Go Fish!

Anglers
Andrea/Cara
here, Where I live, the month of August is the epitome of the slow-paced languor of summer. It’s usually hot, which inspires outdoor thoughts of cool water, refreshing breezes and leafy shade, not to speak of lazy movements . . . or sitting and moving as little as possible! Which got me to thinking about Regency leisure pursuits.

Along with hunting and riding, fly-fishing is one of the most popular pasttimes depicted in paintings of the era. And when I decided to do a little research into the subject, I quickly discovered that Great Britain has a long been a leader in developing the lore, the traditions and innovations of the sport.

Are you ready to be hooked?

Fish 2There are references to fishing with flies during the 13th century in England, but The Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle, an essay published in 1486 within The Boke of Saint Albans (written by a woman, Dame Julian Berners, who is thought to have been the prioress of the St. Mary of Sopwell) is considered the first written work devoted to the sport. In it are instructions for different types of rods, lines and the making of flies for the different seasons.

River 1One of the first “literary” treatises on fly fishing was written in 1613 by John Dennys—whose fellow fishing aficionados are said to have included William Shakespeare. The Secrets of Angling waxes poetic on the art of the sport, and features such advice as “"The trout gives the most gentlemanly and readiest sport of all, if you fish with an artificial fly, a line twice your rod's length of three hairs' thickness… and if you have learnt the cast of the fly."

River sceneOne of the most famous books on fishing is The Compleat Angler, which to this day is considered a classic on the art and allure of fly-fishing. (According to some sources, it’s the fourth most reprinted book in the English language, behind only the Bible, the works of Shakespeare, and the Book of Common Prayer.) Written by Izaak Walton in 1653, it not only offers instruction but also celebrates the poetry—both physical and spiritual—embodied by the sport. The book did much to inspire the British love of rambling the riverbanks throughout the country and testing the skill of the fisherman against the wiles of their finned prey.

Men fishing
Scholar sleepingBy Regency times, most gentlemen grew up learning how to cast a fly as well as hunt and ride. For many, fishing was—unlike the other two sports—a perfect pastime for relaxation and contemplation. It required peace and quiet—and patience. There was much time for thinking, which appealed to intellectuals. (And as one can see by the image of the fishing scholar, alcohol and sleeping were also a big part of fishing's allure!) For example, Humphry Davy, the famous scientist and head of the Royal Institution during the early 1800s, was an avid fisherman and traveled around England and Ireland to fish certain stretches of rivers (and on one of his trips he snagged heiress and reeled her in as his wife!)  

Ustonson_advertSpeaking of reels, fishing equipment in the Regency had become rather sophisticated. Rods were made of a strong flexible wood—the most popular choices were ash, hickory and lancewood, though exotic bamboo from Britain’s far-flung trading empire was beginning to show up. The standard reel was a Nottingham reel, which basically let the current pull out the line. (Geared winding reels didn’t become as popular as they did across the Pond.) Fishing line was made from a mixture of silk and horsehair, though the most expensive quality was fashioned entirely from silk. The hook, however, had changed little since the 1655, when Charles Kirby invented a improved version that featured a small barb at the end, to help prevent a fish from wiggling free. (It’s still the most common design used today.)

Fishing lodge“The conversation soon turned upon fishing, and she heard Mr. Darcy invite him, with the greatest civility, to fish there as often as he chose while he continued in the neighbourhood, offering at the same time to supply him with fishing tackle, and pointing out those parts of the stream where there was usually most sport.”

Fishing appears often in literature, but Regency fans will of course remember that the sport play a key role in Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Gardiner was very fond of fishing, and Darcy’s invitation to come fish the river running through Pemberley helped bring him and Lizzy to their HEA.

Family fishing
I have a few avid fly fishermen friends and they explain the allure by saying the matching their casting rhythm to the flow of the river is very Zen-like, and thus the sport is incredibly relaxing. (They don’t care about catching fish!) I find the same relaxation in walking a golf course, and have other friends who love sailing. What about you? Do you have a favorite recreational activity for relaxing?
(all images courtesy of the British Art Center at Yale)

85 thoughts on “Go Fish!”

