing the reel on top of the rod fished with multipliers; a position that is still favoured for that type of reel today. By the 1830’s the plate-foot reel was in fierce competition with the clamp foot winch, the spike foot having had its day. The clamp remained a firm favourite, however, and firms like Pfleuger continued to market clamp-foot reels into the last quarter of the nineteenth century. To begin with, rods had to be individually modified to take the modern reel foot, but the new design had so many advantages that it wasn’t long before there was demand for a universal reel seat. Reels were still small by comparison with modern reels; typically no more than an inch or so in diameter and the same in width. There was no reason for them to be any bigger; lines were thin, there being no distinction between the running line and fly line. Apart from the development of the multiplier, reel design had barely altered since Walton’s day and early nineteenth century reels were almost wantonly inadequate: the wide drum, narrow diameter reel continued to dominate the market. With rare exceptions, the British reels of this period that survive are of low quality and one can understand why they were not much liked.

Meanwhile, in America, a separate line of reel design was beginning to emerge. To begin with, the majority of American reels were home-made affairs having crude wooden spools with iron seats. In the early nineteenth century many Americans were still importing their reels, or making their own. Old timers often fished with discarded wool spools, bound into frames by the local tinsmith. But the native industry was gearing up, and single-action brass or German silver reels with curved handles soon became common. George Snyder, a watchmaker and silversmith from Paris, Kentucky, is believed to have made the first quality reels in the United States, sometime between 1805 and 1810. Snyder realised that there was a need for a reliable multiplying reel, and he set down to invent one. Within a few years, other firms had started up, including Meek, Hardman and Milam, between them responsible for the further perfection of the design of the multiplying reel. These “Kentucky reels” were distinguished from British multipliers by the fact that they worked, and it wasn’t long before designs emerged that were capable of casting a line directly from the spool; a trick that you didn’t try twice with a British reel. Several innovations were first seen on American reels, among them the balanced crank handle and the first free-spool mechanism.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century, mass production meant that the price of shop bought lines was in free fall, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. The tackle makers were low on the learning curve; some lines tapered too sharply, others were too thick, and the cheapest lines rotted quickly. The majority of lines were made of a mix of silk and horsehair, but plaited silk lines were coming onto the market. The plaited line was an important development, because it was the first step on the way to water-proof, rot-resistant fly lines. The best lines were plaited from silk, and were thinner and stronger than their twisted counterparts, being available in lengths of eighty or a hundred yards. There was another, important development. Silkworm gut “casts” (or leaders, as we would call them,) were beginning to displace horsehair. Casting distances had improved greatly. In the seventeenth century, the fixed line meant that the rod length was the absolute determinant of the distance an angler could cast. In the early nineteenth century, fishermen were beginning to take more of an interest in rod action as silk and horse-hair lines allowed them to cast further. Lines were of high enough quality that the average fisherman was able to cast reasonable distances: eighteen to twenty-three yards with a sixteen feet rod; and ten or twelve yards into the wind. But matters were complicated by the fact that it was possible to fish several flies on a cast, thanks to the discovery of gut.

Thanks to a book published in 1836 by Ronalds, trout flies had come forward in leaps and bounds. The patterns were recognisably “modern” and the palmered flies (once the mainstay of the fly fisher) had been reduced to a few token patterns – fallen from the dominant position that they had built up during the eighteenth century. Salmon flies had come of age, and the dull patterns that had traditionally been used in the eighteenth century were to be swept away by new creations, inspired by Blacker and Bainbridge , the two outstanding fly-tyers of the first half of the nineteenth century. It is interesting to note that the majority of flies were still tied in the hand. The vice had appeared in the last years of the eighteenth century, but it was still regarded as a dangerous innovation.

jones_guide.jpg (41323 bytes)Leisure travel was becoming possible for ordinary people, and the railway was to play a crucial role in the development of fishing in the UK. The first track was laid in Britain in 1825, and by 1870, the country had 13,500 miles of railway open. The more affluent began to venture abroad for their fishing, and one of the favoured destinations was Norway. The big Norwegian rivers, and the enormous salmon they nurtured, were an irresistible draw for the moneyed British fisherman. They found a country which had no tradition of fly fishing for salmon, and for a while at least, rents were reasonably low.

The beginnings of the salmon fisher’s love affair with Norway were celebrated in Jones’s Guide to Norway , a book which has the distinction of having been written by a man who hadn’t actually been to Scandinavia. Mere details like that were insufficient to hold Tolfrey back, as his backer, a Jermyn Street tackle dealer who sold high quality equipment to the rich and famous, had spotted a market opportunity that was to make the pair of them famous. As the illustration shows, Jones’ patterns were complex and dazzling and they remain among the most challenging salmon flies that a tier can tackle today.

(illustration courtesy of Henrik
Strandgaard – hqs@novo.dk)

The Victorians

 

he years 1851 to 1900 were a time of enormous change in the fly fishing world. In those fifty years, the conventions of centuries would be swept away. The false cast was discovered, the dry fly technique emerged, split cane rods were perfected, and reels that we would appreciate as “modern” appeared. In 1851, there were those who fished the fly and bait using the same rod. By 1900, specialised rods for dry fly fishing were on the market, and no-one would have dreamed of using a fly rod for anything other than its intended purpose.

In the 1850s, the majority of trout rods were still double handers, of twelve to thirteen feet, but salmon rod lengths were much the same as they had ever been. Spey salmon rods were as long as eighteen feet, and Shannon rods longer again, but the disadvantage of long rods was their extreme weight, although they did allow the angler to cover more water. Few anglers had the equipment or the technical expertise to shoot line, so twenty-five yards was a good cast. An expert could manage thirty or even thirty five yards using an eighteen foot rod.

The wind of change began to blow in 1857, when Stewart, a young Scotsman, advocated upstream wet fly fishing with for ‘a light stiff, single-handed rod, about ten feet long.’ This, the discovery of the false-cast early in the decade, and the beginnings of dry fly fishing, began the trend towards shorter trout rods that led to the nine to ten foot split-cane rods of Halford’s generation. Rods on both sides of the Atlantic were still made of and made of lancewood, bamboo and whalebone. The weights of rods belonging to Francis Francis (editor of The Field,) give some idea of why split cane became so popular, but it was upstream dry fly fishing that caused the final defection to the single-handed trout rod. It wasn’t only the length of rods that changed in the last half of the nineteenth century; the materials also changed. In the 1850s, both trout and salmon rods were built of lancewood, bamboo and whalebone. By the end of the century, the majority of better quality trout rods were built of split cane, and almost every salmon rod was built out of greenheart. Salmon rod lengths remained in the fifteen to eighteen foot range, but no longer were they spliced, and the ferrule had finally triumphed as the standard method of fitting sections together.

