reproduced with permission by S. Cios
Scholfield, who in his translation of Aelian's work states, that the insects are the two-wing-flies Stratiomys, very characteristic, and similar to wasps. Many species of Stratiomyidae thrive in water (mainly in still ones) in the larval stage. However mountain trout streams, are not their typical habitat. The information available to me indicates that adults behave like terrestrials. There are four elements in Aelian's writings, which indicate, that it must be a different insect: it flies over the water, it sits on the water, fish often eat it, and it is very fragile. In principle very few non-aquatic insects regularly fly over the water, and non of them sit on it of their own will. Hence this implies, that it must be an adult of an aquatic insect. The description seems to indicate a mayfly (or even a stonefly). It could be a member of the family Heptageniidae (for example, some species of Ecdyonurus have bands on their body).
Additional support to my hypothesis is rendered from the literature, and my research on the feeding of salmonids. So far nowhere in the European literature did I find the role of Stratiomyidae reported other than negligible (at times single insects, usually larvae, have been found in fish stomachs).
In 1997, thanks to the assistance given to me by Mr. Evangelos Kaplanis, living in France, I had the privilege to study the stomach contents of 5 trout from the river Aoos in northern Greece, flowing to Albania (the results were published in the French magazine Truites, Ombres et Saumons; see Cios, 1997). To my surprise, one of the most important prey was the mayfly Oligoneuriella. In one fish even 40 adults were found.
Hence, it seems highly probable that the Macedonians imitated this mayfly. It was big, so its imitation was relatively easy to construct (much easier, than lets say an imitation of a black fly or a midge, as implied by the word "konops" in Aelians's fragment on grayling). The anglers fished probably with dry flies, because they could see the rising fish. It's probable, that they have fished at sunset, because in Greece this is the feeding time of the fish in summer (I am sure the ancient anglers were just as lazy, as we are, to get up very early in the morning), and it is also the time of emergence and nuptial activity of Oligoneuriella. Besides, it must have been much easier to delude the wary fish at sunset (when the visibility is poor), than at daylight, especially when dapping.
Such is my hypothesis explaining the origin of fly fishing, taking into consideration Polish experience in fishing for trout and grayling. Of course, there are some element's in Aelian's writings which do not fit well into my picture (e.g. red wool, bands on the insects body, etc.); but how many times have we needed to stretch our mind to understand some of the intricating puzzles of the past! Polish angling has already contributed a lot in the discussion on fishing in antiquity. I may mention here, that it was Rozwadowski (1900; well before Radcliffe, 1921!), who first drew attention to the reference (however dubious) on fly fishing in Martial's epigram. The greatest enigma - Homer's famous "horn of the field ox" - found its explanation in the Polish method of catching catfish, still in use in the second half of the XIX century on the river Niemen near Grodno.
Of course, my studies of the old Polish literature, and on the feeding habits of trout and grayling in various European waters, need to be complemented by data from some other countries. Of particular relevance might be the old literature from South-East Carpathians (especially Romania) or the Balkans; maybe some book worm, like myself, will be able to come up with new information.
Gesner's (1558) account of fly fishing in Germany, which is the second oldest reference to fly fishing on the continent, doesn't provide any direct support to my hypothesis. However, from his description of the flies I deduce, that already at that time fly fishing was a highly developed art, so we must go back further to seek the roots.