  1. Reading, writing, watching films and TV series, dancing, hiking (in the woods), going bowling (not very often), and I love kayaking, too, but none of my close friends does (and there’s no place where I could do it nearby, anyway), so perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned it at all. No fishing, though. I tried it once and I would have hated it, had it not been for the company. Our headmaster, on the other hand, is extremely keen on fishing.

    Reply
  2. Reading, writing, watching films and TV series, dancing, hiking (in the woods), going bowling (not very often), and I love kayaking, too, but none of my close friends does (and there’s no place where I could do it nearby, anyway), so perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned it at all. No fishing, though. I tried it once and I would have hated it, had it not been for the company. Our headmaster, on the other hand, is extremely keen on fishing.

    Reply
  3. Reading, writing, watching films and TV series, dancing, hiking (in the woods), going bowling (not very often), and I love kayaking, too, but none of my close friends does (and there’s no place where I could do it nearby, anyway), so perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned it at all. No fishing, though. I tried it once and I would have hated it, had it not been for the company. Our headmaster, on the other hand, is extremely keen on fishing.

    Reply
  4. Reading, writing, watching films and TV series, dancing, hiking (in the woods), going bowling (not very often), and I love kayaking, too, but none of my close friends does (and there’s no place where I could do it nearby, anyway), so perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned it at all. No fishing, though. I tried it once and I would have hated it, had it not been for the company. Our headmaster, on the other hand, is extremely keen on fishing.

    Reply
  5. Reading, writing, watching films and TV series, dancing, hiking (in the woods), going bowling (not very often), and I love kayaking, too, but none of my close friends does (and there’s no place where I could do it nearby, anyway), so perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned it at all. No fishing, though. I tried it once and I would have hated it, had it not been for the company. Our headmaster, on the other hand, is extremely keen on fishing.

    Reply
  6. I used to love walking but now that my arthritis has gotten so bad my favorite pastime is reading.
    I’ve been on camping trips where many of the party wanted to fish. Never interested in it myself. Certainly didn’t want anything to do with the cleaning of the fish. I did, however, enjoy eating them – yum!

    Reply
  7. I used to love walking but now that my arthritis has gotten so bad my favorite pastime is reading.
    I’ve been on camping trips where many of the party wanted to fish. Never interested in it myself. Certainly didn’t want anything to do with the cleaning of the fish. I did, however, enjoy eating them – yum!

    Reply
  8. I used to love walking but now that my arthritis has gotten so bad my favorite pastime is reading.
    I’ve been on camping trips where many of the party wanted to fish. Never interested in it myself. Certainly didn’t want anything to do with the cleaning of the fish. I did, however, enjoy eating them – yum!

    Reply
  9. I used to love walking but now that my arthritis has gotten so bad my favorite pastime is reading.
    I’ve been on camping trips where many of the party wanted to fish. Never interested in it myself. Certainly didn’t want anything to do with the cleaning of the fish. I did, however, enjoy eating them – yum!

    Reply
  10. I used to love walking but now that my arthritis has gotten so bad my favorite pastime is reading.
    I’ve been on camping trips where many of the party wanted to fish. Never interested in it myself. Certainly didn’t want anything to do with the cleaning of the fish. I did, however, enjoy eating them – yum!

    Reply
  11. Sometimes my grandfather would take me with him when he went fishing—surfcasting in Long Island Sound. I was perfectly happy to play on the beach for hours, but my favorite part of the trip was eating lunch. When you dunk your hardboiled eggs in salt water to get rid of the last bits of shell, they acquire a truly delicious flavor.

    Reply
  12. Sometimes my grandfather would take me with him when he went fishing—surfcasting in Long Island Sound. I was perfectly happy to play on the beach for hours, but my favorite part of the trip was eating lunch. When you dunk your hardboiled eggs in salt water to get rid of the last bits of shell, they acquire a truly delicious flavor.

    Reply
  13. Sometimes my grandfather would take me with him when he went fishing—surfcasting in Long Island Sound. I was perfectly happy to play on the beach for hours, but my favorite part of the trip was eating lunch. When you dunk your hardboiled eggs in salt water to get rid of the last bits of shell, they acquire a truly delicious flavor.