The improvements in reel design were accelerated by the entry of a new generation of tackle dealers into the market. Firms like Eaton and Farlow concentrated on reel design and were pivotal in the improvements that would take place in the next fifty years. By now checks were standard fittings on reels and wide spindles were common on quality models, although narrow diameter spindles would remain a common feature of reels until at least the 1890s. A major change was that reels were getting lighter, as a result of the use of new materials, particularly aluminium. With Aluminium came a brief vogue for the use of all sorts of exotic materials. Rubber was in popular use for fly-reel construction between the years 1851 (when Goodyear put in his first patent for rubber processing), to around 1925. The hard rubber used in reels of the period went under various brand names, but Ebonite, Xylonite, and Vulcanite were the most common. Developments in Britain were mirrored in America, where by 1845, indigenous reels had almost completely replaced imported products. By the mid nineteenth century, the American fisherman was dependent on Europe for little other than gut. The first American narrow-frame fly reel, made by Charles Orvis, appeared in 1874. From now on, there would be an increasing trend for fly reel development to be dominated by American machine technology. American reel design equalled, and in some respects surpassed, its British counterpart in the last half of the nineteenth century.

Then came catharsis. In the 1890s George Kelson set out to determine exactly how improvements might be made. The firm he chose to continue the design of his reel was Farlow and Co., Ltd., of 191 The Strand. Kelson’s reel was to be marketed subsequently as the ‘Patent Lever Winch‘. The other great reel of the era was the Perfect. Hardy’s reel was introduced in 1891 and included most of the improvements that fishermen had been asking for: it was narrow between the plates, and deep in the drum, with an adjustable check (within a limited range). It had a ‘foot’ mounting, and a patent ‘revolving ring line guard’ which facilitated the shooting of line. The reel ran on ball-bearings and could be taken apart for easy cleaning, unlike the Patent Lever. This ease of disassembly was the key to the Perfect’s success. Prior to the Perfect, the side plates of reels were held together with screwed intermediate bars, and a reel that had grit inside it was a nightmare to take to pieces. The only feature the Perfect lacked was an exposed rim, precluded by the nature of the design. If the Perfect had a fault, it was the drag mechanism, which was barely effective compared with the Kelson design. The Perfect marked a decisive break from the old-fashioned slow winding, wide barrel reel, and was in the forefront of a modern generation of well-designed, fast winding, single-action devices.

The use of horsehair lines began to die out after the 1860’s and 70’s, although the material still had its adherents many decades later. The difficulty of making long lines out of horsehair was a key factor in hastening its end. No longer did fishermen use thirty or forty yard lengths of line and hang on like grim death when they hooked a salmon; the development of the check, high capacity single-action reels, backing line and the acceptance of tapered fly lines meant that they could cast a long way and allow a fish to run. the braided silk fly lines had such a huge advantage over level horsehair that no angler who had tried silk once would ever go back to the traditional materials. Silk could be cast further, mended, and generally controlled so completely that it revolutionised fly fishing. The combination of the new rod materials and silk lines brought about a quantum leap in the distance that it was possible to throw a line. Almost every cast we know today had been discovered by the 1890s, and the average salmon fisherman could contemplate a cast of thirty yards. The experts cast much further, forty or even sixty yards.

The 1890s were the high water mark of traditional “fully-dressed” salmon fly design. Under the influence of George Kelson, John Traherne and many others, some of the most spectacular creations of fur and feather were tied during this period. The exuberence of the patterns reflected the confidence of the Victorians, and their beauty exceeded even that of the flies tied by Blacker and his generation. The number of different patterns in common use was extraordinary, with Kelson giving 300 different tyings in his book, and Hale and Hardy even more. A sophisticated import trade grew up around the need for exotic feathers, and despite a few dissenting voices, the fully-dressed salmon fly was to dominate salmon fly fishing until as late as the early 1950s.

In trout fishing circles, there was one development during this period that overshadowed all the others. This was the discovery of the dry fly. Not only did the popularity of the upstream dry fly method have an enormous impact upon rod design, favouring shorter, split cane products, but it split trout fishermen into two camps, at the expense of a great deal of heat and light. In the 1890s, trout wet fly fishing development effectively stalled, and it was the dry fly that was to drive the technology of the next century.

The Dry Fly

he first mention of the dry fly in print is in the issue of The Field dated December 17th 1853. In an article by-lined “The Hampshire Fly Fisher” the writer says: “On the other hand, as far as fly fishing is concerned, fishing upstream, unless you are trying the Carshalton dodge and fishing with a dry fly, is very awkward.” Dry fly patterns certainly became commercially available around this time; the firm of Foster’s of Cheltenham selling dry flies with upright split wings as early as 1854. It is, however, unclear who actually developed the first dry fly, if any one man can be said to be the inventor. James Ogden, another Cheltenham tackle dealer, claimed to have been the first to use a dry fly, stating that he used dry patterns during the 1840’s. But although Ogden certainly fished patterns that floated, others did so before him, without making any claims for primacy.

Ogden and Foster were certainly part of the generation who began the transformation the floating fly into the hackled dry fly during the years 1840 to 1850. If the time frame is correct, then the development of the false cast in the early 1850’s makes a good deal of sense. Whatever the chronology was, the discovery took a good while to sink in and gain general acceptance. By the late 1880’s the dry fly was well established, although it was by no means universally adopted. Amazing to relate, the first River Test trout wasn’t killed with a dry fly until 1888 – thirty-four years after Foster’s patterns had first gone on sale. The late adoption of the dry fly on the English chalk streams is even more striking when one considers that Thaddeus Norris was using a dry fly on the tumbling streams of Philadelphia as early as 1864.

One reason why the dry fly took so long to catch on was that it wasn’t very easy to fish it. The dry fly of the 1880’s had several glaring deficiencies. When cast, traditional dry flies frequently landed on their sides, or even upside down. Another problem was that the that flies became waterlogged and sank, often in fairly short order. Again, flies were most often tied to gut, which not only made bodies bulky but positively encouraged them to sink, a process which was speeded up by the tendency of silk lines to become waterlogged.

