– The Early History Of Fishing
FISHING, also called ANGLING, is the sport of catching fish, freshwater or saltwater, typically with rod, line, and hook. Like hunting, fishing originated as a means of providing food for survival.
Fishing as a sport, however, is of considerable antiquity. An Egyptian angling scene of about 2000 BC shows figures fishing with rod and line and with nets. A Chinese account of about the 4th century BC refers to fishing with a silk line, a hook made from a needle, and a bamboo rod, with cooked rice as bait. References to fishing are also found in ancient Greek, Assyrian, Roman, and Jewish writings.
Today, fishing, often called sport fishing to distinguish it from commercial fishing, is, despite the growth of towns and the increase of pollution in many sources, one of man’s principal relaxations and is, in many countries, the most popular participant sport.
The problems of the modern angler are still those of his ancestor: where to find fish, how to approach them, and what sort of bait to use. The angler must understand wind and weather. Fishing remains what it has always been, a problem in applied natural history.
The history of angling is in large part the history of tackle, as the equipment for fishing is called. One of man’s earliest tools was the predecessor of the fishhook, a gorge: a piece of wood, bone, or stone an inch or so in length, pointed at both ends and secured off-center to the line. The gorge was covered with some kind of bait. When a fish swallowed the gorge, a pull on the line wedged it across the gullet of the fish, which could then be pulled in.
With the coming of the use of metals, a hook was one of the first tools made. This was attached to a handline of animal or vegetable material, a method that is efficient only when used from a boat. The practice of attaching the line in turn to a rod, at first probably a stick or tree branch, made it possible to fish from the bank or shore and even to reach over vegetation bordering the water.
For thousands of years, the fishing rod remained short, not more than a few feet in length. The earliest reference to a longer, jointed rod is from Roman times, about the 4th century AD. At that time also, Aelian wrote of Macedonians catching trout on artificial flies and described how each fly was dressed (made). The rod they used was only 6 feet (1.8 metres) long and the line the same length, so that the method used was probably dapping, gently laying the bait on the surface of the water.
Chapter 2 – The Art
Of Fishing Develops
The history of sport fishing in England began with the printing by Wynkyn de Worde of the Treatyse of Fysshynge With an Angle (1496) as a part of the second edition of The Boke of St. Albans, which had originally dealt only with hunting. The book was evidently based on earlier continental treatises dating to the 14th century. The artificial flies described in the Treatyse are surprisingly modern (six of the dozen mentioned are still in use). The rods are 18-22 feet long with a line of plaited horsehair tied to one end.
The first period of great improvement came about the mid-17th century, when Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton were writing the classic The Compleat Angler and Col. Robert Venables and Thomas Barker were describing new tackle and methods of fishing.
About this time some unknown angler attached a wire loop or ring at the tip end of the rod, which allowed a running line, useful for both casting and playing a hooked fish. Barker in 1667 mentions a salmon-fishing line of 26 yards. What was obviously needed was a means of taking up and holding such lengths, and this led to the invention of the reel.
Experiments with material for the line led to the use of a gut string (mentioned by the diarist Samuel Pepys in 1667) and of a lute string (noted by Venables in 1676). The use of a landing hook, now called a gaff, for lifting large hooked fish from the water was noted by Barker in 1667.
Improved methods of fishhook making were devised in the 1650s by Charles Kirby, who later invented the Kirby bend, a distinctive shape of hook with offset point that is still in common use worldwide. Kirby and his fellow hook makers, who were also needle makers, were dispersed from their shops near Old London Bridge by the Plague and the Great Fire of London in 1666, and they ultimately established factories in Redditch around 1730.
Chapter 3 – The Early Reels And Rods
The first rudimentary reel had consisted of a wooden spool with a metal ring that fitted over the angler’s thumb. By 1770 a rod with guides for the line along its length and a reel was in common use. The first true reel was a geared multiplying reel attached under the rod, in which one turn of the handle moved the spool through several revolutions. Never popular in Great Britain, such reels became the prototype of the bait-casting reel as devised by two Kentucky watchmakers in the early 1800s. The predominant British reel was called the Nottingham reel, based on the wooden lace bobbin devised in that ancient lacemaking town. It was a wide-drum, ungeared, very free-running reel, ideal for allowing line and bait or lure to float downstream with the current and suitable for casting lures for predatory fish in various kinds of sea fishing. It was influential on the design of fly-fishing reels.