    Reply
  14. Sometimes my grandfather would take me with him when he went fishing—surfcasting in Long Island Sound. I was perfectly happy to play on the beach for hours, but my favorite part of the trip was eating lunch. When you dunk your hardboiled eggs in salt water to get rid of the last bits of shell, they acquire a truly delicious flavor.

    Reply
  15. Sometimes my grandfather would take me with him when he went fishing—surfcasting in Long Island Sound. I was perfectly happy to play on the beach for hours, but my favorite part of the trip was eating lunch. When you dunk your hardboiled eggs in salt water to get rid of the last bits of shell, they acquire a truly delicious flavor.

    Reply
  16. Mary, T. I think love of reading is one of the greatest gifts anyone can have. It allows you travel to wondrous places and times, and explore so many facets of emotions and feelings. Losing yourself in a story is relaxing, it’s inspiring . . .and so many more adjectives!
    I never got hooked on fishing w either, though I’ve enjoyed a few afternoons of casting. My brothers and I went backpacking in Wyoming and we caught trout high in the mountains (They cleaned them!)And yes, they were incredibly tasty grilled over the fire!

    Reply
  17. Mary, T. I think love of reading is one of the greatest gifts anyone can have. It allows you travel to wondrous places and times, and explore so many facets of emotions and feelings. Losing yourself in a story is relaxing, it’s inspiring . . .and so many more adjectives!
    I never got hooked on fishing w either, though I’ve enjoyed a few afternoons of casting. My brothers and I went backpacking in Wyoming and we caught trout high in the mountains (They cleaned them!)And yes, they were incredibly tasty grilled over the fire!

    Reply
  18. Mary, T. I think love of reading is one of the greatest gifts anyone can have. It allows you travel to wondrous places and times, and explore so many facets of emotions and feelings. Losing yourself in a story is relaxing, it’s inspiring . . .and so many more adjectives!
    I never got hooked on fishing w either, though I’ve enjoyed a few afternoons of casting. My brothers and I went backpacking in Wyoming and we caught trout high in the mountains (They cleaned them!)And yes, they were incredibly tasty grilled over the fire!

    Reply
  19. Mary, T. I think love of reading is one of the greatest gifts anyone can have. It allows you travel to wondrous places and times, and explore so many facets of emotions and feelings. Losing yourself in a story is relaxing, it’s inspiring . . .and so many more adjectives!
    I never got hooked on fishing w either, though I’ve enjoyed a few afternoons of casting. My brothers and I went backpacking in Wyoming and we caught trout high in the mountains (They cleaned them!)And yes, they were incredibly tasty grilled over the fire!

    Reply
  20. Mary, T. I think love of reading is one of the greatest gifts anyone can have. It allows you travel to wondrous places and times, and explore so many facets of emotions and feelings. Losing yourself in a story is relaxing, it’s inspiring . . .and so many more adjectives!
    I never got hooked on fishing w either, though I’ve enjoyed a few afternoons of casting. My brothers and I went backpacking in Wyoming and we caught trout high in the mountains (They cleaned them!)And yes, they were incredibly tasty grilled over the fire!

    Reply
  21. Your statement on reading is SOOO TRUE! I didn’t realize what a gift it was when I was younger. But as my world has grown smaller, I have come to appreciate it so much more.

    Reply
  22. Your statement on reading is SOOO TRUE! I didn’t realize what a gift it was when I was younger. But as my world has grown smaller, I have come to appreciate it so much more.

    Reply
  23. Your statement on reading is SOOO TRUE! I didn’t realize what a gift it was when I was younger. But as my world has grown smaller, I have come to appreciate it so much more.

    Reply
  24. Your statement on reading is SOOO TRUE! I didn’t realize what a gift it was when I was younger. But as my world has grown smaller, I have come to appreciate it so much more.

    Reply
  25. Your statement on reading is SOOO TRUE! I didn’t realize what a gift it was when I was younger. But as my world has grown smaller, I have come to appreciate it so much more.

