Classic Opinion: Is Fly Fishing an Art?

Izaak Walton

You often hear folks talking about the art of fly fishing, but do you really think that the sport rises to that level of importance? An English angler once argued the negative position, saying to me, “It’s just poxy fishin’,” as we watched the opening ceremonies of the World Fly Fishing Championships in England. To get a better handle on this question, let’s see what one of the most famous fishermen in history has to say about it:

O, Sir, doubt not but that Angling is an art; is it not an art to deceive a Trout with an artificial Fly? a Trout! that is more sharp-sighted than any Hawk you have named, and more watchful and timorous than your high-mettled Merlin is bold? and yet, I doubt not to catch a brace or two to-morrow, for a friend’s breakfast: doubt not therefore, Sir, but that angling is an art, and an art worth your learning. The question is rather, whether you be capable of learning it? angling is somewhat like poetry, men are to be born so: I mean, with inclinations to it, though both may be heightened by discourse and practice: but he that hopes to be a good angler, must not only bring an inquiring, searching, observing wit, but he must bring a large measure of hope and patience, and a love and propensity to the art itself; but having once got and practiced it, then doubt not but angling will prove to be so pleasant, that it will prove to be, like virtue, a reward to itself.

—Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler (1653)

Do you agree?

4 thoughts on “Classic Opinion: Is Fly Fishing an Art?”

  1. This is a fun topic. My personal take is that fly fishing can be whatever you make of it.

    While I believe that enjoyment/fun is the end goal for most of us, there is, in my opinion an “art” to fooling fish. That art involves fly tying, fly selection, studying the water, casting, etc. all of which makes up the composition. I believe what solidifies fly fishing an art are the endless variation of styles/approaches, which like any form of art has a wide spectrum from graceful to blunt.

    That said, I think that we as a community often take fly fishing too seriously and we should realize that the ultimate goal is to have fun. Maybe I’ve contradicted myself a bit with these statements, but this is an ongoing argument inside my own head. My apologies for the ramblings. Tight lines to all.

  2. Being as how I am still but a student at age 66 and still finding my style, be it right or wrong, it is an art form in many ways. As said before , from the tying of your flys to the selection of color, size, style and the composition of that tiny imitation that we strive to perfect. The grace of the line as it quietly slips through the air to deliver that tiny fly to the water and forward to fooling the fish we want so desperately at times to be the monster we seek. All this combined in nature which is the art of the most famous woman whom without there would be none of this to enjoy.
    Art is in the eye of the beholder, and I behold it all when I approach the waters edge and paint my own piece of the beauty as I use all the tools I bring with me.

  3. Of course it’s an art. And every time I cast a fly rod, I feel like Henri de Toulose-Lautrec!

  4. Great works of art allow people to draw together perspectives based on one’s creative imagination. A fly fisher creates an aesthetic fly, uses a style of presentation, applies appropriate tools, and forms a result–the catching of a keen fish–that becomes the total composition. The acquisition of these skills require learning and all fly fishers
    have different levels of expertise that are brought together. Truly, fly fishing is an art.

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