Fly-Fishing History, Part III

[Editor’s note: For the next few months, we will be featuring entries from Gordon M. Wickstrom’s The History of Fishing for Trout with Artificial Flies in Britain and America: A Chronology of Five Hundred Years, 1496 to 2000. In this chronology, Gordon marks significant events—the publication of seminal books, tackle developments, important social changes, the dissemination of trout species beyond their native ranges, etc.—on both sides of the Atlantic.] 

The History of Fishing for Trout with Artificial Flies in Britain and America: 
A Chronology of Five Hundred Years, 
1496 to 2000.

1857, in Britain
The Practical Angler, by W.C. Stewart advocated casting the fly, albeit a wet fly, upstream with a short, single-handed rod and so had a significant impact upon British angling. The angler, using Stewart’s technique, took control of the position and action of the fly on the water instead of merely casting the fly across the current and following its swing downstream.

1860, in America

Fly fishing–based on native, colorful, “fancy” wet flies, like the Royal Coachman–was becoming well established.


  • During this period, the eyed hook, essential to the development of the dry fly, appeared. Anglers no longer needed a length or a small loop of gut tied to the bare shank of an eyeless, “blind” hook before dressing. The joining of fly to leader point gained in versatility, strength, and security.

American Angler's Book

The title page from an 1865 edition of
Thaddeus Norris’s
 Angler’s Book.

1864, in America

American Angler’s Book
, by Thaddeus Norris. This popular book made Norris the father of American fly fishing. Advanced in his thinking, “Uncle Thad” Norris, as he was affectionately known, clearly described the use of the floating fly. As tackle-maker and merchant, he participated in the development of the modern fly rod. A noted writer and widely admired man, he had profound influence among American anglers.

1867, in Britain
A Book of Angling, by Francis Francis. In this influential book, Francis taught the angler to “crack” the moisture from his floating fly by false casting. True dry-fly fishing is impossible without this method of drying the fly.

ca. 1870, in America
Silk fly lines, oil-impregnated under vacuum, and with an oil finish, appeared. Invented, it has been said, in the U.S.A., they were developed and first offered to the trade in England. By 1885, tapered lines were available. These new, heavy, supple, and waterproof lines that when greased would float, made it possible to false-cast the moisture from a dry fly and cast it into the wind to previously impossible distances.

1877, in Britain
The Gaudy Fly, a colorful pattern from the west of Ireland, was the likely inspiration for the English/Scottish development of the imperial Victorian salmon flies of the nineteenth century. These flies and how to fish them were codified in the work of George M. Kelson.

1877, in America
Rainbow trout from California (the McCloud River variety) were first introduced outside California. The most adaptable, easily propagated, and most friendly to anglers of all trout, their introduction was successful all across America and worldwide.

Previous Installments:

Fly-Fishing History, Part I

Fly-Fishing History, Part II

Gordon Wickstrom is the author of Notes from an Old Fly Book (2001) and Late in an Angler’s Life (2004), editor of The Boulder Creek Angler newsletter, and writer and director of The Great Debate—A Fantasia for Anglers, an imagined debate between Frederic M. Halford and G. E. M. Skues.

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