    Reply
  26. I’m afraid I’m the food-oriented type of fisherwoman. I want to go home with something to eat! So I’ve fished in rivers, lakes and the ocean but I’ve never done fly fishing.
    Hiking is my favorite thing though.

    Reply
  27. I’m afraid I’m the food-oriented type of fisherwoman. I want to go home with something to eat! So I’ve fished in rivers, lakes and the ocean but I’ve never done fly fishing.
    Hiking is my favorite thing though.

    Reply
  28. I’m afraid I’m the food-oriented type of fisherwoman. I want to go home with something to eat! So I’ve fished in rivers, lakes and the ocean but I’ve never done fly fishing.
    Hiking is my favorite thing though.

    Reply
  29. I’m afraid I’m the food-oriented type of fisherwoman. I want to go home with something to eat! So I’ve fished in rivers, lakes and the ocean but I’ve never done fly fishing.
    Hiking is my favorite thing though.

    Reply
  30. I’m afraid I’m the food-oriented type of fisherwoman. I want to go home with something to eat! So I’ve fished in rivers, lakes and the ocean but I’ve never done fly fishing.
    Hiking is my favorite thing though.

    Reply
  31. I fished a great deal as a girl because it was one of my father’s favorite pastimes. However, since we lost him 17 years ago fishing has lost its appeal.
    I am a bird watcher from way back. Started my bird watching hobby at the age of nine when we moved to the UK.
    As the weather is rather oppressive at the moment I spend my leisure time reading, which is a pastime for any sort of weather and location!

    Reply
  32. I fished a great deal as a girl because it was one of my father’s favorite pastimes. However, since we lost him 17 years ago fishing has lost its appeal.
    I am a bird watcher from way back. Started my bird watching hobby at the age of nine when we moved to the UK.
    As the weather is rather oppressive at the moment I spend my leisure time reading, which is a pastime for any sort of weather and location!

    Reply
  33. I fished a great deal as a girl because it was one of my father’s favorite pastimes. However, since we lost him 17 years ago fishing has lost its appeal.
    I am a bird watcher from way back. Started my bird watching hobby at the age of nine when we moved to the UK.
    As the weather is rather oppressive at the moment I spend my leisure time reading, which is a pastime for any sort of weather and location!

    Reply
  34. I fished a great deal as a girl because it was one of my father’s favorite pastimes. However, since we lost him 17 years ago fishing has lost its appeal.
    I am a bird watcher from way back. Started my bird watching hobby at the age of nine when we moved to the UK.
    As the weather is rather oppressive at the moment I spend my leisure time reading, which is a pastime for any sort of weather and location!

    Reply
  35. I fished a great deal as a girl because it was one of my father’s favorite pastimes. However, since we lost him 17 years ago fishing has lost its appeal.
    I am a bird watcher from way back. Started my bird watching hobby at the age of nine when we moved to the UK.
    As the weather is rather oppressive at the moment I spend my leisure time reading, which is a pastime for any sort of weather and location!

    Reply
  36. The two or three times friends took me fishing the comments were ” i don’t understand this! It seems to be a good fishing day but there’s not a fish is sight!” So it appears I scare them away!
    I used to like hiking, but of course, like many others responding here, favorite relaation is reading!

    Reply
  37. The two or three times friends took me fishing the comments were ” i don’t understand this! It seems to be a good fishing day but there’s not a fish is sight!” So it appears I scare them away!
    I used to like hiking, but of course, like many others responding here, favorite relaation is reading!

    Reply
  38. The two or three times friends took me fishing the comments were ” i don’t understand this! It seems to be a good fishing day but there’s not a fish is sight!” So it appears I scare them away!
    I used to like hiking, but of course, like many others responding here, favorite relaation is reading!

    Reply
  39. The two or three times friends took me fishing the comments were ” i don’t understand this! It seems to be a good fishing day but there’s not a fish is sight!” So it appears I scare them away!
    I used to like hiking, but of course, like many others responding here, favorite relaation is reading!

    Reply
  40. The two or three times friends took me fishing the comments were ” i don’t understand this! It seems to be a good fishing day but there’s not a fish is sight!” So it appears I scare them away!
    I used to like hiking, but of course, like many others responding here, favorite relaation is reading!

    Reply

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