The History of Fly Fishing; a Brief Overview


Fly fishing maintains a rich history, covering the globe, involving countless adventures, characters, and spectacular fish. It is speculated that fly fishing may have its beginnings as early as the second century Roman era. Claudius Aelianus (ca. 175 – ca. 235), the Roman author and teacher wrote of fly fishing in his Claudius Aelianus: Varia Historia“>14 books Varia Historia (Ποικίλη Ἱστορία). He explains:

“…they have planned a snare for the fish, and get the better of them by their fisherman’s craft. . . . They fasten red . . . wool round a hook, and fit on to the wool two feathers which grow under a cock’s wattles, and which in color 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 color, 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.”

Some speculate that writings during the medieval era prove fly fishing activities occurred. Dr Andrew N. Herd describes writings from the thirteenth century: “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.”

Great Britain continues the rich heritage; first documented with The Boke of Saint Albans. It is here that a Dame Julians Berners writes of artificial flies for fishing: ”The Dun Fly: The body of dun wool and the wings of the partridge.”, A Treatise of Fishing with an Angle The Treatyse on Fysshynge with an Angle published (1496). Of course one of the most well known classics written on the subject is The Compleat Angler, Izaac Walton (1653). Noted by Doctor of Medicine, Historian, Dr. Andrew N. Herd, …”one of the three most published books in English literature (the other two are the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare).

The Compleat Angler has run to more than 300 editions.”,
Most consider Great Britain as the birthplace of fly fishing but Japan appears to have references as early as the twelfth century. The Japanese method of fly-fishing is known as “Tenkara”, is referenced in the book “Diary of climbing Mt. Tateyama”, Dr. Hisao Ishigaki, presentation to Catskills Fly Fishing Center and Museum, May 2009,

Earlier evidence points to another style of Japanese fishing called Ayu, done by dapping a fly on to the water using a long rod. Historian Andrew Herd, in the book “The Fly” notes, “Fly fishing became popular with Japanese peasants from the twelfth century onward…fishing was promoted to a pastime worthy of Bushi (warriors), as part of an official policy to train the Bushi’s mind during peacetime.”,

North American fly fishing came on the scene during the early nineteenth century. New England states have a rich heritage of anglers and famous waters such as the Beaverkill and Willowemoc Creek. It is here innovative master rod builder Hiram Leonard and craftsman Charles F. Orvis lived and made their fine products.
Whether as authors or anglers there are many legends of the game. I have decided to refrain from listing them, as I would not want to miss anyone nor take up pages with such a list.

I suggest you visit the following museums to learn more:
The Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum, Livingston Manor, NY
The American Museum of Fly Fishing, Manchester, VT
The Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum Association, Boiling Springs, PA
International Game Fish Association Museum, Dania Beach, FL