Another key development was the acceptance of the single-handed split-cane trout rod. The 1850s marked the beginning of the end of long double-handed trout rods, although they didn’t go totally fall from favour for at least another forty years. Apart from their length, the worst fault of these early and mid-nineteenth century rods was their excessive pliability. Six strip split-cane fly rods, which were stiff enough to false-cast a dry fly repeatedly, didn’t become cheap enough for general use until the 1880’s.

We don’t know who discovered the false-cast, but we know where it might have been discovered, because of a piece in the issue of The Field dated December 17th 1853. In an article by-lined ‘The Hampshire Fly Fisher’ the writer says:

‘On the other hand, as far as fly fishing is concerned, fishing upstream, unless you are trying the Carshalton dodge and fishing with a dry fly, is very awkward.’

Carshalton is now a suburb of London, but in those days it boasted some good water and the ‘Carshalton dodge’ was the first name by which false casting was known. For such an important development, the false cast was discovered very quietly by some unsung angler to whom we all owe a huge debt of gratitude.

The term ‘false-casting’ wasn’t adopted immediately, although the technique was widely practised, and for many years after its invention, the process of drying a fly by false-casting was known as ‘spreading.’ The technique led to the development of stiffer rods with pliant tops that could generate the line speed necessary to perform the manoeuvre and had a far-reaching effect on the design of dry-fly rods. These were pioneering days, and one school of thought held that in the absence of paraffin flotants, it was necessary to ‘crack’ the fly at the end of every false-cast in order to dry it properly, a method known as ‘flicking’. One of the major problems with this technique that it weakened the gut just in front of the fly, with the result that the fly eventually cracked off on a back cast, or worse still, broke off on the strike. The sheer bother of drying a fly every time it sank (which was pretty quickly) encouraged anglers to keep false casting to a minimum, except in conditions where the trout were large and couldn’t be caught any other way – but it worked when all other methods failed.

A group of fishermen including F.M. Halford, G. S. Marryat, H. S. Hall, E. J. Power, Dr. T. Sanctuary; and various professionals including Holland, Hammond, Currell and Chakley took the floating fly, improved on it and produced the dry fly that we use today. It is traditional to give Halford much of the credit, chiefly because he wrote so extensively about the subject to which he had devoted his life, but Marryat was the driving force behind the patterns which made his friend Halford so famous.

Halford gained prominence partly because he originated and belonged to the “exact imitation” school, devoting his life to the development of a definitive series of flies for the chalk streams. He continually refined his ideas, and his final selection, some 33 flies in number, was published in The Modern Development of the Dry Fly . Halford was obsessed with obtaining an exact match to the colour of the insects he was imitating; and spent many thousands of hours comparing his artificials to preserved naturals. Despite his painstaking research, Halford was later to be much criticised for his approach, and the passage of time has eliminated most of his patterns from anglers’ fly boxes.

But there was more to Halford than a set of patterns. In 1886 he attempted to define dry fly fishing as “… presenting to the rising fish the best possible imitation of the insect on which he is feeding in its natural position.”

Which he broke down to four conditions:

  1. finding a fish feeding on winged insects.
  2. presenting to him a good imitation of the natural insect both as to size and colour.
  3. presenting it to him in its natural position, floating and “cocked”.
  4. putting it lightly on the water so that it floats accurately over him without drag.
  5. that the four previous points should have been fulfilled before the fish has caught sight of the angler and his rod.

It was a bold attempt to enshrine the art of the dry fly on the chalk streams, and for a long time it succeeded, until the nymph fishermen won the day and their own part in history.

The Gaudy Salmon Fly

 

almon fishing wasn’t a popular sport before the nineteenth century and as a result early salmon fly patterns are hard to find, although we do know that they existed, because salmon fishing is mentioned in the Treatyse on Fishing with an Angle. Walton mentions salmon flies in passing, as does Franck, but neither pays much attention to the subject and as a result, these two flies, given by Bowlker in 1774, are the first detailed patterns to be listed:

DRAGON FLY
The wings are made of a reddish brown feather from the wing of a cock turkey, the body of auburn-coloured mohair warped with yellow silk, and a ginger cock’s hackle wrapped under the wings; the hook No. 2 or 3. Or it may be varied thus; the wings of a rich brown feather from a heron’s wing; the body drab, or olive-coloured mohair, a bittern’s hackle under the wings, and a forked tail. This fly is about two inches in length.

KING’S FISHER, or PEACOCK FLY
This is also a salmon fly, and is seen at the same time as the Dragon Fly. The wings are made of a feather from the neck or tail of a peacock; the body of deep green mohair, warped with light green silk; and a jay’s feather striped blue and white, wrapped under the wings; the hook No. 2 or 3. It may be thus varied; the wings of a dark shining green feather from a drake’s wing; the body of green mohair warped with chocolate silk; and a bittern’s hackle under the wings.

It wasn’t long before more salmon fly patterns appeared in print, in a book written by a man called Taylor, who was one of the first to deal with the increasingly popular sport of salmon fishing at length. Taylor gave us three detailed salmon fly patterns, the first good description of how to tie a salmon fly, and the first reference to the vice. One of the interesting things about Taylor is the way he used materials like parrot and golden pheasant, which gave his patterns a distinctly gaudy air. This raises a question about the origins of the ‘gaudy’ salmon fly; the development of which seized the imagination of nineteenth century fly tyers, and arguably took the development of the salmon fly to its zenith.

It is commonly held that Ireland is where the gaudy salmon fly originated, and it is likely that there is more than a grain of truth in this, although some of the very early English salmon flies were pretty bright. The trouble is that if the early Irish fly tyers wrote anything it would have been in Irish, and because printing was controlled by license of the British crown, little was printed about Irish flies before 1800, with the result that we are almost completely in the dark about early Irish patterns. If anything earlier exists, it is likely to be not only hand written, but in Irish, making it doubly hard to track down.

Despite a few gaudy originals, the bulk of early Scottish, Welsh and English salmon flies were dull in the extreme, and my own view is that early Irish flies were hardly different to their English counterparts. As evidence for this, I would point to the selection that Tolfrey fished in Canada in 1816; a very early list of Irish patterns. When Tolfrey tried to establish the origin of the patterns, he asked no less an authority than William Blacker, who confirmed that he had fished the same flies on the Bann. Here are three of the flies:

No. 1. Body, yellow tag, next to purple, cinnamon-brown mohair, or pigs-down at the shoulder, reddish-brown hackle for legs; wing, hen pheasant’s tail, two strips of Mallard wing, for tail; either ribbed or not with gold or silver twist. Hook 8 or 9, Limerick.

