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THERE are probably many anglers who, whilst pursuing their contemplative recreation, have at some time wondered by whom and at what date the various forms of fishing-tackle, and the different methods of angling, were first introduced: this work on the ancient angling authors is the outcome of an attempt to satisfy that natural curiosity.
Though only English angling literature is here dealt with, it must not therefore be inferred either that the art of angling originated in England, or that the first treatise upon it appeared in the English language. On the contrary, the origin of angling is lost in the impenetrable depths of prehistoric times: the paintings on the Egyptian tombs show that fishing, by methods not very dissimilar from those in use at the present day, was practised in the East from the carliest periods of which any records exist. Moreover, not only did the ancient Egyptians practise the art of angling in order to appease the pangs of hunger and to delight their palates, but even in those early days the capture of fish afforded both amusement and sport, for we are told that then the aristocratic form of fishing was with the fishing spear or bident, and that the use of the net and the hook was relegated to the lower classes.
Among the many ancient writers who either refer to, or deal with, angling in their works, the following especially call for notice.
Pliny, in his Historia Naturalis, a work written in the first century of our era, recognised seventyfour varieties of fish, and it is worthy of note that even at that early date, he correctly classified the whales among the Beluæ and not among the Pisces.
Julius Pollux, of Naucratis in Egypt, a Greek sophist and grammarian, in his work, the Onomasticon, which was written before A.D. 177, mentions the use of lines made from the hair of stallions, and bamboo rods so slender that they scarcely threw any shadow on the surface of the water. He describes the method of spearing fish by torch-light, leistering or “ burning the water," as it is now termed in Scotland; and he also refers to the use of leads, cast-nets, dragnets, etc.
Oppian, who lived about the end of the second century, wrote a work, divided into five books: Halieuticks, of the Nature of Fishes, and the Fishing of the Ancients. The two following extracts from William Diaper's translation (1722) of part of this book show that the cel basket, the taper rod, the line, etc., were known in the time of the author, and also that the pursuit of the art then afforded considerable pleasure :
Besides loud threat'ning Storms, and sudden Winds,
Thither the thronging Boats with Pleasure hast,
The vimineous weel was a kind of trap made of twigs or withies. Burton, in his Anatomy of Melancholy (printed first in 1621), refers to the use of “weeles” in what he calls a kind of “hunting by water.” The famous author of this mine of learning commends fishing, and deals with Plutarch's view, which he quotes :
Plutarch, in his book de soler. animal speaks against all fishing, “as a filthy, base, illiberal employment, having neither wit nor perspicacity in it, nor worth the labour.” But he that shall consider the variety of baits for all seasons, and pretty devices which our anglers have invented, peculiar lines, false flies, several sleights, etc. will say, that it deserves like commendation, requires as much study and perspicacity as the rest, and is to be preferred before many of them. Because hawking and hunt. ing are very laborious, much riding, and many dangers accompany them; but this is still and quiet: and if so be the angler catch no fish, yet he hath a wholesome walk to the brookside, pleasant shade by the sweet silver streams; he hath good air, and sweet smells of fine fresh meadow flowers, he hears the melodious harmony of birds, he sees the swans, herons, ducks, water herns, coots, &c., and many other fowl, with their brood, which he thinketh better than the noise of hounds, or blast of horns, and all the sport that they can make.
In the third century the magnum opus of Claudius Aelian, De Natura Animalium, was written : the seventeenth book of this work contains a most interesting reference to the use of the artificial fly. Aelian refers to the Macedonians, who lived on the banks of the river Astraeus, and were wont to catch a certain spotted fish in all probability trout) by means of an artificial fly, which they called the hippourus.)
The natural fly, from which the hippourus was imitated, was an insect, about the size of a hornet, which buzzed like a bee, and was marked like a wasp: it could not be used in the natural state because it was of too delicate a bloom and of too frail a structure, and it was therefore necessary to imitate it by an artful device. This consisted in wrapping scarlet wool round a hook, and then affixing two wings from the wattles of a cock, suit
1 The hippourus was probably so called from its resemblance to the horse-hair crest then worn on helmets.