Gone Fishin'

By Granny Lin

The morning dew glistened in the grass, like diamonds sprinkled on an emerald sea. Southerly breezes brush against my cheek as if touched by the gentle hand of a mother trying to wake a sleeping child. It was spring and the earth was coming alive once again.

What a beautiful wonder Mother Nature is. When we have all but given up on green grass and warm weather she pulls us out of our winter beds and wakes with a joyful celebration of SPRING.

Beautiful wild flowers, trees budding and yes, people outside once again enjoying all that nature has to offer.

Along with green grass and spring beauties comes the awakening appetites of bluegill, bass, trout, crappies and other great fish that avid fisherman have loved catching and eating over the last few hundred or even thousands of years.

The advantage of obtaining food while enjoying the sport of angling has been around for centuries.


In my research I have come across a multitude of fishhooks dating as far back as 40,000 years ago. Yes it is quite possible that Pre-historic man was familiar with fishhooks in his struggle to survive. Probably the first fish hooks were made of wood .You could not wish for a sharper hook than a thorn from a hawthorn bush or a locust branch. The advantage of a floating hook was used as far back as the end of the 19th century where Lapp fisherman used wooden hooks in the great cod fisheries in Lofoten in northern Norway .As late as 1960 Swedish fisherman preferred hooks made from juniper for burbot fishing. They say the smell of the juniper actually attracts the fish. Juniper with three sharp hooks are impossible to dislodge .Later hooks of stone and bone were used. Even human bone was used on the Easter Island. (until missionaries arrived and the human sacrifices ceased.)

Native Americans used the claw of a hawk and the beak of an eagle to make hooks.1

Only after thousands of years were they equipped with barbs, grooves or holes to facilitate attachment of bait and line.The illustration shows Roman hooks and a needle of the type from which the hooks were made. (Photo by Fred Buller)2

Much later in 1496 a book on the art of angling was written by a woman (how about that?) Dame Julianna Bernes. In the book, The Treatyse of Fyshinge wyth an Angle, She deals with the art of making hooks. The best hooks are made from needles, she says the finest darning needles for small fish, embroidery needles for larger fish and tailor's and shoemaker's needles for the very big fish. She tells us how to make steel pliable, make a barb, shape and temper the steel.3. But after much reading, when making hooks it was recommended that one go to an experienced hook maker.

I am learning more often than not, most folks in the 18th century did NOT make everything for themselves. Of course in remote areas people continued to make their own hooks .She also recommends the line be fastened to the inside of the shank .As do many modern anglers advise .In Bernes book is a woodcut of fifteenth century hooks giving us a general idea of shape and size.

A few years later in Germany, a book on hunting and fishing, Waidmeryk published in 1531. The author recommends that the line be of white horsehair

And Isaac Walton's The Complete Angler published in 1653, also tells how to braid, knot and prepare a horse's tail in order to make the best line. Threads of silk and vegetable fiber, basswood and such have been twined or spun but from time immemorial horsetail has been recommend for the BEST line.4Many people still made their own hooks.The reason being the tempering was unreliable .But in the seventeenth century the business of hook making was becoming a reality. The Kirby Hooks Company was started. 5 Here a reliable, well-tempered product was being manufactured.



As stated in Paul Schullery's article on Early American Angling finds before the 1700's sport fishing in the colonies was looked upon as wastrel's pastime, something done by the lazy and shiftless, not to be talked about in prints. But people loved to fish, for the fun as well as for meat. Captain John Smith published a woodcut of colonist hunting and fishing as early as 1619 and throughout the historical record over the next century are occasional references to sport fishing.

There was also a weakening of the church's hold on the leisure life of the colonist.6.

Until the late nineteenth century the vast majority of hooks were "blind". (No eye) But however the first illustration of an eyed hook was in 1660,in Les Ruses Innocentes, by Fortin. The first illustration of an eyed hook was in Hawker's 1760 edition of the Complete Angler, which has a plate showing a fly dressed on an eyed hook. (the fly no. 11in the illustration) IT took one hundred and fifty years for the new invention to catch on despite the many problems that hooks tied to gut or horses hair presented. So was it common to have an eyed hook in the mid 1700's? No. But was it possible? It sure was.

A long branch was often used for rods. Live bait was also used but by the 1780's there were at least three commercial outlets for flies in Philadelphia alone. So you can see fishing was more than just a source of food in the 1700's.

William Penn's daughter writes her brother in England in 1737:My chief amusement this summer has been fishing, I therefore request the favour of you when Laisure House will admit, you will buy for me a four jointed fishing rod and reel with strong good lines and assortment of the best hooks.

In 1732, Americas first angling club, The Schuylkill Fishing Co.near Philadelphia.was established.8.

So now you can see, for fun or for meat . Men and Woman alike enjoyed fishing in the 18th century as much as they do now.

If you choose to make you own hook from a needle or thorn , or try a hand forged hook ,a line of horsehair, basswood or even silk. No matter what you choose. Slow down on your next trek and take time to wet a line.

Till next time.........

Keep On Trekking,

Granny Lin





2 3 5www.flyfishinghistory.com/hooks.htm

4 www.mustad.no/history/luiteratureb.html

6 Early American Angling by Paul Schullery www.thehistorynet.com/earlyamericanhomes/articals/1997/1097_test.htm