January 30th, 2000

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories. . .

Firsts for Fishing

By Doug Sinclair

Is it desire? Is it competitiveness? What's the fascination for us wanting to be first at everything. First to rise. First to the ramp. First in the boat, first to the flat and first to yell "fish on." Is it because we are the hunters? Like first to the kill is the first to eat?

As a society we have become obsessed with being first. First to know that person, first to use something, and first to show it to someone else. Charlie Cotton wasn't first to use a fly rod or write a book. Izaak Walton is credited for writing the first book on angling, The Compleat Angler. Walton was first to get his material from Charlie's experience and knowledge and was the first to write about it. Even the word "angler" was a first described by Walton as a person engaged in the sport of fishing.

Hooks were first made from bone almost 10,000 years ago. The first modern fish hooks progressed from wood to bone to bronze to steel. A Norwegian named Ole Mustad cranked up the first hook machine in 1877. Invented by Mustad employee Mathias Topp, in Michigan, the machine sent wire in one end and hooks came out the other.

Spinning reels were first developed by Alfred Holden Illingworth, an avid fly-fisherman and heir to a textile company in England. He lived to experiment, and having nothing better to do, came up with the idea of a fixed spool "threadline" reel that was fashioned after a fiber spinning mechanism used in his family's textile machinery.

Next came the Star Drag, first introduced in 1900 by reel designer Julius Von Hofe of Brooklyn, New York for William Boshas, one of the first big-game fishermen from San Diego, California. William caught the first to record broadbill swordfish a few years later that weighed in at 358 pounds.

The first American fish hatcheries were recorded prior to 1600, with brook trout hatcheries started in 1853 near Cleveland, Ohio. Hatcheries flourished after the Civil War and fry-stage fish were shipped in cooled water barrels all over the country. Brook trout went to the Rockies. California rainbows went East. Brown trout arrived from Germany and large, small and stripped bass went everywhere.

Outboard motors were made their debut in 1910 by Ole Evinrude. OK. What's with all the Norwegians? My father told me the story once about Ole and Sven fishing on the lake. They had been there for hours. Sven looked over at a couple of guys fishing near the point of an island and could see that they were hauling fish in every few minutes.

He turned to Ole and said, "Ole, des fish are all over by dem."

"Ya" said Ole, "we got to gets there when the leave." So after a while the men n the other boat left and so Ole and Sven rowed to that spot. Sure enough they started catching fish and when they caught their limit they rowed back to the dock and started for home.

About half way home Olesays to Sven, "God what a great day we had today, Sven"

"Yes, Ole, today was perfect."

"Sven when we were in the boat catching all those fish by the point I drilled a hole in the boat to mark our spot."

"Ole you are so stupid. How do you know we'll get the same boat next time?" [Publisher note: this is intended as humor, and not an ethnic slur.]

Evinrude started in Milwaukee in 1909. Mass production on the first vertical-crankshaft outboard motor started a year later and the rest is, well, history. Getting closer to home, Lee Wulff in 1938 said, "a game fish is much too valuable to be caught once." He was an engaging, aggressive, abrasive and tireless advocate of catch and release. He was the first to encourage sporting advocates to start thinking about protection of the species and slot limits.

Let's not forget monofilament line. It was the result of one of the hottest inventions presented to the New York World's Fair in 1939 woman's nylon stockings. Yes, sir. Thanks ladies. Wallace Carothers, a chemist at Dupont, invented nylon monofilament and applied for the first patent in 1937. Three weeks later the 41 year old Carothers died.

Perhaps the most important development in the aid of fishing was the invention of the Howell Process. It is not clear who should be credited for it. But its significance is important because it allowed a mandrel to be wrapped and heat-cured, resin-impregnated fiber mats around a tapered steel form. The mandrel when withdrawn, left a hollow tubular rod blank. The first blank was used to make Shakespeare fly rods. A similar process is used to make graphite blanks today.

Capt. Doug Sinclair

Who was the first to make an ultra hair bug? Don't know. Don't think anyone knows. It could have been Joe Brooks' buddy Don Gappen, the first guy to tie a muddler minnow. Or it could have been one of the boys in Bay's book on Saltwater Flies (1972). One thing is for sure the muddler became the basis for a lot of flies tied that followed to imitate baitfish. Keith Beach (Tail Hunters) isn't the first nor will he be the last, but he ties one of the best ultra hair bugs I've ever used. Who tied what first is very subjective. A few firsts are the Clouser Minnow, Kreh Deceiver, Platinum Blonde and so forth.

What's important is choosing the right pattern for the right conditions so you can be the first to see the tail, first to make the cast, first to score the hook up, first to fish on and first in the photograph. ~ Doug Sinclair

About Doug:
Doug Sinclair is Capt. Doug, a guide working out of Volusia County in FL.


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