Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle
aka
How to Fly Fish

In the mid to late 1400's the first known instruction manual on the art of fly fishing was published, Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle. The work is generally attributed to Dame Juliana Berners. The text includes instructions on how to make a rod, line and hooks; instructions for twelve fly patterns and hints about how to catch the common varieties of fish.

We thought it might be fun to publish individual sections of the work. Following the introduction the first segment explains how one should go about constructing a fishing rod. Since many of our customers are avid 'do-it-yourselfers' we are looking forward to receiving pictures of your finished medieval rod.


Si tibi deficiant medici, medici tibi fiant
Haec tria-mens laeta, labor, et moderatadiaeta.
HERE BEGINS THE TREATISE OF FISHING WITH AN ANGLE

Solomon in his proverbs says that a good spirit makes a flowering age, that is, a happy age and a long one. And since it is true, I ask this question, 'Which are the means and the causes that lead a man into a happy spirit?" Truly, in my best judgment, it seems that they are good sports and honest games, which a man enjoys without any repentance afterward. Thence it follows that good sports and honest games are the cause of a man's happy old age and long life. And therefore, I will now choose among four good sports and honest games: to wit, of hunting, hawking, fishing, and fowling. The best, in my simple opinion, is fishing, called angling, with a rod and a line and a hook. And of that I will talk as my simple mind will permit: not only because of the reasoning of Solomon, but also for the assertion that medical science makes in this manner:

 

You shall understand that this means, if a man lacks leech or medicine, he shall make three things his leech and medicine, and he will never need any more. The first of them is a happy mind. The second is work, which isn't too onerous. The third is a good diet, First, if a man wishes ever more to have merry thoughts and be happy, he must avoid all quarrelsome company and all places of debate, where he might have any causes to be upset. And if he wishes to have a job, which is not too hard, he must then organize, for his relaxation and pleasure, without care, anxiety, or trouble, a cheerful occupation, which gives him good heart and in which will raise his spirits. And if he wishes to have a moderate diet, he must avoid all places of revelry, which is the cause of overindulgence and sickness. And he must withdraw himself to places of sweet and hungry air, and eat nourishing and digestible meats.

Now then, I will describe these sports or games to establish, as well as I can, which is the best of them; although the right noble and very worthy prince, the Duke of York, lately called the Master of Game, has described the pleasures of hunting, just as I would describe it and all the others. For hunting, to my way of thinking, is too laborious. The hunter must always run and follow his hounds, exercising and sweating heavily. He blows on his horn till his lips blister; and when he thinks he is chasing a hare, very often it is a hedgehog. Thus he hunts and knows not what he is after. He comes home in the evening soaking through, scratched, his clothes torn, his feet wet, covered in mud. This hound lost and that one crippled. Such upsets and many others happen to the hunter, which, for fear of the displeasure of the hunters, I dare not discuss. Thus, in truth, it seems to me that this is not the best sport or game of the four mentioned. The sport of hawking is hard work and difficult too, it seems to me. For the falconer often loses his hawks, as the hunter his hounds. Then his game and pleasure is gone. Very often he shouts and whistles till he has a raging thirst. His hawk flies to a branch and ignores him. When he would have her fly at game, then she flies into a rage. With poor feeding she will get the frounce, the ray, the cray, and many other illnesses that cause them to die. This proves that this is not the best sport and game of the four discussed. The sport and game of fowling seems to me the worst. For in winter season the fowler has no luck except in the hardest and coldest weather, which is burdensome. When he would go to his traps, he cannot because of the cold. He makes many traps and snares, yet he fares badly. In the morning, the dew soaks him up to his thighs. I could say more, but will leave off for fear of upset. Thus, it seems to me that hunting and hawking and also fowling are so tiresome and unpleasant that none of them can succeed nor can they be the best way of bringing a man into a happy frame of mind, which is the cause of long life according to the said proverb of Solomon. Doubtless then, it follows that the winner should be the sport of fishing with a hook. For every other kind of fishing is also tiresome and unpleasant, often making folks very wet and cold, which many times has been the cause of great illness. But the angler will not suffer cold nor discomfort nor anger, unless he be the cause himself. For he can lose at the most only a line or a hook, of which he can have plenty of his own making, as this simple treatise will teach him. So then his loss is not serious, and nothing else can upset him, except that some fish may break away after he has been hooked, or else he may catch nothing: these are not serious. For if the angler fails with one, he may not fail with another, if he does as this treatise teaches: unless there are no fish in the water. And yet, at the very least, he has his wholesome and pleasant walk at his ease, and a sweet breath of the fragrant smell of the meadow flowers, to make him hungry. He hears the melodious harmony of birds. He sees the young swans, herons, ducks, coots, and many other birds with their broods, which to me seems better than all the noise of hounds, the blasts of horns, and the clamour of birds that hunters, falconers, and fowlers can produce. And if the angler catches fish, surely then there is no happier man. Also whoever wishes to practice the sport of angling, he must rise early, which thing is profitable to a man in this way. That is, to wit: most for the welfare of his soul. For it will cause him to be holy, and for the health of his body. For it will cause him to be well, also for the increase of his goods, for it will make him rich. As the old English proverb says: "Whoever will rise early shall be holy, healthy, and happy."

