Written by: Gordon M. Wickstrom
Editor’s note: Back in 2011, we featured 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. Since many readers were not around in those heady early days of the blog, I thought it deserves a repost.
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 of The Great Debate—A Fantasia for Anglers, an imagined debate between Frederic M. Halford and G. E. M. Skues.
The History of Fishing for Trout with Artificial Flies in Britain and America:
A Chronology of Five Hundred Years,
1496 to 2000.
1955, in America
Matching the Hatch by Ernest Schwiebert (pictured above) provided the first systematic and accurate descriptions of the insects of American waters. This famous study proved equal to the distinguished works from England and Ireland.
American fly -fishing theory, practice, and tackle grew in influence in the British Isles, thus returning the compliment of its own origins.
1973, in America
Graphite fly rods—superb tools of carbon fiber—were introduced and quickly swept the field. American reels now matched the British in quality and surpassed them in innovation.
Lee Wulff’s famous 1939 statement that “game fish are too valuable to only be caught once” became the basis for the Catch & Release movement that took hold over the last two decades of the twentieth century.
1980s, in America
- The interest in hand craftsmanship that came out of the spirit of the 1960s resulted in the revival of superbly handcrafted split-cane fly rods.
- Fly fishing exploded into immense popularity as an all-season, high-fashion sport. The advent of fly-fishing professionals and guides began a period of intense commercial development.
- Saltwater fly fishing developed rapidly and became popular.
- As a result of commercial genetic breeding, every fly tier could now, for the first time in history, possess that once rare and most essential of fly-tying materials: a premium, natural, blue dun cock’s cape of hackles.
- Synthetics and composites came to dominate angling gear.
- Killing trout became anathema for most fly fishers. “Catch and Release” was the hue and the cry of advanced anglers in their efforts to save populations of trout in the face of fishing pressure that before had been unimaginable. The practice was notably successful.
2000, in America
By century’s end, fly fishing had become global, no longer the peculiar privince of the British Isles and North America. Anglers were now flying the world over to cast their flies to myriad exotic fish. New tackle, techniques, traditions, and literatures were developing everywhere in an ever expanding universe of the artificial fishing fly.
Fly-Fishing History, Parts I & II
Fly-Fishing History, Parts III & IV
Fly-Fishing History, Parts IV & VI
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.