Fly Fishing History StillWater Anglers

Fly Fishing History – Everything You Need To Know

When it comes to fly fishing history, it feels like all anglers know the beginning. We as people used to have to hunt and scavenge for survival, and slowly but surely those activities have become fun hobbies instead.

Anglers love fly fishing because not only does it challenge a person against nature, but also against a man and himself. Knowing its history can help us better appreciate the progression of the sport and maybe even help us enjoy our time on the water more.

Do You Know The Basic History of Fly Fishing?

Throughout recorded history, men and women all over the world have fished to provide food. Nowadays, though some still fish for food, anglers fish in an effort to outwit the fish and get away from the stress of our everyday lives.

Let’s talk about fly fishing history, and how it evolved into the sport we all know and love today.

At The Beginning

Though there is no official record for when fly fishing got its start, there are many fly fishing history articles that discuss a Roman named Claudius Aelianus who recorded the first use of an artificial fly near the end of the second century.

Here is his account of Macedonian fly fishers:

“‘…they have planned a snare for the fish, and get the better of them by their fisherman’s craft. . . . They fasten red wool. . . round a hook, and fit on to the wool two feathers which grow under a cock’s wattles, and which in color are like wax. Their rod is six feet long, and their line is the same length. Then they throw their snare, and the fish, attracted and maddened by the color, comes straight at it, thinking from the pretty sight to gain a dainty mouthful; when, however, it opens its jaws, it is caught by the hook, and enjoys a bitter repast, a captive.’

However, in his book “Fishing From The Earliest Time,” William Radcliff said that Marcus Valerius Martialis (born more than 200 years before Aelianus), mentioned fly fishing in one of his early writings. He wrote “…Who has not seen the scarus rise, decoyed and killed by fraudful flies…”.

After That

It is not until the late 1400s that the first real description of fly fishing was recorded. The first real account of fly fishing history is found in “The Treatyse of Fishing with an Angle.” It contains the first manual for fly fishing and tackle making. Researchers aren’t sure who wrote The Treatyse, though it is suspected to be written by a woman. It is known to have been written for English waters, with theories being that it fully developed in Britain and then introduced later to America.


Fly fishing history in the 1600s is mostly recorded in Britain. Izzak Walton writes “The Compleat Angler or The Contemplative Man’s Recreation,” and is known for establishing a benchmark for angling as a philosophical way of life. Charles Cotton was a friend of Walton and is now known as one of the founders of modern fly fishing and fly making. He advised anglers to fish “fine and far off,” and wrote a segment in Walton’s book entitled, “Instructions How to Angle for Trout and Grayling in a Clear Stream.”


The late 1700s and 1800s are when fly fishing started really picking up across the world. From fly fishing clubs to articles and instruction manuals, fly fishing developed almost an elitist reputation and the most popular way to catch fish in slower rivers.

“The Art of Angling,” written in 1747 by Richard Bowlker helped shape the beginning of modern fly tying and pretty much dominated the second half of the eighteenth century.

Alfred Ronalds wrote and illustrated “The Fly Fisher’s Entomology” in 1836 which described and classified insects that fish would eat in British waters.

In 1841, George Pulman has been credited as the first one to completely describe the method of dry fly fishing in his work “Vade Mecum of Fly-Fishing for Trout.”

USA and Modern Fly Fishing

Finally, in American fly fishing history, Samuel Phillippe built the first split-bamboo section for a fishing rod in 1846, which helped lead the way for Hiram Leonard, who developed some of the lightest and fasts modern rods, which at the time cast modern silk lines far distances.

In the late nineteenth century, Beaverkill River and Willowmec Creek in New York was considered the birthplace of American dry-fly fishing, thanks to anglers like Ray Bergman.

Participation in fly fishing really picked in the 1920s on the east side of the country, but quickly spread throughout the rest of the United States as the development of cheap fiberglass rods and synthetic fly lines came into play.


There you have it! A brief guide to the flow of fly fishing history. Knowing that people have been writing about fishing, and more specifically about fly fishing and the development of artificial insects, makes us appreciate the sport that much more. Want more info on Montana fly fishing history? We wrote an article last year, which you can access here.

Learning the evolution of fly fishing history can give us more of an idea of where the sport might be going. After all, it can always be improved upon, and we can always learn more things about fish and insects in our areas. Need help with planning your next trip or not sure where to find all the gear you need? Stop by the fly shop and let us get you equipped and booked for the trip of a lifetime!