Thus have I proved, as I intended, that the sport and game of angling is the best means and cause that brings a man into a merry spirit, which according to the said proverb of Solomon and the said teaching of medicine makes a flowering age and a long one. And therefore, to all you that are virtuous, gentle, and freeborn, I write and make this simple treatise which follows, by which you may have the full craft of angling to amuse you as you please, in order that your life may be more successful and last longer.

(MAKING YOUR ROD)

If you want to be crafty in angling, you must first learn to make your tackle, that is, your rod, your lines of different colours. After that, you must know how you should angle, in what place of the water, how deep, and what time of day. For what manner of fish, in what weather; how many impediments there are in the fishing that is called angling. And especially with what baits for each different fish in each month of the year. How you shall make your baits breed. Where you will find the baits: and how you will keep them. And for the most crafty thing, how you are to make your hooks of steel and of iron. Some for the artificial fly: and some for the float and the ground-line, as you will hear afterward all these things talked about openly so that you may learn.

And how you should make your rod skillfully, here I shall teach you. You must cut, between Michaelmas and Candlemas, a fair staff of a fathom and a half long and as thick as your arm, of hazel, willow, or ash. And soak it in a hot oven, and set it straight. Then let it cool and dry for a month. Take them and tie it tight with a cockshoot cord, and bind it to a form or a perfectly square, large piece of timber. Then take a plumb wire that is smooth and straight and sharp at one end. And heat the sharp end in a charcoal fire till it is white-hot: and then burn the staff through with it: always straight in the pith at both ends, till they meet. And after that, burn it in the lower end with a spit for roasting birds, and with other spits, each bigger than the last, and always the largest last: so that you make your hole taper. Then let it lie still and cool for two days. Untie it then and let it dry in a house-roof in the smoke until it is thoroughly dry. In the same season, take a good rod of green hazel, and soak it even and straight and let it dry with the staff. And when they are dry, make the rod fit the hole in the staff, into half the length of the staff. And to make the other half of the top section, take a fair shoot of blackthorn, crabtree, medlar, or juniper, cut in the same season: and well soaked and straight. And bind them together neatly so that the top section may go exactly all the way into the said hole. Then shave your staff down and make it taper. Then bind the staff at both ends with long hoops of iron or fasten in the neatest manner, with a spike in the lower end fastened with a catch so that you can take your top section in and out. Then set your upper section a handbreadth inside the other end of your staff in such a way that the thickness of the sections matches. Bind your top section at the other end as far down as the joint with a cord of six hairs. Fix the cord and tie it firmly at the top, with a loop to fasten on your fishing line. And so you will make yourself a rod so secret that you can walk with it, and no one will know what you are doing. It will be light and well balanced to fish with as you wish. And for your greater convenience, here is a picture of it as an example: