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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.

 

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