No. 2. Body, brown pig’s hair full slightly ribbed with gold twist. Wing, from the wing of a hen pheasant. Tail two strips of mallard wing. B. B.

No. 3. Body, tipped with yellow, then dark blue pig’s down up to the head ; black hackle wound from the tail up, and silver twist. Wing, teal-feather. Hook 8 or 9.

I hope that you will agree that these are not gaudy flies. They lack macaw horns, are bereft of jungle cock, haven’t the merest hint of cock of the rock, and can’t boast a sprig of gallina between them. So when were the flies designed? Since Blacker was born in 1814, the earliest date he could have fished them was, say 1830, allowing us to fix the latest date the patterns could have been created to between 1816 to 1830. My own opinion is that these are early nineteenth and possibly even late eighteenth century Irish patterns. This puts them firmly among the earliest known Irish salmon flies, and while they lack the solemnity of Scottish patterns, they aren’t very showy either. One of the few sources of illustrations of pre-1850 salmon flies is Scrope’s book, which has some superb plates like the one above, showing patterns which definitely have touches of colour, but have little in common with the pile of flies in the plate below, originals which were tied barely fifty years later.

The fact that very few people fished for salmon with a rod and line meant there was a dearth of salmon fly patterns of any description before 1800, and very few before 1816, and yet old Franck’s dubbing bag was filled with macaw, flamingo and parakeet. I think it was these patterns which were the inspiration for the revolution that followed, and the first signs of that revolution were found in Ireland.

We don’t know for sure who kicked the new fad off, but O’Shaughnessy, perhaps the most famous Irish fly tyer of all time, is a candidate. O’Shaughnessy established his business in Limerick in 1795, and his name is mentioned too often in conjunction with early gaudy flies for it to be a coincidence, given that his hooks were so prized that fishermen travelled from far away to obtain supplies of them. O’Shaughnessy would have been well placed to start the new trend. At the time, Limerick was a large seaport, into which exotic materials, including feathers would have been imported all the time. The Erne tyers were equally likely to have been involved in setting the new trend and James Rogan and Pat McKay certainly made their names tying gaudy flies.

Whatever the origins of the gaudy fly may have been, within a very few years, the dull traditional salmon fly was swept away in a flood of brilliant new creations. The fact that these flies were completely unnecessary didn’t have the slightest impact on the near hysteria with which salmon fishers adopted them. With few exceptions, the sombre traditional patterns, which had worked so well for many years, were swept aside by bright new substitutes, but the process took well over a century.

Into this great melting-pot came a man of great talent, William Blacker. Blacker was born in Cronbane, near the village of Redcross in County Wicklow, Ireland, but he later emigrated to England where he set up as a fly tyer and tackle dealer, capitalising on the brisk rise in popularity of salmon fishing which started in the 1840s. Where the salmon fly is concerned, Blacker was the torch that illuminated the night; the patterns he created suddenly made anything seem possible.

Blacker’s fame spread so far and wide that it wasn’t long before he could afford to charge £3 for a month’s tuition of four hours each day at trout and salmon fly tying. His trout flies were very traditional, and are largely derived from earlier works, but nothing like his salmon flies had ever been seen before. Sadly, Blacker died of TB in 1856, depriving fly fishing of a genius at the height of his creativity – he was only 42 years old.

Blacker is strongly associated with the rise in popularity of gaudy salmon flies in Britain, but the trend had started before he was born, with the import of so-called ‘Irish’ flies into Scotland. We know that gaudy flies weren’t completely new in English and Scottish fishers’ books, but by and large the majority of salmon flies in the early nineteenth century were pretty dull. The flood of colourful new patterns upset many well established apple carts, and they received a frosty reception from many experts, despite the fact that anglers loved them. Competition became intense, and it wasn’t long before there was an enormous variety of patterns on offer.

As it happens, we can date the arrival of gaudy flies in Scotland quite precisely. According to Younger, the first contingent of ‘Irish’ flies were seen on the Tweed around 1810, and the interlopers were so successful that they swept the old patterns away within a few years. The traditionalists were not amused by the eclipse of their favourites, and Thomas Tod Stoddart, a man who was normally the bane of the establishment’s life, was provoked into a shrill fit of apoplexy. In the process he did us the great favour of naming the newcomers:

Answer me – Where in thy day was the Doctor? where the Parson? where the Butcher? where the Childers? – where, in short, all those prismatic rarities that stock so amply the tin and vellum of a modern salmon-fisher? You possessed them not. It was neither your wish nor your interest to employ them.

We might add the Dundas Fly and the General to the shortlist of miscreants, but Stoddart’s despised list of prismatic rarities formed the foundation for an explosion of creativity which would only be stopped by a world war. Auld Tom might not have approved of the trend, but from that moment onward, salmon flies could never be accused of being nondescript.

And then came the railway.

It can hardly be overstated just how dramatic the effect that this new form of transport had on the development of the salmon fly. With increasing numbers of fishermen heading for Scotland, the demand for new patterns of fly skyrocketed and the dealers were only too happy to oblige. This put the traditional salmon fly under attack. Many local anglers saw the increasingly popular gaudy salmon fly as an Irish interloper, which displaced perfectly good local patterns. During the middle years of the nineteenth century the strong links which had existed between patterns and their rivers of origin began to be lost, although were tiers who still paid lip-service to the tradition many decades later.

(Picture reproduced by permission of the Llangollen Railway Society http://www.llangollen-railway.co.uk/)

Before 1850, anglers like Scrope were content to fish with a mere handful of flies all of which had strong local associations. After 1850 the sheer choice of patterns made it difficult to justify the link – not that it prevented writers like Francis from quoting selections of flies ‘for the River Garry,’ and ‘for the River Ness,’ and so forth. The new flies had a truly international flavour, and they appealed mightily to the Victorian psyche. Fishermen took them abroad and slew huge fish in Norway with them; so why shackle them to a tiny spate river of the west coast of Scotland? Yet there was still a residual conviction that patterns of salmon flies were likely to be more successful if they were developed for specific rivers, on the grounds that local fish ‘understood’ them better. The idea of a Tweed fish being taken on a Garry fly just didn’t suit every angler’s sense of justice and aesthetics. The result was a deal of mental gymnastics as fishermen attempted to rationalise the reasons for the success of patterns. Again and again, patterns were published with minor tweaks which were credited with their success when used ‘away from home,’ George Kelson being one of the worst offenders. These years were the heyday of the gaudy salmon fly and literally thousands of different patterns were invented.