Rods were also improved as heavy native woods were superseded by straight-grained, tough, elastic woods, such as lancewood and greenheart from South America and the West Indies, and by bamboo. By the end of the 18th century a technique had been developed in which several strips of bamboo were glued together, retaining the strength and pliancy of the cane but greatly reducing the thickness. Between 1865 and 1870 complete hexagonal rods, made by laminating six triangular strips of bamboo, were produced on both sides of the Atlantic.
From 1880 tackle design evolved rapidly. Horsehair for the fishing line was replaced by silk covered with coats of oxidized linseed oil. Such lines were easily cast and sank heavily if ungreased, or floated if greased. The average angler could cast three times farther with these lines, and such methods as dry-fly and wet-fly fishing became possible. In the Nottingham reel, ebonite (a hard rubber) or metal replaced wood, so that it became even more free-spinning. Since the reel revolved faster than the line runoff, a considerable tangle (called an overrun in Britain, a backlash in the U.S.) could result. Governors were devised to prevent this. In 1896 William Shakespeare, of Kalamazoo, Mich., devised the level-wind, which automatically spread the line evenly as it was wound on the reel. In 1880 the firm of Malloch, in Scotland, introduced the first turntable reel, which had one side of the spool open. During casting, the reel was turned 90º, bringing it in line with rod guides, so that the line slipped easily off the end of the spool. For line recovery, the spool was turned back 90º. The reel was used mainly for casting heavy lures for salmon fishing, but it influenced the reel invented by the English textile magnate Holden Illingworth, which the British called a fixed-spool reel and the Americans a spinning reel. In this kind of reel, the spool permanently faces up the rod and the line peels off in the cast as with the Malloch reel.
In the 20th century, rods became shorter and lighter without sacrificing strength. Split bamboo was largely replaced by fibre glass and finally by carbon fibre as rod material. After the 1930s the fixed-spool reel was taken up in Europe and, after World War II, in North America and the rest of the world, creating a boom in spin casting. Nylon monofilament line was developed in the late 1930s and became dominant after World War II, as did braided lines in other synthetic materials. Plastic coverings for fly lines allowed them to float or sink without greasing. Plastic also became the dominant material for artificial casting lures.
Chapter 4 – Methods of Angling…
The four basic methods of angling are bait fishing, fly fishing, bait casting or spinning, and trolling. All are used in both freshwater and saltwater angling, but the first and last are most commonly used in saltwater.
Bait fishing, commonly called still fishing in North America and bottom fishing in England, is certainly the oldest and most universally used method. In English freshwater fishing it is used to catch what are called coarse fish: bream, barbel, tench, dace, and grayling (i.e., all fish but game fish, those that provide the angler with sport by the way they fight capture).
A bait is impaled on the hook, which is set by the angler when the fish swallows it. Common baits are worms, the maggots of certain flies, small fish, bread paste, and cheese. The bait may be fished on the bottom, weighted down with what is called a ledger in England and a sinker in the United States, usually of lead, or it may be fished at any desired depth. A buoyant object, called a float in England and a bobber in the United States, made of quill, cork, wood, plastic, or a combination, suspends the bait at the desired depth.
In order to attract fish, what is called ground bait by the British and chum by Americans may be thrown in the water. Chum is commonly soaked bread or meal, to which some of the bait being used on the hook may be added.
Rods used are usually 10 to 15 feet long, with a fixed-spool reel and monofilament line of 1- to 6-pound (450- to 2,700-gram) strength.
In North America, where most of the fish are predatory, still fishing is practiced with less specialized tackle, the traditional rod being a long cane pole. Freshwater fish taken by this method include bluegills, crappies, perch, and catfish, as well as bass and walleyes.
Ice fishing through holes cut in frozen lakes is particularly popular in the northeastern United States and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Valley region of the U.S. and Canada. Equipment is commonly a three-foot rod with a simple reel or a cleatlike device to hold nonfreezing monofilament line and a tilt or tip-up to signal when the fish has taken the bait. Fish taken vary from pan fish (crappies, bluegills, and perch) to larger game fish (pike, walleye, bass, and lake trout). Ice fishing became increasingly popular in the 20th century in Scandinavian and other European countries where heavy freezing permits it.
Chapter 5 – Methods of Angling…
Fly fishing is considered by those who use the method to be the highest form of angling, and dry-fly fishermen consider themselves to be the true aristocracy of angling.
Fly fishing involved originally the use of live flies, and its art was to lay the fly as lightly and obtrusively near a fish, usually trout, as possible. Artificial flies came into use early, however, and live flies are now only used for dapping, in the periods when the winged forms are emerging from their aquatic nymph stage.
