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Lake life

Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle

A weathered and worn copy of Sir Isaac Walton’s book, “The Compleat Angler“, published in 1844, sits on a shelf above my computer. I don’t recelect if I’ve got it there as some sort of motivation, or that’s just where I left it.

Published in 1844, it is widely recognized as the first written word about fishing. That is widely incorrect.

It was a lady that wrote the first noted “treatyse” on the art of fishing.

Oh, there is some historical reference to fishing before that, evidentiary notes on fly fishing in Japan as early as the ninth century. Europe’s Claudius Aelianus (175–235 CE) describes fly fishing in his work On the Nature of Animals.

Dame Juliana Berners

But the earliest English essay on recreational fishing was published in 1496, shortly after the invention of the printing press. Dame Juliana Berners, the prioress of the Benedictine Sopwell Nunnery, wrote “Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle”. There was actually documented concern that the book should be kept from those who were not gentlemen, since their immoderation in angling might “utterly destroy it”.

During the 16th century the work was much read, and was reprinted many times. Treatyse includes detailed information on fishing waters, the construction of rods and lines, and the use of natural baits and artificial flies. It also included concerns about conservation and angler etiquette.

Sounds like she was pretty much on target.

For those who wax more poetic, there was a “later” book written by John Dennys, a trout fishing buddy of Shakespeare. It was “The Secrets of Angling”. Among the work was this: “The trout gives the most gentlemanly and readiest sport of all, if you fish with an artificial fly, a line twice your rod’s length of three hairs’ thickness… and if you have learnt the cast of the fly.”

I must admit I hate calling attention to fly fishing, which I consider mere misrepresentation of masculine piscatorial endeavors, a kind of charity event for the fish. So I’m still looking for the earliest book on crappie fishing. I think somebody hid it from me, possibly under the same reasoning used in 1496, i.e. “it should be kept from those who were not gentlemen, since their immoderation in angling might “utterly destroy it“.


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