History of Fly Fishing

The earliest reference to fly fishing for trout comes from the Roman author Aelian, writing in 170AD, who describes a method of fishing employed by the natives of Macedonia (home of Alexander the Great) on the Astraeus river, who tied red wool and a pair of cock's hackles to a hook, then cast it to rising 'speckled fish' using a six foot rod: "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."

Fly fishing for trout and grayling is mentioned by the German writer Wolfram von Eschenbach in 1210, and then in a number of English manuscripts from the 14th and 15th centuries, the most famous being the Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle in the Boke of St Albans (1496), which prescribes: "These are the twelve flies with which you shall angle for the trout and grayling; and dub them like you will." For the month of May it recommends: "The yellow fly, the body of yellow wool; the wings of red cock hackle and of the drake dyed yellow. The black leaper, the body of black wool and lapped about with the herl of the peacock's tail: and the wings of the red capon with a blue head."

Fly fishing became an acknowledged art with Izaak Walton and his fellow fishers when "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." A later edition of The Compleat Angler lists 65 different fly recipes.

The modern era of fly fishing began in the early 19th century, when rods were made from greenheart, hickory or ash, gradually yielding to bamboo cane from Calcutta. Some of these were up to sixteen feet in length. Fine leaders of silkworm gut were introduced. The first classic study of fly fishing entomology was published by Alfred Ronalds in 1836, including 48 fly patterns. The classic hackled dry fly, cast upstream, appeared in the 1840s but, being difficult to fish, took several decades to catch on. This innovation then became an obsession, resulting the in famous "dry fly v nymph" controversy at the turn of the 20th century, epitomised by its chief exponents F.M Halford and G.E.M Skues, that has bequeathed us today's main trout fishing tactics.

America took over the role of innovator in fly fishing in the 20th century with Lee Wulff evolving the modern short (9 foot or less) rods and a host of novel flies and materials emerging. The first 'plastic' floating flyline appeared in 1949. UK firm Hardy's introduced their first glass-fibre rod in 1954 and the era of modern lightweight fly fishing was established. This was succeeded in the 1970s by graphite and then, with the help of the US military's aerospace research experts, the modern carbon fibre rod was created by Orvis in 2007 from technology used to make helicopter blades.

Trout were first imported into New Zealand and released into rivers around Auckland in 1861 followed by the Whanganui and Nelson regions in 1863, and the Otago and Canterbury regions in 1864. Brown trout were introduced into Lake Taupo in 1887, followed by rainbows in 1898 – and both flourished on the rich diet of smelt. A 23 kilo (50lbs) brown was speared at Kuratau in 1904. In 1907 – before bag limits! - Charles Percival landed 354 fish to an average of 3.9 kilos. Author Zane Grey fished the 'Dreadnaught Pool' on the Tongariro in 1925, taking over a dozen fish to 16lbs and putting the area on the world angling map.

Today fly fishing for trout is an increasingly popular pastime for men and women, young and old, bringing a largely urbanised humanity back into contact with a fast-vanishing natural world for which it still yearns.

More on the history of fly fishing here: http://www.flyfishinghistory.com/index.html