Wet-fly fishermen present flies underwater. Later variants include nymph fishing, in which the artificial fly resembles the waterborne form of the insect, and streamer fishing, in which the streamer gives to the fly a fishlike look.
The rods for both types of fly fishing are 7-10 feet long. The line is tapered toward the end nearest the fly and is of fairly heavy weight; this makes the casting of the line easier, since the fly itself is virtually weightless. A simple reel is used only to contain the line and to help in tiring a hooked fish.
Species fished for were first trout and salmon, but by the second half of the 20th century virtually all game fish from pan fish up were fished for with flies.
Chapter 6 – Methods of Angling…
Bait casting and spin casting differ essentially only in the type of reel used and the rod length.
Spinning rods are generally 7-10 feet long, while the usual length of a bait casting rod is 5-6 feet. As with fly fishing, bait casting originally used live minnows but grew to use lures in imitation of fish (sometimes crippled fish), as well as metal spoons and spinners.
Chapter 7 – Methods of
Angling… Bait Trolling
Bait Trolling involves the use of live bait or artificial lures that are drawn through the water behind a slow-moving boat, originally rowed but now generally motor-powered.
Trolling is usually done inland on very large lakes and reservoirs, but it is also the primary method for big-game fishing in the oceans. The method has the advantage of covering a large amount of territory where fish might otherwise be difficult to locate.
The correct depth and speed are crucial in the method. The introduction of sonar equipment in the second half of the 20th century greatly aided trolling, as it did all fishing from boats.
Rods are usually 5-7 feet long, and lines are heavy, occasionally of metal, with added weights used to get the lure to greater depths. In inland trolling the rod is held at right angles to the motion of the boat to take advantage of the rod’s resilience when a fish strikes. Lures are much like those used in bait casting.
Salmon, large trout, and pike are the main species fished.
Chapter 8 – Saltwater Fishing
The four basic methods of angling mentioned during previous weeks (bait fishing, fly fishing, bait casting and trolling) are all used in saltwater fishing also, fly fishing being perhaps the least used, although it has become increasingly popular in the second half of the 20th century.
Fishing for saltwater fish is done from a beach, off rocks, from a pier, or from a boat, which may vary in size from a rowboat, used in inland waters, to ocean-going craft of considerable size. Fish usually caught from shore or by bottom fishing from boats include striped bass, jewfish, snook, and weakfish.
Chapter 9 – Big-Game Fishing
Big-game fishing, made feasible by the motorized boat, was pioneered in 1898 by C.F. Holder, who took a 183-pound (83-kilogram) bluefin tuna off Santa Catalina Island, California. Fish usually caught include tuna, marlin, swordfish, and shark. Big-game fishing spread to the Atlantic, and catches of increasing size were made on relatively light tackle and line, especially after the invention of a reel with an internal drag by Julius von Hofe of Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1913. Big-game anglers fish from fighting seats into which they can be strapped. Rods are massive, and the butts fit into a socket mounted on the chair. Reels are large, and the line is usually of Dacron or Terylene with a wire leader near the hook.
The establishment of the International Game Fish Association in 1939 did much to promote big-game fishing and to regulate it, supervising marine-fishing competitions, establishing various weight categories for lines, and keeping championship records. It also promoted scientific study by encouraging the tagging of released fish to establish fish habitat patterns and working for conservation of endangered species. In 1978 the association also took over the keeping of freshwater records.
Casting is an adjunct sport, much as shooting is for hunting, under the supervision of the International Casting Federation (founded 1955) with member groups in about 30 countries in the late 20th century. It sponsors tournaments and recognizes world records for accuracy and distance.
Chapter 10 – State of Fishing
In the last quarter of the 20th century, fishing was thriving. The growth of air travel after World War II made many areas of North America and elsewhere accessible to anglers and introduced them to new fish, such as the dorado of Argentina and the tigerfish of Central Africa.
Emphasis continued on increasingly lighter tackle for both saltwater and freshwater fishing. Bonefish in shallow coastal waters was a particularly popular quarry with fly-fishing anglers, and fly-fishing records were also established on the open sea.
Hardly a species of any size did not have its anglers somewhere; for instance, carp, considered a pest in North American waters, is fished for widely in Europe. Old favorites remained popular, among them salmon and trout in all varieties; and bass fishing became so popular in the United States that boats for bass fishing were specially designed, and professional competitions produced an elite of bass anglers.
Both fishing organizations and individual anglers promoted a catch-and-return policy, so that only fish of trophy or record size were kept by many anglers.