The two outstanding salmon fly tyers of this period are Jones and Major John Traherne (shown in the pic, dig the hat). Jones was a tackle dealer who had a business at 111 Jermyn Street, London, in the heart of the city’s most fashionable area. He sold high quality rods and reels to the leisured classes, and chose Tolfrey, a young journalist, to write a book which promoted Norway, the favourite destination of Jones’ customers . The Guide illustrates Jones’ outstandingly beautiful flies in a wonderful series of hand-coloured plates which must have made them just walk off his shelves:

THE ASSASSIN
Tail – Golden Pheasant, Guinea-hen, and Blue Macaw.
Tip – Gold twist, blue silk, scarlet silk, and Ostrich.
Body – Lower half, dark blue, and upper half, claret Pig’s wool.
Ribbed – Gold tinsel.
Legs – Dark claret hackle.
Throat – Jay’s Hackle.
Wing – (Mixed) Mallard, Teal, Bustard, Black Cockatoo, Guinea-hen, golden Tippet, and golden Topping over all.
Horns – Blue Macaw.
Head – Black.

In the space of a mere fifty years the salmon fly had been transformed from a workmanlike object into a jewel – and there was more to come.

By the 1890’s, a vast selection of patterns was available, and the well-equipped salmon fisherman’s fly-box was a riot of colour. The selection of materials in use was quite breathtaking: tying silks, floss silks, seal’s fur, pig’s wool and mohair, chenilles of various kinds, and tinsels; then the hackles: white, yellowish-white, white furnace, white and other shades of coch-y-bonddhu, black, blue dun, blue furnace, red furnace, cuckoo and kneecap ; feathers: golden pheasant, blue and yellow macaw, scarlet macaw, blue and red macaw, toucan, Indian crow, jungle cock, green parrot, chatterer, bustard, florican bustard, guinea-fowl, mallard, teal, pintail, widgeon, summer duck, jay, scarlet ibis, turkey, swan, peacock and ostrich.

There was a fly for every conceivable circumstance, and several flies for circumstances which were not – take the Elsie, which George Kelson described as ‘a special pattern for fish lying behind upright rocks and large boulders.’ Tying techniques were far more sophisticated than they had been even thirty years earlier. The new patterns took the technical challenge of fly tying onto a new plane, since the process of cramming so many materials into a small space mercilessly exposed the slightest technical incompetence on the part of the tier.

At the turn of the century, the complexity of the salmon fly was at its zenith. Some idea of the hold that the gaudy fly had over salmon fishermen’s minds can be found in a quote from Kelson himself:

Is it not notorious that in several of our rivers the fish have been educated to persistently snub old patterns in favour of the new? And is it indeed not an achievement to present to the fish a fly that he then and there prefers to your rival’s – to have yourself made the attraction so strong, as to establish, more or less permanently, a decided taste in the fish, so that he refuses other flies, to wait for yours!

The idea is pure baloney, but the pretentious Kelson was typical of many salmon fishers in his uncritical worship of what he imagined as the perfection of salmon fly design. As a result he was completely obsessed with utterly trivia, such as the tag; which he pompously venerated as ‘a tribute to nature’.

Kelson wasn’t alone in his romantic conclusions. These were the days of ‘analytical diagrams’ of salmon flies, which divided and subdivided the fly into dozens of constituent parts; tying competitions and of a total lack of inquiry into whether it was really necessary to go to all this trouble in the first place.

If the 1890s marked the zenith of the gaudy salmon fly’s evolution, they were also marked by the first signs of dissent. Sir Herbert Maxwell was quick to point out that:

The popular theory encourages the extraordinary delusion that every river requires its peculiar combination of silk, wool, tinsel and feathers to take the salmon which frequent it. Thus we have Tweed flies, Tay flies, Spey flies, Usk flies, Shannon flies, none of which it is orthodox to use on any stream except that from which it derived its origin.

In spite of the cult of salmon fly dressing, a debate was growing about the need for endless legions of specialised flies, fuelled perhaps by a backlash against the high prices charged for individual flies. Maxwell’s final comment on the matter was a conclusion that the colour and materials of a fly mattered little to the fish, while the size and movement were all important. It is probable that few anglers paid much attention to him, for Maxwell’s judgement was ahead of its time, but the days of the gaudy fly were nearly over and the fall from grace, when it came, would as quick as it was unexpected.

If I had to pick a time for the beginning of the end of the gaudy salmon fly, it would the year 1908, because that was when the controversy of the Inky Boy erupted in the Fishing Gazette. The Inky Boy was a wonder fly invented George Kelson, one of the most influential fishermen of this day, but many of Kelson’s readers found the fly totally useless and wrote to tell him so. Kelson asked for samples and made much of the fact that the unsuccessful patterns all differed in some way from the dressing he specified. With a final flourish, he derided the failed readers patterns as unsuitable for catching anything but chub. Here is his dressing:

Tag: silver twist and two turns of crimson Berlin wool
Tail: a topping, a point of the tippet imitation of the Querula Cruenta and a narrow strip of Summer Duck
Butt: black herl
Body: thick black horsehair, closely coiled
Hackle: from the centre of body of Tourocou crest
Throat: a buttercup yellow furnace hackle
Wings: Golden Pheasant tippet in strands, unbarred Mandarin drake, a right and left hand claret strand of Tourocou, two narrow strips of Summer Duck, a suspicion of gallena and a topping.

Then nemesis struck. R.B. Marston, the editor of the Fishing Gazette, made the mild observation that there was no reason why a slight alteration from the dressing should cause fish to refuse a fly. Kelson’s reply was magisterial:

…what in the name of Fortune can be the reason for throwing cold water on the infinitely more important measure of being careful and accurate in a fly for use when the most difficult conditions prevail?

Marston’s response was to print a cartoon which showed a grateful Inky Boy bursting into tears, under the caption ‘I hope I am correctly dressed at last!’ This prompted a reply from Reginald Kelson, defending his invalid father’s reputation. Marston’s riposte was:

His [i.e Kelson’s] book is supposed to give us the history of certain salmon flies. I say that some of these he claimed to have invented or named were neither invented nor named by him.

