Neil Travis - April 2015

Pro 29:23 A man's pride shall bring him low; but honor shall uphold the humble in spirit.

In 1450 a manuscript entitled The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle, attributed to one Dame Juliana Berners, a nun and noblewoman. The first printed copy was included in the second Book of St. Albans, printed in 1496. In addition to explaining how to make your own rods, hooks and lines the book contained a list or jury of twelve artificial flies. Dame Juliana was far from a purist fly fisher, and much of her Treatise is devoted to fishing with a variety of live baits. With due respect to Dame Juliana I offer the following modernized version of her Treatise.

If you want to be crafty in angling, you must first purchase your tackle, that is to say, your rod, your lines of different types, and your flies. After that, you must know how to fly fish and in what places in the water, how deep and what time of day for what manner of fish; how many impediments there are to fly fishing; and especially what flies for every month of the year. [Paraphrase of the opening section of the original Treatise of Fishing with an Angle]


A fly rod is a long, tapered, and usually cylindrical piece of wood or synthetic material. At the bottom or butt end of the fly rod is a device that will allow the fly fisher to attach a winch for storing the line, a handle that allows the fly fisher to hold the rod, and along the shaft of the rod are metal rings that allow the plastic coated string [fly line] to be propelled by bending the rod.

Verily, your fly rod may be constructed of a variety of materials. Some prefer rods made of a type of grass called Bamboo. Rods made from this material may be obtained from many private sources or, if the angler is so inclined, the necessary materials may be obtained that will allow the angler to construct their own rod. Most anglers will prefer to purchase a fly rod constructed of a synthetic material like fiberglass or graphite. Like the bamboo rod these may be purchased from many purveyors of fly fishing paraphernalia.

Your fly rod may be long or short, and it may be stiff or soft. A fly rod is a tool and its main purpose is to allow the angler to propel the plastic-coated string in a process called "casting." The rod also assists the angler in controlling and landing the fish that they may hook.


Our ancestors used various materials for construction of lines used for various types of angling, including fly fishing. Lines that were made from horse hair have been around for over a thousand years. Dame Juliana gave a detailed account of how to construct a horse hair line, including how to dye the hair to get lines of special colors for different water conditions. These lines were used until they were replaced by silk lines. Modern lines for fly fishing are basically a core covered with a plastic coating. You can purchase fly lines that float or sink. You can purchase fly lines that have tips that sink or you can purchase entire lines that sink. Fly lines are sold by weight and you must match the proper weight line to the fly rod that you are using. They are sold in a variety of colors, and like fly rods they may be purchased from purveyors of fly fishing paraphernalia.


When Dame Juliana Berners wrote her Treatise they did not use winches [reels] for storing their line. The early rods did not have rings attached to them, and the line was attached to the top of the rod. Once anglers began to use rods with rings attached they needed a method to store their line and by the early 1800's winches [reels] of various designs were in wide use.

Ultimately, most modern winches [reels] are simply a spool inside a circular frame. The inner spool revolves around a spindle that is attached to the center of the circular frame. The speed at which the spool turns may be controlled by some type of drag mechanism; some very complex and some extremely simple. Regardless of how simple or complex it is basically a place where the line is stored and permits the angler to control the line and to fight the fish. A good reel must turn smoothly and be capable of containing all of the fly line.


Early anglers attached their flies directly to the end of their horsehair lines. With the coming of silk lines it was necessary to add something to the end of the line that would enable the angler to attach a fly since the end of the silk line was too thick to allow the angler to attach his fly directly to the end. The earliest leaders were made of horsehair and then silk gut. Despite their obvious shortcomings many fine fish were caught using these natural materials. Modern technology intended for other uses was ultimately adapted to making leaders for fly fishing. Nylon made its appearance during World War II. Developed by DuPontĀ® Chemical Company in 1939 and was subsequently adapted for many uses including leaders and even fishing lines. Monofilament is made from nylon and has been, and continues to be, the most common material that is used for modern leaders. Fluorocarbon is a new polymer that, unlike monofilament, is denser than water and is less refractive and many anglers have switched to this material for their leaders.


Dame Juliana Berners wrote her Treatise she included a "jury of 12 flies" along with descriptions on tying them. Tying flies in those times, and for many years thereafter, was a far more complex affair than it is today. First, you had to construct your own hooks which would certainly give one pause today. Hooks did not have eyes so an attachment in the form of a loop or snell had to be attached to the hook before the fly was tied. According to Dame Juliana, making hooks was the hardest part of making tackle.

Fortunately, today we can buy our hooks ready made in all types of shapes and sizes. However, the number and type of flies one considers necessary for angling has increased beyond measure and it would be a rare angler indeed that would only go out with a selection of just twelve flies, especially if they were angling for trout.

Although it is no longer necessary for an angler to make all his tackle and while the sport has become considerably more complex since Dame Juliana set pen to parchment the basic practice of the sport remains the same. Rods of various lengths are still used for various types of angling, likewise with lines and leaders. Flies are tied to represent, at least in the eye of the tyer, something that will prove attractive to their quarry. At the end of the day it's still the angler pitting his skill and cunning against an individual fish whether with a rod of lance wood or graphite.

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