Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle
How to Fly Fish
Installment No. 2
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, hooks, instructions for twelve fly patterns and hints about how to catch the common varieties of fish.

Last month we published the introduction and how to build a rod. So far none of our customers have provided examples of their finished work. This month we're going to deal with fishing lines. Hopefully, everyone has access to a white horse.

Making Lines

"After you have made your rod, you must learn to colour your lines of hair this way. First, you must take, from the tail of a white horse, the longest and best hairs that you can find; and the rounder it is, the better it is. Divide it into six bunches, and you shall colour every part by itself in a different colour. As yellow, green, brown, tawny, russet, and dusky colours.

And to make a good green colour on your hair, you shall do thus. Take a quart of small ale and put it in a little pan, and add to it half a pound of alum. And put your hair in it, and let it boil softly half an hour. Then take out your hair and let it dry. Then take a half-gallon of water and put it in a pan. And put in it two handfuls of a yellow dye, and press it with a tile-stone, and let it boil gently half an hour. And when it is yellow on the scum, put in your hair with half a pound copperas, beaten to powder, and let it boil gently half an hour. And then set it down and let it cool five or six hours. Then take out the hair and dry it. And it is then the finest green there is for the water, And the more copperas you add to it, the better it is. Or else instead, use verdigris.

Another way, you can make a brighter green, thus. Woad your hair in a woad vat until it is a light blue-grey colour. And then boil it in yellow vegetable dye as I have described, except that you must not add to it either copperas or verdigris.

To make your hair yellow, prepare it with alum as I have explained already. And after that with yellow vegetable dye without copperas or verdigris.

Another yellow you shall make thus. Take a half a gallon of small ale, and crush three handfuls of walnut leaves, and put them together. And put in your hair until it is as deep a yellow as you will have it.

To make russet hair, take of strong lye a pint and a half and half a pound of soot and a little juice of walnut leaves and a quarter of a pound of alum; and put them all together in a pan and boil them well. And when it is cold, put in your hair till it is as dark as you will have it.

To make a brown colour, take a pound of soot and a quart of ale, and boil it with as many walnut leaves as you wish. And when they turn black, take it off the fire. And put your hair in it, and let it lie still till it is as brown as you will have it.

To make another brown, take strong ale and soot and blend them together, and put therein your hair for two days and two nights, and it will be a right good colour.

To make a tawny colour, take lime and water, and put them together; and also put your hair therein four or five hours. Then take it out and put it in tanner's ooze a day, and it will be as fine a tawny colour as we need for our purpose.

The sixth part of your hair, you must keep still white for lines for the dubbed hook, to fish for the trout and grayling, and for small lines to use for the roach and the dace.

When your hair is thus coloured, you must know for which waters and for which seasons they should be used. The green colour in all clear water from April till September. The yellow colour in every clear water from September till November: for it is like the weeds and other types of grass which grow in the waters and rivers, when they are broken. The russet colour serves all the winter until the end of April, as well in rivers as in pools or lakes. The brown colour serves for that water that is black, sluggish, in rivers or in other waters. The tawny colour for those waters that are heathy or marshy.

Now you must make your lines in this way. First, see that you have an instrument like the one shown in the following picture. Then take your hair and cut off from the small end a large handful or more, for it is neither strong nor yet sure. Then turn the top to the tail each in equal amount, and divide it into three parts. Then plait each part at the one end by itself. And at the other end plait all three together: and put this same end in the other end of your instrument, the end that has but one cleft. And make the other end tight with the wedge four fingers from the end of your hair. Then twist each strand the same way and pull it tight: and fasten them in the three clefts equally well. Then take out that other end and twist it whichever way it goes best. Then stretch it a little and plait it so that it will not come undone: and that is good. And to know how to make your instrument, see, here it is in a picture. And it shall be made of wood, except the bolt underneath; which must be of iron.

When you have as many of the lengths as you suppose will suffice for the length of a line, then you must tie them together with a water knot or else a duchess knot. And when your knot is tied, cut off the unused ends a straw's breadth from the knot. Thus you will make your lines fair and fine, and also completely secure for any type of fish. And because you should know both the water knot and also the duchess knot, behold them here in picture. Tie them in the likeness of the drawing."