Kelson claimed he was the inventor of making salmon flies with mixed wings. Salmon flies with mixed wings were made before he was even heard or thought of.

Marston went on to dissect Kelson’s claims step by step, finishing with an extraordinary article in which he listed Kelson’s assertions in a column on the left and rebutted them in merciless detail on the right. The old editor finished with a slightly weary: ‘Shall we cry quits, K?’ but there was no need because his adversary, over seventy and in ill-health, was already finished. Neither of the protagonists gained much from the exchange, but Kelson’s credibility was shattered, and so was the myth of the gaudy salmon fly.

The quiet revolution:1900 to 1950

t the turn of the century, a state-of the art trout fly rod was single handed, and somewhere between 9′ 6″ and 11 feet long. Most salmon rods remained in the sixteen to eighteen foot range, built either of split-cane or the heavier greenheart. Trout rod weights were now measured in ounces, while weights of salmon rods had fallen dramatically; the Hardy ‘Champion’ rod 17.9 feet weighed 2lb 8 ozs, and the ‘Hi-Regan’ sixteen footer came in at 2lb 3¾ ozs. The hexagonal split-cane rod was the dominant design, with single, double and steel-centred builds available on request. There were still some surprises left; the very fine Chinese ‘Tonkin’ cane would wait until the 1930’s to be discovered. The alternative to cane was greenheart, which had the advantage of being far less expensive than split cane. Greenheart had the disadvantage that it was extremely difficult for the average fisherman to shoot as much line with a greenheart rod as he could with a split cane rod, and cane cast better and further. The ‘old’ materials persisted for longer than many people think. The last greenheart rod made by Hardy Bros. went out of production in 1952, the material having been used for production since 1885.

The ferrule had at last triumphed over the splice, although British designed ferrules lacked the quality of their American counterparts (the suction ferrule was perfected by Orvis). The splice might have been down, but it wasn’t out. As late as 1958, Jock Scott was still recommending the splice over the ferrule, and Sharpe still made a range of spliced rods. But by 1900, ferruled rods had approximated to spliced rods in weight and cost and the death knell of the splice had been sounded. Reel seats were beginning to standardise, and Hardy were promoting the ‘Universal’ reel seat invented by Dr. Emil Weeger. The Universal had two wedge-shaped holders, one fixed for pushing the reel plate into, the other a loose ring that pushed down to secure the reel foot. By 1913, Hardy had released their patent screw winch fitting. The new reel seat hid the one side of the reel mount in a recess in the cork at the bottom of the cork handle, the other end of the reel foot being trapped by screwing a locking ring into place. With minor modifications, this type of reel seat is in widespread use today.

Rods

Rods were becoming more comfortable to use and cork was coming into widespread use as a covering for handles. Prior to the 1880s, butts were made either by machining a swelling into the material, or sometimes by wrapping it with pig skin. By 1900, many quality rods had natural cork handles, with ground cork being used on inferior rods. The old ‘drop ring’ which swung loose, fastened to the rod by a hoop set parallel to the line of the rod, had gone out of fashion. Snake and bridge rings were the rule on better rods, and tip rings were lined with agate on quality rods.

The consensus on the length of salmon rods that had held for three hundred years was soon to be broken. A.H.E. Wood revolutionised salmon fishing by inventing the ‘greased-line’ technique in the early 1930s. Wood’s revolutionary system of salmon fishing not only allowed summer fishing for salmon, but it encouraged the use of shorter rods. His friends took to using ‘strong trout rods’ nine or ten feet in length. A floating line did not require a long, strong rod to lift it, and the days of salmon fishing as a muscular sport were drawing to a close. Nine feet was the target to beat, and it didn’t take long to fall. Ten years after Wood’s 1930’s experiments, Lee Wulff took the issue to it’s logical extreme . The arguments that Wulff put forward were so persuasive that the ‘long’ rod vanished from North American fishing within a decade. The short rod became the trade-mark of the American fly fisherman, and for a time, rods shrank to vestigial sizes. Arnold Gingrich fished for a time with a Royal Crown Phantom rod – a four and a quarter foot split-cane trout rod weighing one ounce, that was manufactured by Hardy. Double-handed salmon rods were virtually eliminated from the fishing scene, and have only begun to make a comeback in the last few years, as a Spey-casting craze sweeps America.

Reels

Few reels can be said to have had more influence on subsequent development than the Hardy Perfect. The Perfect marked a decisive break from the old-fashioned slow winding, wide barrel reel, and was in the forefront of a modern generation of well-designed, fast winding, single-action devices. The other great reel of the day was the Malloch “Sun and Planet” reel, named after the gearing arrangement within the casing. The early years of the twentieth century were a time of great innovation, and the design of the fly reel was greatly improvedl. At long last, the technology was up to the job, and the designers were free to experiment. Farlow reels of the period illustrate this well. In 1910, Farlow released the Patented Still-Handle Reel, which resembled the Patent Lever in all respects except that the handle did not revolve when line was stripped from the drum. In the same year, Farlow marketed the Cooper Multiplying Reel, which had a handle which extended beyond the frame for winding, but tucked in during casting, and a few years later they produced the Heyworth , which had a silent check But such rapid development was not to last. The Depression and the Second World War took their toll on the reel as much as it did on society at large. The years from 1930 to 1950 mark a low water mark in modern European reel development. Many of the reels produced during this period were of worse quality than those manufactured fifty years earlier. The sixties boom economies fuelled the recovery of the tackle suppliers, but their ranks had been dramatically thinned out, and many of the old British names were gone. From this time onwards, American designed reels began to lead the way.

Fly Fishing for Trout

The period from 1890 to 1930 was the heydey of the dry fly on the English chalk streams, and the time when American fly fishers finally kicked over the traces and dveloped their own distinct identity, with a rush of new patterns and techniques. Perhaps the most important development during this period was the discovery of nymph fishing, by one of the angling greats, G.E.M. Skues. We are still being carried forward by the momentum of developments made during this period.

Salmon Fishing and Flies

The inter-war years saw another revolution in fly fishing technique, with the widespread use of floating lines and floating flies. Until A.H.E. Wood’s discovery of the “greased line technique”, salmon fishing in Britain finished to all intents and purposes, at the end of spring, with a brief resurgence in the cold and cloudy days of autumn. The impact that Wood’s ideas had on salmon fishing is difficult to imagine now, but at the time, they were revolutionary. After Wood, summer fishing became not only possible, but profitable. Wood was extremely innovative, raising mending to a high art, as part of a system of fly fishing that demanded the presentation of the fly to the fish just awash and “sidling past him and floating downstream” like a dead leaf. “Greased line” fishing is frequently misunderstood as referring to any presentation of a sunk salmon fly on a floating line. Wood regarded any pull on the fly by the action of the stream on the line as fatal, and would mend the cast obsessively to achieve the effect.

After Wood, the focus of salmon fishing development moved to America. Three men were to pioneer a new breakthrough: Hewitt, La Branche and Monell. Their inspiration came from none other than Theodore Gordon, who tied dry flies for salmon some time before 1903. Although La Branche proved that salmon would take just about any dry fly, he developed a special series of palmer hackled flies for the purpose, which rode high on their hackle points. LaBranche was later to compare the patterns to bottle brushes, and the trio settled on four patterns: the Colonel Monell, Soldier Palmer, Pink Lady Palmer, and the Mole. Despite Gordon, Monell, Hewitt and LaBranche’s pioneering work, the dry fly was not popularised until the 1930s, when Lee Wulff revisited the whole problem of floating flies for salmon, and indulged in some major design work. The result was the Gray Wulff, a pattern which was so successful that it encouraged the inventor to develop the White Wulff and the Royal Wulff. The three patterns still form the mainstay of many fishermen’s dry fly boxes. The dry fly method works well for salmon, anywhere where fish are present in large quantities, where a sighted fish can be accurately fished to, or in water temperatures over 60° Fahrenheit, which may explain why it is not so successful in Northern Europe.

Leader material

By the end of the nineteenth century, natural or “undrawn” gut had had its day, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to find it. Undrawn gut was almost impossible to find by the beginning of the Second World War, at which time most gut was being sourced from Spain, and the familiar “x” system of grading drawn gut was well established. In 1909 or 1910, a material called “Japanese Gut” or “Gut Substitute” made an appearance. There were various brand names for the material, including “Telerana Nova,” “Padrona,” “Jatgut,” and “Subgut.” The basis of this material was silk from silkworm cocoons; this was made into a thread of the required thickness and then boiled in a mixture of animal glue and an extract of seaweed. The end-product was chemically dried, and polished, but the results were unpredictable, to say the least, and there was considerable scope for poor quality copies. Nevertheless, given the problems with the supply of natural gut, Japanese gut became a popular leader material

Hairwing flies

The exact origins of the hair-wing salmon fly are obscure, but it seems to have originated in the late nineteenth century in North America. Bucktail flies were first used for bass fishing as early as the 1890s. As far as is known, the originator of hairwing flies was an Idaho rancher called A.S. Trude, who first fished his patterns some time between 1886 and 1890. Colonel Lewis S. Thompson saw the flies and had them adapted for trout fishing, trying them much later for salmon on the Restigouche (in 1928, or even a few years earlier.) The motive behind this radical departure from tradition is not recorded, but it isn’t hard to guess. Many of the materials used for tying “standard” fly patterns were becoming hard to find in Europe, never mind America, and the temptation to experiment with local materials which were abundant and cheap must have been hard to resist. The major development of the hairwing was undertaken in the 1920s and 1930s on the East coast of North America. The fully-dressed wet fly was in widespread use in America at the time, and a group of fly tiers began experimenting with simpler conventional patterns. They worked so well that it wasn’t long before they abandoned the use of feathers in the wing and started to tie with local materials such as bear, squirrel, wood chuck and deer. The success of these patterns elbowed out the traditional British salmon flies, and led to a new and innovative school of North American fly tiers. We still fish with the products of their imagination.

Today and tomorrow:1951 to ?

he modern period has been dominated by the development of new materials, and there is no doubt that without plastics, fly fishing as we know it would be unrecognisable as a sport, although the basic principles would be the same.

Glass-fibre rods first appeared in the late 1940’s, but it took a while for the new material to be adopted. Suppliers showed varying degrees of enthusiasm for the material. Hardy’s first glass fibre rod was built in 1954, and after a period in which glass and cane uneasily coexisted, their first carbon fibre rod followed in 1976. Rod weights plunged, reaching the point where line weight became a consideration in rod handling. A modern fifteen foot carbon fibre rod typically weighs around the pound mark, and a nine-foot rod three and a half ounces. A table given by John Ashley Cooper makes a useful comparison:

Rod length Greenheart Split cane (spliced) Fibre glass Carbon graphite
16 ft 30 oz
15 ft 35 oz 28 oz 25 oz 13 ½ oz
14 ft 30 oz 23 oz 21 oz 11 ½ oz
13 ft 24 ½ oz 18 ½ oz 17 oz 10 oz
12 ft 19 oz 14 ½ oz 13 oz 9 oz

If anyone wonders why fibreglass did not replace split cane overnight, the answer lies in the table. Glass rods weighed much the same as their split cane equivalents, and offered the fisherman few advantages other than price. Carbon fibre, on the other hand, approaches half the weight of either split cane or glass. Once the technical problems of using the new material had been solved, carbon fibre rods entered mass production and neither of the older materials could offer any contest. Cane was swept away by the mid nineteen eighties, although it is making something of a comeback on aesthetic grounds.

The Fly Line

As with rod development, the post-war period was dominated by the development of new materials. This was just as well; Japanese gut ceased to be available to the Allied countries as soon as war was declared. By 1944/5 other gut substitutes had become available from French and Spanish suppliers, but they were swept aside by a new material – Nylon. Nylon was patented by Dupont in 1938, and was made under licence in the UK by ICI. Immediately post war, two types of nylon line were manufactured; monofilament and braided. Braided nylon gained immediate popularity with spin fishermen. Early monofilament was not as popular, and suffered from memory, a tendency to spring or cut through at the knots, and excessive elasticity. The tribulations of fishing with nylon, and the fact that gut was more reliable in the finer gauges, meant that gut soldiered on for a few more years, and a few anglers used it well into the nineteen sixties.

In 1949, polyvinyl chloride became available, and the first nylon fly line appeared. As a product, it was far from perfect, but it showed the way ahead. The taper was produced by varying the amount of nylon fibre in the core, and the core was hollow, with all its attendant disadvantages. In 1952, the discovery of a method of altering the thickness of the PVC coat on the new lines allowed nylon lines to be produced relatively cheaply. The taper on these lines could be controlled to a precise amount, and the invention of methods of altering the specific gravity of the PVC coating (and hence its buoyancy) gave the product greater flexibility than anyone had ever dreamed of in a fly line.

The Reel

We are very nearly up to date on the subject of gear, but is one small piece of the jigsaw puzzle missing. At the beginning of the modern period, it was unusual to find fly reels with exposed rims. The idea was not new; for example, Nottingham reels had incorporated the feature since the mid-nineteenth century. But the exposed rim was not de rigeur on fly-reels the way a check was. With the acceptance of the exposed rim, the design of the modern reel was complete: large diameter narrow drum, with variable drag, a wide spindle, line guard and an exposed rim. Looking at my collection of reels, it is surprising how few of them accommodate all the features on this hard-won list – even my favourite Ari ‘t Hart only grudging concedes you might want to stop a fish using the rim, even though that old Malloch had it right a century ago. I guess style sometimes has to triumph over ergonomics.

There have been a number of developments since the 1970’s, but most have been concerned with refinements of existing design. Spools are easily interchangeable thanks to quick releases, powerful disc drag mechanisms appeared in the 1980’s (and are becoming a fad, appearing upon the smallest trout reels), and the highest quality reels are machine cut from ‘bar-stock’ aerospace quality steel, making them, in theory at least, indestructible. The eighties and nineties seem to have ushered in a renaissance of design, almost equalling Kelson’s age. The last twenty years have seen a surge of nostalgia, and it is fascinating to see the designs appearing that imitate reels of a century ago, with Vom Hofe reels qualifying for particular attention. We have come a long way since Barker’s unfathomable illustration.

The Salmon Fly

In a sign of growing American dominance in the field, hair-winged patterns didn’t take long to make the transfer across the Atlantic. The hair-wing had become a significant influence on British patterns by the 1960s, with many traditional patterns being adapted to allow hair-wing ties. The origins of the tube fly are less certain. We know that North American native people tied lures for salmon on quills as long ago as the nineteenth century, but the idea seems to have entered mainstream salmon fly fishing during the 1940s. As ever, the stories conflict. One says that the tube fly was originated in around 1945 by a fly dresser called Winnie Morawski, who worked for the tackle firm of Charles Playfair and Co. at Aberdeen. To begin with, Winnie used hollowed out sections of turkey quills, with the treble strung inside the quill. To begin with, she used this unusual base to dress traditional patterns. Then a doctor called William Michie called at the shop, and suggested that she used sections of surgical tubing as a substitute for the quill. Later development resulted in the wing being dressed in a collar right around the tube, perhaps inspired by the Waddington, and the treble was left entirely outside the tube, so that the fly could “escape” up the line when a fish took. A variation says that during the 1940s, an Edinburgh surgeon was so struck by the possibilities of surgical drain tubing that he took some home with him and tied some dark stoat’s hair onto it, before attaching a treble and created the Stoat’s Tail. Whatever the truth may be, this new development meant that every aspect of salmon fly design was up for grabs, and a new era of invention followed.

There is an interesting post-script to the development of the hair-wing salmon fly. Fishermen took a long while to give up their affection for the fully-dressed ‘gaudy’ fly, and it was commonly stocked by quite ordinary tackle shops well into the late 70’s and even early 80’s. As it became harder to find fully-dressed flies, collectors moved in, and a substantial market in “specimen-tying” began to emerge. This market is currently in full swing, with newly-tied flies changing hands for $100 or more. The result has been a revival of traditional salmon fly-tying, particularly in America, and new patterns are being devised. Some of these patterns are fishable, but many are not, being too fragile to be risked at the end of a fly-line, or even (God forbid!) in a salmon’s mouth. A tier called Steve Fernandez has taken the ‘salmon fly as art’ one stage further and many of his flies not only have extreme shapes, but are no longer tied on hooks. Whether they “count” as salmon flies any more is a matter of debate – but then there were those who said the same of young Mr. Blacker’s creations. If you are interested in modern ties of classic flies, then I can give you no better recommendations than The Complete Sportsman, Emmett Johnson, La Fine Mouche and Tom Juracek’s House of Fly Tying if you want to explore further. The fly in the illustration is Henrik Strandgaard’s dressing of the Butcher from the book “Jones’ Guide to Norway.” Imagine cracking one of those off on your backcast.

Postscript

This is where our ways part, because from now on, you are in charge. Maybe you think history is boring, like I did when I was a kid. But that doesn’t excuse you from your obligation to create it. Every time you wade into a river and cast a line, you are standing in the flow of history. Don’t let it wash past without remembering those who went before you. Their struggles, their discoveries, their good days, bad days, triumphs and disasters, have made fly fishing what it is today. History is all around us, and you can’t pick up a fly rod without taking part in it. So when you cast your line, and flick the fly into your future, remember that one day, it will be someone else’s past. Time has a habit of catching up with you faster than you think.

Tight lines!

Allegati ed approfondimenti in appendice

Macedonian fly (http://esoxteam.blogspot.it/p/pesca-mosca.html

http://web.archive.org/web/20120805163055/http://www.flyfishinghistory.com/aelian_scholfield.htm

http://www.pipam.org/FORUM/THREAD.php?threadid=7011&Title=CHI+HA+INVENTATO+LA+PESCA+A+MOSCA%3F%3F%3F%3F%3F&Messages=191

Insects And Other Invertebrates In Classical Antiquity  by Ian C. Beavis Liverpool University Press, 1988 Cloth: 978-0-85989-284-1

  • INSECTA: DIPTERA OR ODONATA (DRAGONFLIES)
    • 53.  Hippouros
    • 54.  Mulio)

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Fonti:

No: 1 – Hooks
No. 2 – Early fly fishing in Spain
No. 3 – Complete text of the
Treatyse of Fishing with an Angle
No. 4 – House of Hardy
rod manufacturing dates
No. 5 – George Selwyn Marryat
No. 6 – Salt water fly fishing
No. 7 – Greenwell’s Glory
No. 8 – Refinishing old silk lines
No 9. My favourite fly fishing books
No 10. Coq de Leon
No. 11. The Arte of Angling
and other stories
No. 12. The English
“North Country” school
No. 13. Fishing “alla Valsesiana”
No. 14. The Macedonian Fly
No. 15. The Vice
No. 16. Early fly fishing:
the short rod
No. 17 Astraeus:
The First Fly Fishing River?
No. 18 Fly fishing for coarse fish
No. 17 Astraeus:
The First Fly Fishing River?
No. 19 Horsehair lines

Aneddoti Vari sul mondo della pesca

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