The History of Fly Fishing

Updated on August 5, 2022

This ancient sport has a rich and fascinating history that stretches back for centuries. In this blog post, we will explore the origins of fly fishing and learn about how it has evolved over time. We will also take a look at some of the most important people involved in the development of fly fishing. So if you're curious about the origins of your favorite pastime, read on!

When and Where was Fly Fishing Invented?

Fly fishing was first mentioned in "The Compleat Angler," which was published in 1653. This book was written by Izaak Walton, an Englishman, and it described the fly fishing techniques of his day. However, it is believed that fly fishing actually dates back much further than this. Some historians believe that fly fishing may have originated in Japan during the 12th century, in a technique known as Ayu fishing. Ayu fishing drifts an artificial fly down fast mountain streams, but there is no casting technique. It is likely that the Romans were practicing fly fishing techniques in the 2nd century or perhaps even earlier. Claudius Aelianus describes how Macedonian anglers used artificial flies and a long rod to catch fish, although the Roman poet Marcus Valerius Martialis wrote about fly fishing in one of his poems 200 years before Claudius Aelianus. Historians can agree that the sport developed in popularity in England during the 15th century. No one knows for sure where fly fishing began, but we do know that it has been around for a very long time!

french fly fishing

The Evolution of Fly Fishing

Over the centuries, fly fishing has undergone a number of changes and developments. During the 18th and 19th centuries the old horsehair lines were replaced with Spanish silkworm, making them thinner and more agile. The modern reel was also developed during this time, allowing anglers to taper their lines. In 1747 Richard Bowlker published “The Art of Angling” which detailed all sorts of techniques, but most importantly described the different insects across England that trout feed on. Not only did he describe those insects, he laid out the basics of fly dressing which gave anglers a guide. Finally in the 1880’s, Hiram Leonard developed the modern setup of long stiff rod, tapering reel, and silk line. He was the first angler to be able to cast his line far into the wind.

From there, fly fishing evolved into the three categories we see today: dry fly fishing, nymph fly fishing, and streamer fly fishing. Fly fishing clubs began in England during the late 18th century, which led to dry fly fishing to become a somewhat elitist sport. Southern England has slower rivers with taller weeds, which is how the dry fly developed. In the north, the wet fly remained a popular pastime and productive fishing method in the fast mountain streams. The sport spread to America and enveloped the entire US.

Today, fly fishing is enjoyed by people all over the world as both a recreational activity and a competitive sport.

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