The history of fly fishing is a long and colorful road that’s believed to have begun in around the 2nd century in Rome.
Fly fishing is believed to have first begun around the 2nd century in modern-day Rome. While they weren’t equipped with gear-powered reels or weight-forward fly lines, the practice of mimicking a fly drifting on the top of the water began to gain popularity. Even though the casting technique wasn’t improved until hundreds of years later in England, the beginning of fly fishing (and fly tying) was revolutionary at the time.
Fly Fishing Crosses the Atlantic
During the 16th century, England had developed longer, more sturdy rods with hand-crafted line. During this time, it is believed that the excess line was carried on a wooden stick or by hand. It was also during this time that the art of casting started to take shape.
When Europeans migrated to the Americas, fly fishing really took off and revolutionized the fishing industry altogether. Technology began to gain ground in the 1800s and develop into the modern techniques we use today. It is believed that the first brass, free spooling fly reel that was eventually adopted by fishermen in the United States was created in England. This new system allowed for longer drifting casts as well as efficient line storage. Reels equipped with gears and a drag system were much more popular in North America than in Europe as the need for longer drift casts was not needed.
Fly Fishing Heads West
During the booming fur trapping days of the mid-1800s, it was common for a mountain man to have a fly reel and fly rod included in his bag of possibles. In essence, it was the first time anyone fly fished in the Rocky Mountains. There is even evidence of Indians trying fly fishing, which they learned from western settlers through trade.
Advances in Fly Fishing Equipment
The industrial revolution was a very important time for fly fishing equipment. Precisely machined rods and reels were being produced in masses and the quality of gear soared. It was during this time that the modern-day fly line was developed. Instead of using a handcrafted, braided twine material, a strong yarn was spun and coated with a vinyl-like material for durability. Tapered line was soon to follow. Casting became an art.
With technologically advanced equipment, a stigma arose around fly fishing, making it an activity associated with nobility and decency. The whole notion of fly fishing changed from common practice for mountain men or kings alike to a technique only the rich could afford to do. And, in hindsight, it was a bit of a setback for the advancement of the sport.
Fly Fishing in the 19th Century
During the 19th century, the parameters around who could fly fish finally softened. Anyone could endeavor to try. And it became a form of leisure for those who may only fish to fill a bucket and therefore the frying pan.
Moving into the Modern Day
Eventually, tackle got even better. New lines and rods, the latter still crafted from bamboo and other wood materials, made fly fishing more effective in the “catching” department. The first glass and fiberglass rods came into the works around the mid-1940s. Paired with the relatively newly developed fly line, casting and fly presentation took another great leap. What is now known as modern-day fly fishing had arrived.
Today, fly fishing is pursued from mountain trout to ocean tarpon. It’s a very conservation-oriented outdoor activity; fly fishermen and women have preserved many natural rivers that may have otherwise been destroyed by damming or overfishing. Companies such as Orvis and Trout Unlimited have helped raise billions of dollars for conservation for the fisheries that fly fishermen hold so close to their hearts.
Now more than ever, fly fishing isn’t so much about feeling a creel. From its simple beginnings as a short stick with a little line and a simple fly to a multibillion-dollar industry, fly fishing and fly tying has come a long way. And the road ahead is long still.