What is Fly Fishing?
Fly fishing is an angling technique where an artificial "fly" is used to fool fish into biting. The techniques used to cast and present the weightless fly differ greatly from any other form of angling.
When fly fishing, you cannot cast a standard lure; spinner or plug with a fly rod and line, and likewise you cannot cast a weightless fly with a spin casting rod and reel. The weight and taper of the fly line itself is what allows the fisherman to cast and present the lightweight fly.
Fly fishermen use flies that resemble aquatic insects, baitfish, and other prey sources, and are created by tying natural feathers to a hook to replicate the natural subject of the fish’s attention.
Where Does Fly Fishing Come From?
There are many stories and hypotheses about the exact origins of fly fishing, but much like the origins of fire or the wheel: It’s extremely difficult to pinpoint a creator or even time period that fly fishing was created.
That said, many credit Claudius Aelianus, a Roman author and teacher, with taking down the first truly detailed observations of people fly fishing; the 2nd century Macedonians fishing on the Aestraeus River.
There are Egyptian hieroglyphs that document an ancient form of fly fishing called Dapping. The more modern style--called “Tenkara” fishing--is likely the most ancient form of fly fishing.
Tenkara is Japanese word meaning “From Heaven” and is a continuation of the art of fixed line (no reel) fly fishing where the line is directly attached to the rod.
You can assume then that people have been tying flies to line to catch fish for thousands of years and that other than using nets or pens to trap fish, fly fishing is the oldest form of angling with a rod.
How Did We Get to Where We Are Today?
Like much of modern advancement, the influence of technology has had a great impact on the sport of fly fishing. The earliest fly reels were designed and fabricated by watchmakers, and the modern plastic-coated fly line greatly replaced the silk fly lines only after technological advancements used during WW2 were applied to fly line manufacturing.
In fact, we can still see relics of the old watch maker/fly fishing connection; the X-system (1x, 2x, 3x) of measurement for leaders and tippets stems from the manner in which watch makers sized tiny components. We would all still be using bamboo fly rods (wouldn’t that be nice!) if it wasn’t for technology advancements in the late 60’s of fiberglass and 70’s of graphite rod construction.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The things happening in fly fishing and fly tying now represent a great renaissance in the passion and popularity of the sport. Fly fishing is no longer a singularly upper class, trout and salmon driven pursuit. The sport is a multimillion dollar industry and is largely affordable and approachable by all.
The internet has opened the doors to more and more people discovering, discussing and sharing their knowledge and experiences. In the fly-tying world, there are unbelievable advancements in material development and incredible techniques. While the ancient art of perusing fish with flies still remains intact and simple at its base, we are now able to push the sport further into a way of life rather than just a sport or hobby.